The Danish/French Babette’s Feast is based on a story by Isak Dinesen, also the source of the very different Out of Africa (1985). Stephane Audran plays Babette, a 19th century Parisian political refugee who seeks shelter in a rough Danish coastal town. Philippa (Bodil Kjer) and Martina (Birgitte Federspiel), the elderly daughters of the town’s long-dead minister, take Babette in. As revealed in flashback, Philippa and Martina were once beautiful young women (played by Hanne Stensgaard and Vibeke Hastrup), who’d forsaken their chances at romance and fame, taking hollow refuge in religion. Babette holds a secret that may very well allow the older ladies to have a second chance at life. This is one of the great movies about food, but there are way too many surprises in Babette’s Feast to allow us to reveal anything else at this point.
Almost impossibly expensive and difficult to re-create, the title meal in Babette’s Feast was a grand gesture of gratitude. Molly O’Neill, writing for the New York Times, simplified the movie’s main dish so that a home cook could relish the experience.
Quail in Puff Pastry
- 1 pound frozen puff pastry, defrosted 20 minutes at room temperature
- 4 quails, boned
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- Freshly ground white pepper to taste
- 12 ounces foie gras (French for “fat liver”, is a food product made of the liver of a duck or goose), of which is cut across in 8 slices, the rest cut into 2/3- inch cubes
- 1 1-ounce black truffle, sliced as thinly as possible, at least 12 slices
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup demi-glace (a rich brown sauce in French cuisine)
- 16 black figs, quartered
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut 4 5-inch rounds from the pastry. Make a 3-inch circle in the center of each round, being careful not to cut to the bottom of the dough. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 22 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Carefully lift out the 3-inch round from the center to create a nest with a top. Set aside to cool.
- Raise the oven to 450 degrees. Season the inside of the quails with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Lay 1 slice of foie gras in each quail cavity followed by 3 truffle slices and top with the remaining foie gras. Truss the quails. Season the outsides with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Melt the butter in an ovenproof skillet over high heat. Sear the quails, 20 to 30 seconds per side. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Turn the quails and roast for 5 minutes more. Remove and keep warm in a covered dish.
- Place the skillet over high heat on top of the stove. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Simmer for 1 minute. Pour in the stock and demi-glace and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the figs and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the 1/4- inch cubes of foie gras and simmer, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sauce is reduced to 2/3 cup. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste.
- To serve, put each quail in a pastry nest. Drizzle with sauce, top with the pastry round and surround with the figs.