Confit de canard

Duck preserved in duck fat, confit de canard in French is one of the great delights of eating in south-western France. It is on pretty much all the menus in those parts and it is always a good reliable thing to order.

Duck confit is made from the legs and thighs of the duck, with the breasts being used as magret de canard and the rest of the meat ends up as rillettes or paté. The livers, of course are used for fois gras. You can make confit yourself, in fact I’ve done it in the past, but in France the easiest thing is to just buy your confit, which is sold in tins almost everywhere in the region, as well as in supermarkets across France. I always stock up on tins of confit when I go to France.

Confit is made by salting the duck and letting it rest, then cleaning off the salt and slowly cooking the duck legs in duck fat until they are very tender and the meat is rich and unctuous.

Getting the duck ou tof the tin is a simple matter of warming the opened tin up in a bowl of boiling water to soften the duck fat in which the meat has been cooked and then taking the duck legs out with a spoon. The meat will be incredibly soft and rich-tasting and comes easily away from the bones. There will also be the skin and sub-cutaneous fat as well.

There are lots of things that you can do with confit, putting it in cassoulet, for example but the simplest is just heating it up in the oven or in a frying pan (I prefer the oven) and serving it with a simple salad, dressed with quite a sharp vinaigrette and some frites or maybe pommes Sarladaise, which are slices of waxy potato fried in duck fat until golden with garlic and parsley added towards the end of the cooking time. If you have any truffles, you can add these to the potatoes with the garlic.

You want a local red wine to go with this; Bergerac is a pretty classic choice but any decent red Bordeaux will also go well.

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Rack of lamb with courgettes and tomatoes

I love lamb and this recipe is tasty and looks good too.

The lamb is easy to do, you sear the meat in a hot pan with some olive oil, then spread the loin side with Dijon mustard and press and breadcrumb and herb (I used rosemary and parsley) mixture into the mustard.

Then you roast in in a hot oven for around 20-25 minutes, removing it to rest before carving it into individual chops.

The accompaniments to this were some boiled new potatoes and some cubed courgettes sautéed with onion, garlic and baby tomatoes in more olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, herbes de Provence and chopped parsley. If you wanted, you could add some chopped black olives to this too, but this might overpower the delicate lamb.

Any good red will work with this, we had a 2006 red Bordeaux from the Entre-Deux-Mers, Château Labourdette 2006, from Laithwaites. This was a slightly austere wine, with a definite edge of Cabernet Sauvignon to give a backbone to the Merlot. I would say that this represents the older style of Bordeaux rather than the in-your-face style that is popular with the likes of Robert Parker and, for me, that is a good thing. It worked well with the sweetness of the lamb and the tomatoes and didn’t dominate the food. I think that another year in bottle will see this developing nicely.

A French dinner for friends

Four courses of fairly classic French food last night, because we were entertaining some very close friends who appreciate a nice meal and wine.

Tartelettes aux poireaux et salade verte

Alouettes sans têtes, haricots verts et purée de pommes

Assiette de fromages

Crème brûlée

Otherwise; leek and cheese tarts with salad, beef olives with mash and green beans, cheese and crème brûlée.

A lot of cooking here, it took me most of Saturday, in one way or another.

I will write about the tarts another time, today I am concentrating on the beef olives.

The meat I used was skirt steak, trimmed and sliced thinly and then beaten out flat.

The stuffing was a classic duxelles mixture with some breadcrumbs added.

When the olives were tied up securely I gave them some colour in olive oil and butter and them left them on one side while I sautéed a mixture of very finely chopped leeks, carrots, celery and parsley stems in the same pan before deglazing it with some red Martini (believe me, it works) and adding in tomato purée, some pieces of dried porcini and beef stock.

The olives were returned to the pan and simmered for about an hour and a half, until they were tender.

Then I strained the sauce, throwing away the solid bits. This was reduced down from the long cooking time and didn’t need any more thickening.

To finish the dish, I sautéed some sliced mushrooms in butter before returning the beef olives to the pan and warming them through in the strained and reduced sauce.

This is a very rich dish, so it needs a simple accompaniment. I did puréed potatoes (put through a ricer and with butter and milk beaten in to ensure it was very smooth) and green French beans finished off with butter.

We had claret with this, a bottle of 2007 St Estephe from Château Capbern-Gasqueton which I wrote about in an earlier post, here and which was a very good match for the richness of the beef and sauce.

The wines we had with the other courses were equally enjoyable; a 2002 Touraine blanc with the leek tarts and a superb Hungarian classic dessert wine, a 50 cl bottle of 2004 St Stephan’s Crown Tokaji Aszu 5 puttonyos. This was really superb stuff, sweet of course, but with acidity underneath and a lovely butterscotch and dried apricot flavour. This was not cheap and came from Morrison’s supermarket. I will admit to being surprised to see it there, but it was well worth the money spent. An excellent wine.

Middle-eastern chicken with apricot pilaff

Following on from Friday evening’s curry, I felt like something else spicy, but this time a bit more refined in flavour.

I marinated chicken breasts in a mixture of Syrian hot pepper paste, lemon juice, yoghurt and chopped dill and coriander for a couple of hours before baking them in the oven.

To go with the chicken I made a pilaff with sautéed onions, apricots, chicken stock, pine nuts and saffron, with chopped fresh dill, mint and coriander added at the end of the cooking time.

I finished the plate off with some more of the same chopped herbs, sliced tomato and cucumber and a drizzle of good olive oil.

This wasn’t too spicy so picking a wine wasn’t really that difficult. We had a bottle of 2008 Château Bois Pertuis from Waitrose. This is a predominantly Merlot-based wine with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from the northern part of the region and is drinking pretty well now, with soft ripe red fruits on the palate.

I suppose we could have drunk a full-bodied rosé with this and, if it had still been Summer, we probably would have. However, Autumn is well established now and red wines seem far more appealing.