Duck Rillettes.

Rillettes are pork, rabbit, goose or duck cooked in fat, their own if they have it or pork fat in the case of rabbit, the meat is shredded then potted and served as a cold starter. In Tours and Anjou, France, pork rillettes are known for their deep colour from almost caramelising the meat adding a rich, sweet flavour. I make rillettes from confit of duck and since I over-cooked my confit to the stage of caramelisation I shall call my rillette ‘in the style of Tours and Anjou’.

From the confit stage, pull the meat off the bones and remove the skin. Season to taste and add a pinch of quatre epices. Shred the meat by hand and press into a ramekin or other pate sized pot. Cover the rillette with a layer of the duck fat to preserve. To serve bring to room temperature, scrape off the layer of duck fat and serve with either caramelised onion, cornichons, a pear/ apple/ or other savoury fruit preserve and fresh baguette or toasted bread. 



I used to think cassoulet was all about the confit of duck or goose but like a risotto or paella is all about the rice and the other ingredients are merely flavourings, cassoulet is all about the beans. And the caramelisation of the surface. A cassoulet is not a soupy or stewey type of dish. There is a tender balance when adding the stock the beans were cooked in, to the beans and meats for the final cooking, it can not be drowned or left too dry. Cassoulet is country fare and while it is raved about like it contains angels wings and good drugs, it really is, when you follow the rules, rather extraordinary.So the rules are, (and there are rules) according to the Etats Generaux de la Gastronomie, the ratio should be 70% beans and flavourings to 30% confit and meats. The pot it is cooked in (cassole) is similar to the Spanish cassuela (above) but taller with no handles, earthenware and also glazed on the inside only. The beans must be blanched then cooked with the pork and pork rind, onion and a bouquet garni. The stock made from cooking the beans goes into the final dish for a 3 hour cooking with the beans, confit of duck and pork and garlic sausage. One region of France adds lamb shoulder cooked in wine instead of pork. Breaking the crust several times while cooking is a must and breadcrumbs on the surface are a must not! You really don’t need them.

This is what I did. During the week I made the confit with four duck legs, see here for confit of duck.

Next part: You need 1.5 k pork belly, 400g haricot beans, 1 bouquet garni, 1 onion, peeled and quartered. Slice the rind off the pork belly and cut the belly into 4 cm cubes. Put the haricot beans into cold water, bring to the boil, then boil for 5 minutes, strain. Put the beans back in the pot and cover by 50% with water, add the rind from the pork belly, the pork belly, the onion and the bouquet garni. Season with salt and simmer gently, one hour then strain into another pot so you retain the cooking liquid.

Next bit: You need 3 pork and garlic sausages. Take the confit from the duck fat it is nestled amongst. Use some duck fat to brown the sausages and when the pork belly has simmered (as above) take it out of the beans and also brown in the duck fat for flavour. Line the pot you will cook the cassoulet in with the pork rind, add 1/3 of the beans in a layer then the confit of duck, pork belly and the sausages (cut the suasages into 4 cm pieces first). Cover with the rest of the beans or whatever will fit in the pot. Fill to just above the beans with the cooking liquid from the beans (reserved before). Drizzle the surface of the cassoulet very meanly with duck fat. Cook in a 150 degree oven for 3 hours.

Every hour for the first two, break the crust that forms on the surface and top up with bean liquid if it seems too dry. Most recipes say to assemble the cassoulet and cook for the required 3 hours then refrigerate and reheat to scalding to serve. I did this as I thought the overnight must enhance the flavours even more but to tell the truth I could not stop eating it as it came out of the oven the first time, I don’t think it really improved all that much the second day and you lose the first and most delicious crust.

A note on shopping today compared with the 1800s. I used pork belly for the pork ratio in my cassoulet and of course it comes with pork rind which is in all the traditional recipes. The pork rind, containing heaps of gelatine, is a natural thickener . In Australia, instead of Toulouse sausages which are never quite right here, try to find a pork sausage with garlic from a good butcher. I bought pork, garlic and fennel sausages from Barossa fine foods in the Market which were perfect. The addition of a ‘small piece of rancid fat’ (Larousse) is obviously not what would happen in any household today, but duck fat from the confit drizzled on the top of the cassoulet is delicious and integral in forming the final crust.

Duck breast with my neighbours figs and French green lentils.

Drawing by Shari Thiel, photos by Lucy Uppill, tree by Horst Birve and nature.

I have been waiting not-so-patiently for these beauties to ripen and also to get to them before the birds do. I saw a red wattle bird eyeing them today with a look that was first cousin to desire. So I picked them.

Duck breast with fig sauce and green lentils.

(serves 4)

2 tblsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cup dry sherry

2 cups/ 500ml chicken or duck stock

1 cup French Du Puy lentils or Australian grown green lentils

1 cup baby spinach

2 tblsp each of chopped parsley and coriander

1/4 of a small preserved lemon, inner removed and rind finely chopped

salt and pepper

1/2 cup sherry vinegar

1/2 cup soft brown sugar/ muscavado

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 tsp baharat

4 fat ripe figs, cut in half

4 duck breasts

In a heavy based sauce pan heat the oil and fry the onion gently until soft and slightly coloured, add garlic and fry another minute, stirring. Add the sherry and once the alcohol has boiled off add the stock and lentils. Boil the lentils until tender and the liquid has been absorbed, adding water when necessary until done. Stir through spinach, herbs, preserved lemon and season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile put the sherry vinegar, sugar, cinnamon stick and spices in a pan and simmer 2 minutes. Add fig halves cut side down and simmer gently for about 2 minutes, turn and cook a further 4 minutes until jammy but still holding together. Add water if the sauce becomes too syrupy when cooking.

Score the duck breasts and cook skin side down in a fry pan to render the fat and crisp the skin, see here for rendering. After 8-10 minutes tip out the accumulated fat and turn over. Continue to cook for 5 minutes at a higher heat then take off the heat and rest another 5 minutes before slicing.

Serve the sliced duck on the lentils with the jammy figs to the side. A green salad would not be entirely inappropriate here as well.

Confit of duck with witlof, beetroot and new potatoes.

Remember ‘confit of duck in afternoon light’? Here it is again three weeks later with some new friends. I wanted to take from Larousse Gastronomique the flavours that traditionally accompany confit of duck or goose, turn them into a meal and photograph it a retro kind of way, yet not quite as retro as my  1977 edition of Gastronomique. Wild mushrooms, potatoes, bitter greens, sweet peas, white beans and lentils are all traditional according to the bible.

This dish has bitter yet creamy, braised witlof with earthy, sweet roasted beetroot and buttered new potatoes with parsley. Cooking methods are kept light and simple so as not to induce any health complications. I am very surprised at myself for cooking such a wintry dish at the start of March but who can explain the weather this ‘summer’?

Duck: dig out of duck fat and heat in oven, skin side down, in fry pan or oven pan, until skin browned and crisp, about 25 minutes.

Witlof: braise in oven dish, dotted with butter, with duck stock half way up side of witlof, covered in foil for 30 minutes, uncover and cook another 30 minutes

Beetroot: sprinkle with sea salt, wrap in two layers of foil, roast 1 hour

Potatoes: boil until cooked, toss through butter, chopped parsley and salt and pepper.

The juices in the photo above are from the witlof mixed with the beetroot and nothing else. The juices from cooking the witlof should be reduced down to a few tablespoons after their time in the oven, if not then reduce in a sauce pan until a light sauce consistency. After an hour the beetroot should be very tender and once they have cooled the skin should come off easily.

The result? The flavours are perfect with one another. It pays to heed the masters and follow tradition, so long as you can add your own stamp, I think.