EUREKA SPRINGS -- A menu inspired by the movie "Chocolat" provided the perfect Valentine's Day meal for 10 students attending a Feb. 8 class presented by chef Karen Gros.
The menu consisted of Crispy Pan Seared Duck Confit with Savory Chocolate Sauce served with Yukon Gold Potatoes sauteed in Duck Fat (Confit de canard sauté à poêle sauce chocolat noir) and Pears Poached in St. Emilion Red Wine and Raspberries (Poires pochées au vin de St. Emilion et aux framboises). A sampling of a green salad, water with orange slices and bread from the Little Bread Company in Eureka Springs were served in the dining room.
"To me, Valentine's Day means chocolate, so we are going to include an ounce of dark chocolate for a velvety sauce for our duck confit," Gros said.
The chef quickly put her students' fears of complicated French cooking to rest. She discussed at length the best places to procure a whole duck. For local she suggested Richard's Country Meat Market Inc. in Fayetteville, or for foie gras, hudsonvalleyfoiegras.com.
The duck recipe is a two-day process. She explained that duck -- while heavy in fat -- was one of the most healthy types if eaten in moderation.
Gros includes a few cracklings on top of her salads. And while the duck can be expensive, it provides many meals; the carcass and wings are used to make a stock. The stock was made using the duck carcass and what Gros calls the holy trinity: carrots, onion and celery. All of her fresh herbs and vegetables were from Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville.
Donna Guenther of Springdale was a first-time student there. "I'm interested in the duck recipe. We have a lot of wild duck. My husband, Steve, is an avid duck hunter." Guenther recently made duck with fried rice and deemed the recipe a success.
Gros began with the pears, asking students to help her peel. She placed them upright using tongs.
After each step, Gros shared the results with students.
"You mean you're going to put chocolate sauce on the duck?" an incredulous guest asked.
"Yes! Of course on the duck. It's a perfect Valentine's twist," Gros replied.
People were most impressed with the final product, an intense sauce in which a reduction was added to 1 ounce of at least 85 percent cacao.
The result: A delicious addition to succulent duck meat.
Here's a dessert you can share in time for Valentine's Day.
Pears Poached In St. Emilion Red Wine And Raspberries
4 small ripe William or D' Anjou pears
1 10-ounce package frozen organic red raspberries
1 3/4 cups St. Emilion red wine (or 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons each Merlot and Cabernet)
1 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons cold water
1/2 cup (scant) sugar
Dark chocolate, optional (garnish)
Place frozen raspberries in a small saucepan over a low flame, covered, about 10 minutes until bubbly. Strain and discard seeds; reserve puree for wine.
Leaving the stalks on, peel the pears and trim the bases so that they can stand firmly, and core. Wash.
In a medium saucepan, mix the wine and cold water with the sugar and the raspberry puree and boil for about 1 minute. Skim, then strain into a heatproof bowl; wash and dry saucepan.
Stand pears upright in the pan and simmer for about 20 minutes (If pears refuse to stand upright, gently turn occasionally to poach evenly). Leave to cool until tepid.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to a small plate. Strain the sauce into a medium saucepan and reduce over a strong heat until it acquires a rich, dark sheen and has a semi-fluid consistency (rather like syrup). You should obtain about 1 cup of sauce.
To serve, place a pear in the middle of each plate. Spoon about 1/4 cup of the syrup over the pears, tilting the plate to form an even pool of sauce. Finely grate dark chocolate over each pear and serve.
-- Recipe adapted from "Recipes from Le Manior aux Quat' Saisons" by Raymond Blanc
Cuisine Karen offers culinary classes focused on French specialties. Karen Gros is also a personal chef and travel hostess. She has taken several students with her in France to explore the country and its cuisine.
Information: 253-7461, www.cuisinekaren.com.