Warning – this post contains images, some of which may upset sensitive souls!
Many of you will remember my post about the Circuit Court market in Agel, where the consumers can buy directly from the producers. If you didn’t see the post then you can read it here. A couple of weeks ago I had an e-mail from one of the organisers, to say that a poultry farmer would be offering fattened ducks on March 20, and would anyone interested please order. So I jumped in with both feet!!
I ordered one whole duck (without the fat liver), and six duck legs, thinking that it would be a good idea to try my hand at making Confit de Canard, a speciality of south west France, where the duck is simmered very slowly in its own fat. Confit is served in many restaurants in our area, almost always with French fries or fried potatoes, and I’ve never been disappointed by the melting soft texture of the duck.
Back to the making of Confit de Canard – I had a chat with Nadia Bourgne from Domaine la Madura some time ago, and knew that she participates in a big Confit-making session with friends every year. I asked her advice on how to prepare the Confit, and it all sounded very simple and straightforward. Come last Thursday, I headed to Agel to collect “my” duck. The two bags weighed very heavily, and when I glanced into the bigger of the bags, I could tell that the head was still on the duck! I had planned to cut the animal up myself, but in the end I chickened out :) – I didn’t want to spoil a perfectly good duck by making a hash of it. So I plucked up courage and asked Jean-Pierre Peyras, of Boucherie Peyras in St Chinian if he would agree to help. Thankfully he was more than happy to show me how to dissect the duck, and he had just the right tools for the job too!
Before you wonder, the two small birds are pigeons, which Jean-Pierre was in the process of preparing. My duck was enormous – I don’t know the exact weight but it was well over 5kg! First, Jean-Pierre removed the head and the neck, followed by the wing tips, and then the legs were trimmed off the carcass. The wings were next and finally he removed the breasts, so in the end there were various pieces of duck, and the bones. The fat was neatly trimmed off and put to one side, and the skin on the two duck breasts (magret de canard) was scored in a diamond pattern. Now I know just how to do it next time – if there is a next time. Thank you, Jean-Pierre!!
This all happened on Saturday morning. Once I got everything home I prepared the rest of the ingredients: thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, and sea salt.
I trimmed some fat off the duck legs, which I had bought in addition to the whole bird, and then I cut all the fat into half inch squares, so I could render it over very low heat. Half a glass of water went into the bottom of the pan, to stop the fat from overheating and burning.
The neck, wing tips and the rest of the carcass went into another pot, along with a shallot, some peppercorns, a bay leaf, a little rosemary and thyme, and some salt. Covered with water, I brought it all to a simmer and left it on very low heat, with the lid on, for about an hour.
That done, I prepared the salt mixture to season my duck pieces with. I stripped the leaves from some rosemary and thyme sprigs (more thyme, less rosemary), and tore the bay leaf into small pieces, then ground all together in the spice mill. I then added coarse sea salt and gave it another whirl – it looked great and smelled divine!!
Meantime the fat was melting slowly – you can just about see the liquid fat appearing!
Every piece of duck was sprinkled with a bit of the salt mixture, and I massaged it in a little.
The duck pieces were then covered with a clean tea towel, and were left to marinate overnight in a cool place. In my case, the cool place was the guest bedroom :), but the fridge will be fine too. On the stove, the fat was coming along nicely, gently bubbling away.
Soon it was time to strain the fat, leaving behind the pieces of skin which had given up most of the fat.
And that was it for the first day!! Not too difficult after all :)
The following day (Sunday), I set to work around midday, after voting in the municipal elections and going to the market. The seasoned duck pieces were quickly rinsed, to remove any excess salt, and patted dry. The fat I had rendered the day before went into the largest casserole pan I possess, along with a glass of water and some additional duck fat (I always have a few jars of duck or goose fat in my larder!). Once the fat had melted I added the duck legs and wings, and slowly brought the pan to a simmer.
Meantime I set to work on the pieces of the carcass which had been boiled the previous day, and left to cool in the stock. I picked all the remaining meat off the bones; that meat would go into making Rillettes de Canard, a kind of pate.
Next came the duck breasts, which Jean-Pierre had prepared so nicely the day before. I had invited friends to dinner for Sunday night, and decided that the duck breasts would make a perfect roast. The two breasts (which had also been given the salt treatment the day before) were laid atop one another with the skin side out, and then tied with string, to make a neat shape.
That done, I started on the Fritons de Canard – remember the bits of skin left behind the previous day when I strained the rendered duck fat? They went into a dry saute pan over medium heat and cooked gently, to give up every last bit of fat.
When the fat started to run I added a clove of garlic, cut in half, to add a bit of flavour; once the fritons had turned a pale brown colour they were strained in a sieve and drained on kitchen paper. I was amazed to see that the kitchen paper remained more or less fat free. The Fritons received a light sprinkling of fleur de sel and they were ready to be eaten with our aperitif later on.
The duck pieces had by now simmered away for an hour and a half, and it was time to remove them from their pan. You can see how they had shrunk a little.
And here they are:
In the old days, Confit de Canard would have been kept in stoneware crocks, the pieces buried deep in fat, and the crocks kept in a cool larder over the winter. As our modern homes don’t really allow for cool places any more, you can either keep your confit in the fridge for 10 days to two weeks, or you can put the pieces of duck into jars and sterilise it. Since there was way more confit than I would want to eat in the immediate future I opted for the latter. Two legs went into each 1-litre jar, which was then filled two thirds high with strained fat. The wings got a jar of their own. With the jars securely closed they were processed in boiling water for an hour and a half.
Once the boiling was finished, the jars were removed immediately from the hot water, to stop cooking. I noticed that the legs had given up some more fat, the levels seemed higher after boiling!
And this is what the jars looked like on Monday morning, once everything had solidified.
I’m not going to open these jars for a little while, so that the flavours will have time to mingle and develop. Watch this space for when I do serve my homemade Confit de Canard.
For those of you who are wondering about the roast duck breast, I’m sorry I didn’t photograph the end result – I blame it on the aperitif! I started the cooking by putting the roast into a cold frying pan and cooking it on medium heat for five minutes on each side. The roast then went into the pre-heated oven at 200 degrees Centigrade for 30 minutes, and, once removed from the oven, rested for another 30 minutes, before being carved. It turned out perfectly pink, juicy and flavoursome, served with roast potatoes (made of course with duck fat) and braised savoy cabbage. Try it out, it’s delicious!!
Note: the two duck breasts weighed in at 1.3kg. For a smaller roast you would have to adjust the cooking time somewhat unless you like your duck less pink.