Friday, 13 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: France - Confit de Canard

I have been planning to make my own Confit de Canard for a long time.  It's one of those dishes that makes me feel happy just thinking about them.  The problem is, duck isn't cheap, duck fat isn't cheap, and, in all honestly, the need to confit duck to preserve it for long term storage is kind of superfluous these days, what with the dawn of in-house refrigeration units. Freezers I think they are called.

Then, the draw for the world cup took place.  I had already organised the World Cup Food Challenge and knew that I would end up cooking dishes from the countries of Group E and France was first out of the bag.  I knew instantly that the first* dish I would cook to represent France would be Confit Duck.

I flicked through various cook books and trawled the internet before finding three recipes that I liked the look of, each with subtle variations that I wanted to incorporate into my duck.  Anthony Bordain, Nigel Slater and Valentine Warner were chosen as my inspiration and my guides for the week long duck-athon.

The first step was to salt the duck.  I added rosemary, lemon thyme, black peppercorns and juniper berries at this stage, rubbed the duck legs thoroughly with the salt and aromatics and put it in the fridge for 24 hours.  The following day I rubbed the excess salt off the duck, nestled it in the bottom of a pan, added some of the herbs that had also been in the salt, and smothered the lot in duck fat.  The fat, by the way, cost more money than the duck did!

The chefs all had differing opinions as to how to cook the duck at this stage. High temp in the oven for an hour, low simmer on the hob, or two and a half hours at a low temp in the oven.  At two to one the oven method had it.  Could I decide which temperature to set the oven at though? No I couldn't.  In the end I went for a middle ground of 180˚c, mainly because that is the maximum temperature that my pans can withstand.

After an hour I had a cheeky peek and decided that the oven was too high so I droped the temperature and let it cook for another hour.  And there it was, perfectly cooked confit duck, but now came the hard part.  It was Tuesday and I wasn't eating it until Thursday.  I left the duck in the pan of fat to cool overnight and popped it in the fridge in the morning.

Having gone to all the effort to make confit duck I then turned my attention to what I was going to serve it with.  There was a sizeable bit of my brain that wanted chips.  Another part of me wanted to go the whole hog and make cassoulet from scratch, but frankly I couldn't be bothered.  In the end I made boulangere potatoes, partly because I needed the oven on to finish the duck and partly because I love boulangere potatoes.  Think of them as a low fat version of gratin dauphinois and you're there.  A cheeky glass of wine and I could have been in France.

I very much doubt that I'll make my own confit duck again.  Don't get me wrong, it was magnificent.  The crispy salty skin, the soft melting meat, none of the thick smoke that hangs around the house for weeks after roasting a duck or frying a duck breast.  It just costs too much. 

*I'm assuming that I'll need to cook more French dishes when they get out of the group as group winners.

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