Prince Rainier’s big night
This week I’ve been under the spell of two very different but equally delightful things. A favorite movie and a grand old restaurant. All the magnolias surrounding me, in the house and as I drive through Médoc keep taking me back to my walks in Palais Royal. This special place in the middle of Paris, so full of history and beauty is at its most poetic in March when the magnolias blossom. The crown jewel of Palais Royal is Le Grand Véfour, which someone described as the “Most beautiful restaurant in the world”. I wouldn’t argue with that. The plush red velvet seats, the gilded decorations, the ghosts of Victor Hugo and Napoleon himself. And a sophisticated and soft-spoken maître d’ who always reminds me of Christopher Walken.
It’s where I had my wedding lunch, a very small and intimate affair filled with happiness and opulence. It was one wonderful plate after another of the most delicate and luxurious food you can imagine. It was a good day. I think all of us had the pigeon prince Rainier III, at least I did, a big classic at this restaurant that’s been on the menu for decades. Deboned pigeons, filled with truffles, foie gras & veal. These pigeons have been on my mind all week, it started with a flower but as so often is the case with me, ends with a craving for a certain taste or dish.
This week the kids have been on holiday and as a little treat we’ve tried to end each day by watching a classic movie together (it was my husband’s idea as he says he can’t take any more Barbie movies – lot of girls in this family). The two winners so far have been “Some like it Hot”, and one of my all time favorite food movies, “Big Night”. Two scenes from that film take my breath away: when the chef describes how he feels about ragù Bolognese and the timbale. Just the sheer idea of that dish, a whole dome filled with the most desirable ingredients, made with such reverence, served with expectation and caution. I’ve never made a timbale, one day I will, but this week I needed to satisfy my cravings, for foie gras & pigeon and for something so special that it would put me at ease after having watched Big Night. So I went in the classic French direction and made an old-fashioned pie filled with everything I wanted. Fresh pigeons from my butcher, a small piece of foie gras, sausages from Queyrac, savoy cabbage, a single carrot, pieces of veal and bacon drenched in Cognac along with the usual suspects of shallots, onions, garlic, thyme and bay leaves.
It’s such a great feeling when you really know what you want and then you get it. It fills me with satisfaction and serenity so what better way to end the week than after a beautiful drive through the vineyards of Pauillac, past blossoming mimosa trees and pink cherry blossoms, to find myself in the town’s church. It wasn’t a planned visit but we had some errands to run in Pauillac and went our separate ways. When I was done with my duties I wound up in the main square and saw that the door of the church, usually closed, was open. It was so inviting that I had to go in and take a peek. The church was beautiful and completely abandoned except for one person, my husband who’d had the same idea and was already photographing the surprising sailboat hanging from the rafters.
It’s at moments like this that you think, I want nothing more … except perhaps another pigeon pie.
For the pastry:
500 g/ 4 cups plain flour
250 g/ 1 cup unsalted butter (cubed & at room temperature)
3-4 tbsp water
1 tsp salt
Mix all the ingredients together, start kneading until you get a good soft dough. Make into a ball, cover with cling film and store in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
For pie filling:
2 large pigeons
120 g/ ¼ pound foie gras (sliced into 8-10 small slices)
3 cloves garlic (finely sliced)
1 onion (sliced finely)
2 shallots (sliced finely)
3 good-quality pork sausages
150 g/ ¼ pound veal (chopped as finely as possible)
100 g/ ¼ pound bacon (chopped very finely)
30 ml/ 1/8 cup cognac (or dry white wine, dry sherry, Armagnac)
1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf (crumbled)
½ savoy cabbage (chopped finely)
1 carrot (diced very finely)
Salt and black pepper for seasoning
Eggwash (for pastry)
1 tbsp full cream
1) Chop, dice, slice all the vegetables in the ingredients list. Set aside.
2) In a large bowl, mix the uncooked sausage meat (slice the sausages and squeeze the meat out), veal, bacon, cognac, thyme and crumbled bay leaf. Add 1 egg and mix well. Season with salt and pepper very lightly as the sausages and bacon are quite salty. Set aside.
3) Rinse the pigeons in cool water and pat them dry. Slice the filets off the pigeons, keep the livers and set aside.
4) In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and fry the onion, shallots and garlic until slightly golden and soft. Set aside. In the same pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil and brown the pigeon filets and livers until golden for about 45 seconds on each side. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside. Brown the carcass in the same oil and remove any pieces of meat fit for use and set aside. Discard the pigeon carcass. (It’s easier to remove meat when the pigeon is slightly cooked). Chop the liver finely.
5) Again, in the same pan, add 1 more tbsp of olive oil, fry the cabbage and carrots for a few minutes, cooking them al dente. Season with salt and pepper.
6) Add the cooked garlic/onion/shallots to the bowl of uncooked sausage/veal/bacon/egg mixture and mix gently.
7) Roll out 2 pastry discs to fit your pie dish. Line the pie dish with the first disc, leaving 2 cm overhang.
8) Add a layer of meat mixture (sausage/veal/bacon/onion etc), followed by a layer of cabbage/carrots, then place the pigeon filets all over. Add a layer of the foie gras slices over each pigeon filet, then finish with the remaining meat mixture, shredded meat and liver from the pigeons and cabbage/carrots.
9) Prepare the eggwash – Whisk egg with one tbsp of full cream and brush the edge of the pastry lining. Cover with your second pastry disc and seal together by pressing firmly on the side of the dish with your thumbs. Cut off excess pastry dough and re-roll to create 5-7 leaves to decorate the pie. With the back of your knife, press lightly all around the edge.
10) Prick a hole in the center of the pie (I use a chopstick).
11) Brush the pie with the remaining eggwash.
12) Bake in a preheated oven (210°C/410°F) for 10 minutes then lower heat to 180°C/350°F and bake for a further 45-50 minutes. If the pastry starts to brown too fast, cover with aluminium foil. Leave pie to rest for 15 minutes before serving.