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City Tavern Cookbook

200 Years of Classic Recipes From America's First Gourmet Restaurant

by Walter Staib (Running Press)

City Tavern Cookbook



Not many people thank the U.S. Department of the Interior and historical museum curators in the acknowledgments of their cookbooks, but Walter Staib didn't just buy City Tavern restaurant in Philadelphia, he was awarded the management contract by an act of Congress.

That was in 1994, a full 220 years after the ritzy restaurant first opened its doors. Soon after, Paul Revere arrived at those doors to announce Parliament's closing of the port of Boston. That was the first of many landmark events the restaurant witnessed. In 1777, City Tavern hosted the country's first official Fourth of July celebration. In 1789, George Washington feasted there on the way to his inauguration. Unfortunately, the building was heavily damaged by fire in 1834 leading to its eventual razing.

In 1948, Congress authorized Independence National Historical Park to preserve important sites such as that of City Tavern, which was replicated and opened in time for the country's bicentennial. Staib—an award-winning chef and restaurateur—took over in 1994 making a splash by serving 18th century-style gourmet food.

His book makes a similar splash and should be a welcome addition to the shelves of anyone interested in culinary history—or simply good stick-to-your ribs Colonial cuisine. First fill up on history—not just that of the restaurant, but the cuisine of the times. Then, move on to the first plates. As Staib explains, "When City Tavern first opened, appetizers weren't served as they are today. Meals were organized as 'first plates' and 'second plates,' with first plates including appetizers, soups and salads. All first plate items were brought out at the same time and served family-style and in eclectic dishes of various shapes and sizes." These might have included Cornmeal Fried Oysters With Remoulade inspired by Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery and Chestnut Fritters, Pumpkin Bisque, Corn Chowder and Dandelion Salad.

You'll quickly see why most of the ingredients have lasted centuries as this country's favorites. Here are some of Staib's second plates (entrées) that also feature all-time favorite ingredients:

Pecan-Crusted, Honey-Glazed Roasted Ducklings

3 whole boned and halved domestic ducks (2 to 4 pounds each), see note below
1/4 cup fresh orange juice, strained
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 cup honey
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Homemade or store-bought chutney, for serving, optional

Preheat oven to 425 F. Place duck halves skin sides up, in a large shallow baking pan.
In a small bowl, combine the orange juice, brown sugar, thyme and parsley; mix well.
Using a pastry brush, brush the mixture over the skin of the ducks.
Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F.
Brush the honey over the skin of the ducks and sprinkle with the pecans.
Roast for 15 to 20 minutes more, until crispy.
If desired, serve with homemade or store-bought fruit chutney. Yields 6 servings.

Note: If possible, have your butcher bone the ducks removing the wing bones but leaving in the thigh bone and keeping the breast intact with the thigh. Then ask to have the ducks cut in half.

Trout with Black Walnuts

4 whole fresh trout (8 to 10 ounces each), with heads, tales and fins removed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pats
Salt, to taste Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley, chopped, to taste, for garnish
3/4 cup chopped (preferably black) walnuts, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place each trout on its back, cavity facing up, and remove the excess bones. Rinse the fish; pat dry. Place the flour in a medium shallow bowl. Dip both sides of the trout into the flour. In a large skillet, cook the trout in the oil over high heat for 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Transfer the trout to a baking sheet. Bake for 3 to 4 minutes, until crisp. Transfer to a serving platter. Keep warm. In the same skillet, sauté the shallots in the 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat for 3 minutes, until golden brown. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, loosening any browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the lemon juice and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the butter pats one at a time, whisking with a wire whisk, until all of the butter is incorporated into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

To serve: Spoon the sauce over the trout. Garnish with the parsley and walnuts. Yields 4 servings.

(Updated: 11/06/08 SB)

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