Louise Pickford prepares one of her all-time favourite dishes
There are good dishes, there are great dishes and then there is confit de canard and, for me, this would definitely be one of my ‘dessert island dishes’. Not for the faint-hearted of course, but then this was a dish intended to sustain through the cooler months in a part of France that does get really cold.
Originally from Gascony, a region renowned for the quality of its duck, locally reared birds would be slaughtered at the end of summer and then salted, cooked and stored in fat to preserve them throughout the winter. This was a method introduced long before the days of refrigeration, and in fact the word confit is actually the past participle of the French verb, to preserve. Today, this process has been adapted to preserve not only duck but other types of meat such as pork and chicken, and interestingly enough other ingredients including garlic.
The meat is firstly salted which helps remove excess liquid before being roasted in
Not for the faint-hearted of course, but then this was a dish intended to sustain through the cooler months in the cold parts of France
duck or goose fat until meltingly tender (originally this would have taken many hours, perhaps all day). Once cold, the meat can either be stored in the set fat for up to six months, or nowadays refrigerated overnight and then reheated. As well as preserving food, this method also helps to tenderize the tougher cuts making it ideal for duck legs. You will find duck confit on menus all over France, but in Gascony it is also traditionally incorporated into one of the region’s other famous dishes: cassoulet.
Although readily available in France in almost every supermarket, making duck confit at home is not only easy; it’s fun. It is a very simple process and to incorporate extra flavour, you can add various aromatics during both the salting and cooking process. I like to add hardy herbs such as thyme and bay leaves, but you could also use rosemary or sage. Once cooked, you must ensure that all the meat is totally covered by the hot fat before cooling and chilling. To reheat the duck, simply scrape away most of the fat and roast or pan-fry the duck legs to crisp up the skin. The remaining fat can be used to cook some potatoes, making it a very rich yet really economical dish.
Louise Pickford is a food writer and stylist with more than 25 cookbooks to her name. She lives in Charente with her food and lifestyle photographer husband Ian Wallace.