Sou-westers At The Ready
As you'd expect, the Mediterranean diet doesn’t quite cut it when winter sets in. That’s the time to turn to the Atlantic, and put aside the olive oil in favour of duck fat, goose grease and good butter. As you’d expect, France’s sud-ouest is a region of heroic white grapes like fragrant manseng and steely courbu, which stand up to any amount of garlic and graisse while brooding tannat and the more usual Bordelais suspects make perfect winter drinking with local duck and goose.
Confit de canard, perhaps the best regional incarnation of duck goes with both colours, whether a fruity young claret or a chunky oaked white with lively acidity to cut through the richness. It can be home made from scratch, but the tinned variety is so good and cheap that it hardly seems worth troubling first to catch, then preserve your duck.
By popular demand from members, here is a tried and trusted serving suggestion for those who have not yet savoured the delights of France’s best tinned food, or who may have got only as far as buying the tin (which is almost always devoid of useful advice), and looking warily at it.
Confit with Duck Fat Potatoes
Buy confit de canard in tins of two or four legs (cuisses) in French supermarkets, where it is much cheaper than it is here. More often than not, the tin will, like Jake the Peg, come with an extra leg, over which there may be fisticuffs at the table. Keep it quiet and call it a cook’s perk.
Using a mandolin or sharp knife, slice one large peeled potato per two people into discs about a quarter of an inch thick. Soak them for half an hour in cold water to remove excess starch and give a crisper result. Drain and dry thoroughly in a clean tea towel and set aside. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6/400°F.
Open the tin of confit carefully and lift the legs out from their blanket of snowy fat. Scrape off as much fat as possible, and put the legs into a large frying pan on a very low heat to render the rest of it. Put one tablespoon per potato of the fat left in the tin into a bowl. To this add some finely chopped strong herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage), a pinch of black pepper, but no salt, and a crushed clove of garlic. Stir well and add the potato slices, turning to coat each one thoroughly. Arrange them in a large baking tray, overlapping slightly, but in one layer. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until browned and crisp, checking after 35 minutes to ensure they don’t burn.
Meanwhile, rescue the legs, which should now be sizzling gently in a pool of rendered fat. Drain them well on kitchen paper. Preheat a good non-stick pan and quickly add the duck, skin side down. Fry for 8-9 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent sticking. Check the skin for crispness, then flip over, reduce the heat to moderate and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, until thoroughly reheated.
Serve the confit perched on a layer of the crisp, golden potato slices. The only other accompaniment needed is a green salad, dressed with walnut oil and lemon juice.
Following the 'what grows together, goes together' principle, head to South West France. Whites need to be pretty full-flavoured; something like Pacherenc de Vic Bihl Sec, Château Montus has the necessary 'fat' to cope. For a robust red, you couldn't get more of a local match than Madiran.