Hello Ducky

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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Meantime the fat was melting slowly – you can just about see the liquid fat appearing!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And here they are:

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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.

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Spring in your step

This week’s post has been kindly written by Anne Roberts, who owns Aurelie in St Chinian with her husband.  Thank you, Anne, for sharing this lovely walk with everyone!

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Today the sky was endlessly blue and the temperature must have been around 19 degrees in the afternoon, not bad for the 9th of March in Languedoc-Roussillon.  Every year when we return to ”Aurelie”, our home for five months in the south of France, one of the things that we look forward to very much is enjoying the wonderful walks in and around  St. Chinian and its neighbouring villages. The afternoon is perfect for a walk in the hills with friends, and we choose to do a walk starting at Cruzy, a village about 15 minutes by car from St. Chinian.

This walk is a particular favourite since the countryside is varied as we make our way along the marked route arriving back at the car about two and a half hours later.

Many wonderful old houses are to be found in and around Cruzy and more can be learned of the village from a former post on the blog.

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The walk begins at the Panneau de Depart (outlining the route) in the parking lot behind the church.  As we start to leave the village, we pass the public “lavoir” where the household laundry was washed in days long gone.  I hope that the social contact more than made up for the obvious hard work that this must have entailed!  Old lavoirs can be found in most of the villages around here.

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The route takes us along a country road for a short while  before we turn off to the left up into the hills and through the vines.  This walk is called “Montplo” as we will see the hamlet of that name from various points as we walk along. It’s a steady climb up into the vines which are quite bare at the moment and show absolutely no hint of their bounteous harvest to come later in the year. The vineyard workers have been out for many weeks pruning them hard back. After climbing a little further through the vineyards, we can look back and have a good view of Cruzy .

There are wonderful vistas with almost panoramic views as we walk the paths through the vines, and now we see right across to Villespassans.

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It’s lovely up here with a fresh breeze blowing, vines everywhere and olive groves (needing attention, it seems, this year). We step aside at one point for a rider and her dog and soon spot some other aspects of countryside living.   

Eventually we make our way down to the country road again. Shortly, we cut down through more vines toward Montplo, passing behind it and then out onto another quiet country road for a hundred metres or so before turning off once more to the left, but this time, into the woods.

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The woods have a secret. Not far in, there is a very large tomb of the Fau family set into the back edge of a field backing onto the woodland path and overlooking land which was once covered in vines.

The view from the tomb is over lovely countryside (probably much loved in the past by the occupants).  On the other side of the woodland path are the ruins of an old house.  We speculate that this might have been the summer house of the family before they moved into their more permanent residence across the path!

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The walk takes us on through the woods and finally more into open countryside passing by well-kept olive groves and more vines as we approach the village again from another side with its more modern houses.

I don’t know how many times we have done this walk but it never ceases to delight us. Pleasantly weary, we return to the house to enjoy a cup of tea and the delicious goodies baked for us by our friend and neighbour.

Sit and stay awhile

Looking through my recent posts, I realised that I had neglected the food side of things a little – the restaurant food side of things that is!!  So here is a little round up of restaurants.

As spring seems to be on the way, many restaurants are getting their tables and chairs out, in preparation for sunny days and warmer weather.  The last few days have been glorious, and one could very easily have eaten lunch outside, without wearing layers and layers of clothes.

So without further ado, here is a rather summery meal from Restaurant Les Platanes in Poilhes, very close to the Canal du Midi.

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The starters tasted every bit as good as they look in the pictures!!  There was half a roasted pepper, served with anchovies and rocket leaves; a goats cheese enveloped in mountain ham; and a little pot of brandade de morue, a rich puree made with salt cod.

And can you guess which main course I had??  I’ll give you a little hint:  round and lemon.

When it was time for dessert, the light was fading and my camera did not capture the colours all that well!!  The dessert pictured is a twist on Kir Royal – blackcurrant sorbet with sparkling wine!

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Another memorable meal was at Auberge Saint Martin in Beaufort, to celebrate a friend’s 70th birthday, one sunny Sunday!  Christophe and Mylene, the proprietors of the restaurant, always serve delicious food, and this meal lived up to our expectations!

The main courses were beautifully presented; the Lamb leg steak was cooked to perfection and the fish was done just so!

A big, log shaped coconut mousse was brought to our table, decorated with candles, which the birthday girl had to blow out!  Afterwards the chef divided the mousse into individual portions, which were beautifully decorated, and served to each diner.

And since all good things come in threes, here is one more restaurant – La Caleche in Saint Chinian!  The starters were yummy:  pan-fried Foie Gras on a puff pastry apple tart; Salade Gourmande with Foie Gras, gizzards and walnuts; gratinated mussels; and the most delicious wafer thin ham on country bread.

For  the main course there were scallops in a filo pastry basket, steak with three pepper seasoning, and duck breast with red wine sauce, all expertly cooked and presented.

We did have room for dessert, but only one each!! 🙂

Think about including one of these restaurants on the itinerary for your next visit, and if you don’t have any plans for a “next visit”, start making them! 🙂

Blossom time

Last Friday I had to head toToulouse airport, for a flight to England.  The occasion was a sad one:  my father-in-law’s funeral.  All along the way I passed trees, enveloped in clouds of blooms, white and pink, and shades in between!

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The sight of the these trees lifted my heart and spirits.  Nature has such wonderful things in store for us, and the first blossoms are one of my all-time favourites – harbingers of spring and longer days!

I hope you’ll not be cross with me for keeping this post rather short!  I’ll be back with another story next week, I promise!! 🙂