Those are the house rules. In Nero Wolfe’s brownstone, in his universe, any food enjoyed outside the dining room is a mere snack. No matter how exquisite or thoughtfully prepared the dish is, serving it in the dining room is the only action that elevates it to a meal.
More soon on this injustice, but first we set the scene, excerpting a passage from The Father Hunt:
It was exactly eight o’clock when I mounted the stoop…Wolfe was in the dining room. I stuck my head in the door and said I’d get a bite in the kitchen. Fritz, who always eats his evening meal around nine o’clock, was on his stool at the big center table doing something with artichokes. When I entered he crinkled his eyes at me and said, “Ah, you’re back on your feet. Have you eaten?”
“There’s a little mussel bisque–”
“No, thanks. No soup. I want to chew something. Don’t tell me he ate a whole duck.”
“Oh, no. I knew a man, a Swiss, who ate two ducks.” He was at the range, putting on a plate to warm. “Was it a good trip?”
“It was a lousy trip.” I was at the cupboard getting a bottle. “No milk or coffee. I’m going to drink a quart of whisky.”
“Not here, Archie. In your room is the place for that. Some carottes Flamande?”
I said, “Yes, please.”
The door swung open and Wolfe was there. It was mutually understood that the rule about talk at meals didn’t apply when I was eating alone in the kitchen or office, because it was a snack, not a meal. So when my snack was on my plate and I had chewed and swallowed a man-size morsel of duck Mondor and a forkful of carrots, I told Wolfe, “I appreciate this. You knew I had something on my chest I wanted to unload.”
It was that exchange that inspired a search for corresponding recipes in The Nero Wolfe Cookbook. Finding them launched an attempt to recreate Archie’s “snack,” producing this week’s offering, duck Mondor with carottes Flamande accompanying.
The duck dish was imagined for the novel, but the author (Rex Stout) was a genuine gourmand, and when it later come time to immortalize the recipe in the Cookbook, he delivered. Splendidly.
Being of French inspiration, duck Mondor is basted in sauce rich in butter, cream, wine and cognac, and topped with melted gruyere. The result is smoothly satisfying and is absolutely perfect for fending off a chill. Then again, some of that may be the cognac.
Unlike the duck dish, carottes Flamande is a preparation from the real world, from our world. Butter plays a significant role here too, but a scant tablespoon of orange zest upstages it. This gives the carrots a sparkling brightness that pairs perfectly with the duck. It’s the carrots’ calling card.
Although carottes Flamande works well with standard (orange) carrots, the market’s white and purple varieties looked just as good, locking them in for inclusion in the final product. Good fortune at that, as the ultimate colors shout strikingly, don’t you think?
There we have it, Archie’s snack. It’s what Archie gets for breaking Wolfe’s rules confining meals to the dining room, though the “penalty” for a transgression is quite bearable. Fight the power, brother!
- 1 pound carrots
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley (*1)
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
Cut the carrots into 1-inch sections and trim off the ends. Blanch them in boiling water to cover for 5 minutes. Drain them and place them in a skillet.
Add the cold water and butter and season with salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer the carrots for 20 minutes until they are tender, shaking the skillet every so often to prevent the carrots from sticking.
Five minutes before the carrots are done, stir in the orange zest. When the carrots are cooked, turn off the heat, but leave on the lid. In a small bowl, mix together the egg yolks, cream, parsley and melted butter. Stir this mixture gently into the carrots and set over a low flame. Do not boil, but when the sauce begins to thicken, remove from the heat and serve.
1 – Cilantro is better choice, as its milder profile work better with carrots.
- 2 ducks, 5 to 6 pounds each (*2)
- 2 celery stalks, sliced
- 2 medium apples, peeled and cored
- 2 onions, sliced (*3)
- 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 ounce cognac (*4)
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
- salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 8 ounces grated Gruyere
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the celery, onions and apple. Stuff the ducks with the mixture and truss the birds. Rub the skins of the ducks with half a lemon each. Prick the skin here and there with a sharp fork. Put the ducks on a rack over a roasting pan, and bake for 105 minutes (an hour and 45 minutes). Do not baste.
When the ducks are done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool just enough so that working with them is comfortable. Remove the trussing and discard the stuffing. Cut the ducks into serving pieces and put them in an ovenproof pan. Cover the pan and keep it in a warm place. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and add the egg yolks one at a time, beating vigorously after each addition. Return the saucepan to the heat and stir in the cream; do not allow to boil. Add the cognac and the nutmeg, and correct the seasoning, if necessary, with salt and pepper. Simmer very gently for three minutes.
Pour the sauce over the duck pieces, and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake in the oven until browned, about 5 minutes.
2 – Ducks are superb this way, though most varieties of poultry will do nicely. Substituting four Cornish hens would work, and is more economical. Two small chickens are less expensive yet. Both would be excellent replacements.
3 – Of course, you know I used shallots instead. Four average-sized shallots are the same as 2 onions. By the way, don’t waste effort making the celery, apples and onions “pretty.” You’ll throw them away after you remove them from the oven, making a rough chop more than adequate.
4 – Grand Marnier is a great choice. Not only does the orange nicely anticipate a similar flavor in the carottes Flamande, and independent of that, orange works quite well with duck. Think duck a l’orange.