The duck press, one of the more obscure pieces of the classic French batterie de cuisine, is making something of a comeback. It won't be landing at a barbecue near you any time soon, but sharp-eyed diners at Sydney's Momofuku Seiobo may have spotted a press behind its bar. In Brisbane, chef-owner Romain Bapst, one of two maîtres canardiers in Australia, is flying the flag at his Lutèce Bistro & Wine Bar.
Canard à la presse dates from the 19th century. A heavy press is used to extract the blood and bone marrow from a partially roasted duck and the juices are used to create a rich sauce that's served with the breast and legs. The sauce is enriched with the duck's ground liver, butter and Cognac, or sometimes Calvados.
The best-known exponent of pressing is Paris's Tour d'Argent, where the dish is a signature and each duck is numbered. Larousse Gastronomique notes Charlie Chaplin ate duck 253,652, and Edward VII was served number 328 while still Prince of Wales.
To be authentic, the duck needs to be supplied intact with its guts in place, something that contravenes food regulations which require poultry to be eviscerated an hour after being killed.
"At the moment we don't do a lot with it. It's my personal duck press," says Momofuku Seiobo head chef Ben Greeno, who bought the press a year ago. "I've been reading a lot of Ducasse, and I saw it and just thought, 'let's have a look at it'." Greeno has pressed a few carcasses and finds his press works better with pigeon but nothing has made it to the menu - yet.
"We haven't tried squeezing a pork bun in it, but we've tried marron shells and lobster shells. They don't have much in them," says Greeno. "The other trouble is that you can't buy a duck with all its insides in it; you have to buy them separately and put them into it, which is kind of silly. But we'll play around with it."
Strasbourg-born Bapst found his hefty brass press in France 30 years ago and says the dish was popular in the '90s when he worked at Melbourne's Mietta's and Woollahra's Pruniers (now Chiswick).
When done correctly, he says, it's a treat beyond compare. "It's gamy because of the duck liver and because the breast is cooked on the bone until it is medium-rare. It's very unique."
Unable to source fresh duck with guts intact, Bapst intends to buy the hearts and livers separately and plans to confit the duck legs overnight rather than using the traditional method, because he believes mandatory evisceration makes them too tough to handle traditionally. "It's not the same but it's still very nice - the duck is still nice and tender and the sauce is enriched in the traditional manner."