Monsieur visits Paris on business fairly frequently and, if time permits, will visit food halls, filling his bag with tantalising treats. As he unpacks, I stand transfixed by the foreign labels and cooking instructions, a gourmet in food heaven. Were we to buy the same or similar in London, the prices would multiply before us.
In anticipation of Monsieur’s return from one such trip, I trotted off to the local supermarket to buy ingredients for dinner. Such efforts really aren’t necessary as I found once the suitcase spilled its contents, vastly superseding my relatively meagre bags of shopping. There were aromatic coffee beans, hand-made chocolates, large jars of beans, carrots and peas (4 or 5 Euros apiece, versus £10.00 in the local deli), Norwegian smoked salmon, and, of course, the piece de resistance, a duck.
This bird was unlike any duck I’d seen before, mainly because its head and neck were still attached. That included the feathery head, beady eyes, yellow beak and raw, vein-filled snake of a neck. There was something very wrong with having to look it in the eye before putting it in the oven. Here I was, face to face with Sunday lunch. Literally. A sudden understanding dawned on me of why we don’t eat things with heads more often.
Never having cooked duck before, this would be a new culinary experience. Gathering inspiration from cookbooks and the internet, I knew how to prepare it, but first I had to remove that head. As the little duck eyes watched helplessly, I took to the neck with the biggest knife in the kitchen and wouldn’t have been at all surprised if the beak had quacked its protest. Deed done, I sat the detached head on the chopping board, talking to it like a crazy woman, whilst preparing the body for human consumption. “When did you last fly, little duck?” I asked, “I hope you had a good final flight…” This was proof enough that I had lost it. Would Raymond Blanc talk to duck heads while he cooked? I doubt it. “You really do have beautiful feathers,” I picked up the head and played with the beak, opening and closing it as I made quacking sounds. Just then, Monsieur entered the kitchen. “Oh dear, darling,” he frowned, “you really are weird.” Monsieur doesn’t like it when I play with food, even, apparently, if the food has a head.
I turned on the oven and started to prepare the vegetables and sauce for Canard de Paris. Monsieur went out briefly and when he left, all was well. Then a strange smell emanated from the oven. Smoke filled the kitchen and soon the flat was submerged in a cloud. The oven controls now ceased to work, apart from letting me turn everything off. Oh goodness. Somehow I’d blown the thing up.
When Monsieur returned, it was to find a smoky flat, harassed cook, broken oven and uncooked duck, the head of which still sat on the chopping board, watching proceedings with a glint of satisfaction in its beady duck eyes. Perhaps this was a case of Revenge of the Duck? Perhaps the little duck spirit had sabotaged my attempt to cook it? Mental note to self: time to find a therapist.
Sadly for the Canard de Paris, there is a secondary oven in our kitchen, so the bird was indeed cooked once its head was safely in the bin, unable to cast its evil duck eyes on any more of my cooking.
And yes, the duck, served on a bed of roast vegetables with divine citrus gravy, tasted quite divine.