Pressed Duck, Canard a la Presse, Canard à la Presse, Canard Presse, Evangeline, Erik Desjarlais, Caneton à la presse, Caneton Tour d'Argent, or canard au sang, Duck Press, La Tour D’Argent, Fois Gras, Duck, Canard, Portland, Maine, ME, Restaurant Evangeline, Cooking Techniques, Food Techniques, Restaurant Techniques.


Nothing in the world rides the fine line between barbarism and savoir vivre more prominently than the traditional French dish known as Canard à la Presse.

As I crank the wheel, the juice running from the antique press is dark pink and slightly viscous. Once it hits the pan, it turns a deep, dark walnut, almost tawny and immediately thickens. The liver gets a nice sear, as does a big fat chunk of foie gras, then I use a small dose of reduced duck stock, and some neutral chicken stock to thin it out. I season the chunky sauce with salt, pepper and sherry vinegar, and emulsify everything with a hand blender, livers and all. The sauce then gets passed through a chinois four or five times as the duck breasts rest on the cutting board. Full of iron, blood, liver, and fat, the sauce is unlike any other in the world. Well, almost any other. La Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris does something like it. I say that in jest, of course… for over a century La Tour d’Argent has dominated the sauce and the phenomenon known as “Canard à la Presse.”

Almost a decade ago, I was lucky enough to enjoy La Tour d’Argent’s “Canard Presse au Sang.” As a solo diner, it was quite a bit of food to tackle, but I did my best. My broken French scored me a decent bottle of Burgundy, from a house adjacent to Domaine de la Romanée Conti… on my budget, DRC was out of the question, but the juice from their neighbor was out of this world.

The duck, previously strangled to retain the blood (unsanguinated) was roasted and presented. The breasts were carved off and the bird was eviscerated, right there in the dining room. The Maitre d’Canard expertly took the duck apart and created the dish before my eyes. The carcass was pressed, the juices reduced. Looking over the Paris skyline, with the Cathedral Notre Dame prominent, I enjoyed my duck in its own blood with my bottle of “not quite DRC “ wine. The sauce was almost black, and really not quite “pretty,” but completely delicious.

Gentlemen in tuxedoes and white gloves glided around the dining room, and hovered over my table, without being intrusive. They knew I was a cook. I had a slick suit and tie, but wore black kitchen clogs. The fresh burns on my hands, and the way I clutched the antique silverware like a hurried line cook scarfing down a staff meal, gave me away. The wine steward poured me tastes of wines too expensive and rare for me to remember, and the chefs sent out an array of cheese and desserts. To finish, my new amigo, the wine steward, poured me a flute of vintage Champagne, 3 decades older than me. The wine was deep and dark for a Champagne, and the bubbles were massive. For a young cook, this was heaven. I spent about six hours there, warm and fuzzy. A small taste of 50-year-old Chartreuse later, and I waddled tipsy in to the streets of Paris, lighting up a Gaulouises, and loving life.

I hit many gastronomic highs during my time in Europe, and the dinner at La Tour d’Argent really hit home. It wasn’t until I had closed my first restaurant, Bandol, in 2006 that I even considered finding a Duck Press. I was laying out the foundation for the food and ambience at Evangeline, all on paper of course. I wanted to keep the food old school and refined. What technique is truly of the old school? Canard à la Presse. Would I find an antique Duck Press? Yes. Will Americans be disgusted by an open duck carcass in the dining room? Of course. We, as Americans, are just hitting the tip of the iceberg with regard to ultimate food enjoyment and acceptance.

The first search online for “Duck Press” brought me to a 2–year-old post on a random blog. It was a shot in the dark. A gentleman (thanks Doug!) in Colorado was looking to sell his father-in-law’s press. After a few months, the press was delivered to me, and I was ecstatic. Evangeline was amidst licensing issues and wasn’t open yet, so the maiden-voyage of my shiny press was at home amongst family and friends. It worked beautifully, and I was hooked. With this piece of equipment, I could create a sauce unlike any other, except those from a duck press. And, there are very few active duck presses in the world. I know chef Rochat, the predecessor of Frédy Girardet in Crissier has one, and Daniel Boulud has one as well. I stand in these chefs shadows, and always will. But I am proud to run in the Canard Press circle, as it were.

I prepare maybe 40 to 50 ducks in the press every year. We streamline the affair by carving the duck in the kitchen, and pressing it in the dining room.
The liquid gold is then transformed into a sauce back in the kitchen. I add some finesse by including foie gras and pureeing and passing the finished sauce. The sauce is spooned over the carved breasts and served with a simple accoutrement. Traditionally, the sauce would be almost black and chunky, and as much as I wish and pray to the food gods, I know this technique would be shunned by our public. In all of the beauty and tradition that is Canard à la Presse, a lot of folks are still disgusted by pressing a duck carcass to extract deliciousness. I don’t understand this disassociation people have with food and where it comes from, but I am certainly confident that within the next decade or so, people will be knocking down my door for Evangeline’s Duck Press. Maybe a famous chef or a television personality will deem it newsworthy, call it a trend, and maybe even All Clad and Emeril will create and distribute a home version of the duck press with Oxo Good Grips, so everyone can enjoy.

At Evangeline, we don’t break many rules at all. Strict tradition reigns paramount, from our stocks, to our butchery, to our fish preparations. I am both proud and humbled to offer Canard Presse on our menu, and hope to be doing so for a long time. Maybe in 50 years a chef will be waxing poetic about the Canard Presse he had as a kid at Evangeline in Portland Maine. Who knows?



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