Confit de Canard (Duck Confit) is a classic French dish and is a speciality of the Aquitaine. It’s amazingly tender and succulent as well as being packed with flavour. Confit takes its name from the French word confir meaning “to preserve” and Duck Confit is made with duck legs that have been cured (partly or fully) in salt, then marinated and poached in duck fat, garlic and herbs. Centuries ago Confit was made by the French peasantry to preserve meat but nowadays it has been elevated to gourmet fare and is much sought after.
Duck Confit is superb as a dish in itself but is often used as an ingredient in traditional French cooking such as Pommes Sarladaises, Pot au Feu and the famous French Cassoulet.
The Good Food Network have a wonderful range of award winning Duck Confits and Confit de Canard Pommes Sarladaises is amongst them. This is a delicious and highly recommended Confit from Sarlat in South West France consisting of Duck Confit cooked with potatoes in Sarladaises bacon, parsley, garlic and herb sauce. It makes a complete meal for two to three people and simply needs to be warmed up. It is very easy to prepare and very tasty.
Cassoulet is an important part of regional French cuisine and is a treat worth tasting. Cassoulet contains meat (pork sausages, pork, goose, duck, lamb or and sometimes mutton), white haricot beans and often topped with a gratin of crunchy breadcrumbs. There are a thousand versions of Cassoulet and it can be as simple or as complicated as the cook prefers but either way it is a melt in the mouth experience and once tasted, never forgotten.
One legend places the birth of Cassoulet during the siege of Castelnaudary by the Black Prince, Edward the Prince of Wales, in 1355. The Provost sought to prepare a dish with all the victuals from the town would give his besieged troops courage for a coming offensive. Finding plenty of beans, fresh and salted pork, geese, and sausages, the chef prepared a huge stewed dish and served it at a banquet along with barrels of the local wine. After the banquet the soldiers set off all their artillery and then rushed straight at their British enemies. The explosions were so loud and the soldiers so rowdy that the British fled in panic and didn’t stop running until they reached the shores of the English Channel.
The Good Food Network’s Confit de Canard aux Lentilles also hails from Castelnaudary and is a Duck Confit cooked in a flavoursome lentil sauce. You can also use it as an ingredient in Duck, Lentil and Red Wine Cassoulet if you prefer lentils to white haricot beans.
The award winning Confit de Canard by La Belle Chaurienne in Castelnaudary has won a tasting competition six times and is exceptionally good. Each tin contains 4/5 duck legs and is so easy to prepare you can not really go wrong. Simply remove the Duck Confit from the tin (it may be worth placing the tin in a tepid oven for 10 minutes to soften the duck fat), place either on a grill or oven tray and heat at approx 180c until crisp and golden, turn over once and crisp again. In terms of what to enjoy Confit with, the lentilles du Puy or haricots lingots are the traditional accompaniments.
You can also use Duck Confit in Pot au Feu (literally translated as pot on the fire) – which is a classic French stew that has been eaten all over France for centuries. In fact it’s so deeply French that 19th century folklorist Ernst Auricoste de Lazarque declared, “All people have their soups. France alone possesses le pot au feu.” There are many variations – in the Perigord veal is often the base whilst in Quercy the principal meat is beef – sometimes even a stuffed chicken is used. Usually a typical Pot au Feu contains cheaper cuts of beef that need long cooking; oxtail or marrowbone, carrots, turnips, leeks, celery, onions, spices, seasoning and cloves. In the past the Pot au Feu was always left on the fire with new ingredients added as some are used; nowadays houses do not have a permanent fire in cold weather, and the dish is cooked for a specific meal.
The dish is often served with coarse salt and strong Dijon mustard and sometimes also with gherkins and samphire pickled in vinegar.
Le Pot Au Feu A L’Albigeoise
1 ¾ lb chuck steak
1 ¾ lb shin of veal
4 oz shin of pork
½ lb saucisson sec
½ lb carrots
4 oz turnips
2 sticks celery
5 cloves garlic, quartered
2 onions stuck with 2 cloves, roasted and halved
salt and pepper
6 oz white haricot beans
1 small cabbage, cut into 6 pieces
Place the meat whole into the pot, cover with water and bring gently to the boil, then skim. Roughly chop the vegetables – except the haricots and cabbage – and add them to the pot along with the seasonings. Cover and cook slowly for 3 hours. Then add the confit, beans and cabbage and cook all together for another hour.
There are a few Bordeaux clarets I can recommend to pair with Duck Confit, these being Chateaux Grand Rousseau 2009, Roc de Levraut Bordeaux Supérieur 2009, La Tour du Pin 2006 and Sansonnet 2005. They are all classic food wines with well integrated tannins and great structure.