Sunday, July 24, 2011

Duck in distress

Les Demoiselles De RochefortThe flyer for the Courrensan fête this weekend advertises a dinner of “demoiselles des canards grillées”. The folks at the big house weren’t sure exactly what a “demoiselle” was in this context as the dictionaries just identify it as a young lady or bridesmaid.

In culinary parlance, it’s really just a fancy Gascon term for the carcass of a duck or goose. I guess a half duck is a demi-demoiselle, right down to morceaux des hemisemidemi-demoiselles. In any case, it’s not a shrink-wrapped frozen Daffy Duck.

Google image search - demoiselle de canard

When I did a search of images on Google to show them, I got a funny surprise: one of the first examples was a picture from this blog of Munson sniffing a duck carcass I’d bought for him almost exactly a year ago.


If demoiselle looks familiar to English speakers, it’s because it’s the substantive piece of Mademoiselle, the counterpart of Miss in English. If you look at each of the familiar titles, it’s a pattern of gendered possessive + identification, to whit:

  • Madame = ma + dame = my lady or milady
  • Mademoiselle = ma + damoiselle = my damsel (used for actresses of any age or marital status)
  • Monsieur = mon + sieur = my  sire / sir / lord
  • Monseigneur = mon + seigneur = my lord or milord

Plurals use the formula mes + : mesdames, mesdemoiselles, messieurs etc

Knowing the formula helps when you get stuck on the spelling!

Vranken Demoiselle champagne   damselflies
Demoiselle is also the the French word for damselfly (a cousin of the dragonfly) and for the damselfish (a cousin of Nemo the clownfish).

Vranken distillers also have a brand of Demoiselle champagnes, and their website uses a trio of flittering damselflies as decoration.
So, how were the actual demoiselles des canards grillées?

Everyone had two large portions delivered onto their plates from large foil-lined crates – not so much damsels as ugly stepsisters in my reading of the story. It’s a bit like eating crab since there’s not much meat left on any portion; all the substantial cuts of meat have been removed , and you just have to attack it with mouth and fingers. Hoeing into these large burnt-looking objects with tatters of flesh made me think I’d crash-landed in the Andes. It tastes OK but a few of us had to ask for extra pieces from the servers roving the salle des fêtes.
2011-07-23 at 22.49.27A longtime local told of some new residents to the area had turned up to a fête on their first night, and reported that they’d been served some poor burnt creatures that had been run over by a tractor. It wasn’t hard to guess what that was.

This is peasant food, the avian equivalent of pork spare-ribs albeit with a lower flesh:bone ratio. As the remains stacked up on the tables it struck me that I’ve never made so much effort eating something and it still looked like it did when it was put in front of me. Not much difference between the before and after pictures. How often do you pick up something and realise you’ve already eaten it? Now try to picture Julia Child with a flamethrower preparing a banquet of these poor ducks…

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