Unlucky duck

Cassoulet de Castelnaudary

I’m still in the south west of France but I’ve popped next door to Midi Pyrénées. We’re into cassoulet country. One might say cassoulet is the god of the inland cuisine in south west France. Charcuterie is crowned at the gates of Toulouse with its celebrated sausage made with pork, red wine, garlic and herbs. It’s a fresh sausage, as opposed to cured, and is actually quite lean. Armagnac is big here too. Appreciated for its rich complex flavours and long velvety finish, it’s made by distilling white wine from 3 grape varieties: Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Baco Blanc. The wine is heated in special copper alambric stills and the eau-de-vie is then matured in oak barrels from 8 to 25 years. I love mashed potato so I’ve got my eye on Pommes Aligot, which is mashed potato whisked with cheese until it’s elastic and fondue like. OMG. Swoon.

Time to confit that duck leg I prepared yesterday for the Cassoulet de Castlnaudary.

Confit is a slow cook between 70 and 90C. I needed to cook the duck leg in 2 hours ideally, 2.5 hours tops. This meant trying to maintain the fat at the top end of the scale. Chef told us to add a little cold water to the fat to help moderate the temperature and prevent frying. Also to use a cartouche and a lid to help accelerate the cooking as much as possible. Despite all this and using the full 2.5 hours, the meat on my duck leg still wasn't falling off the bone. Chef was kind and said it was possible I just had a tougher bird. More cooking would’ve done the trick. Thinking back, I didn’t have enough fat to completely cover my duck. I should’ve checked whether my duck leg would have fit in a slightly smaller pan. Instead I added a bit more water. Probably too much. I doubt this helped the confit process. When it came to cooling, passing and decanting the fat at the end, the water content was clearly excessive. Doh. Chef said we should’ve cooked our duck legs in pairs.

While the confit was happening, onions, carrots and garlic were sweated in duck fat without gaining colour. The pork belly was blanched and refreshed. Then everything into the pan—pork belly, beans that were soaked overnight, Toulouse sausage, Bouquet Garni, and spices in a muslin bag to blip away. When the beans were soft but not broken, tomato concasse was added along with some tomato paste and brought quickly back to the simmer. The liquid was passed and reduced to coating consistency. The beans and vegetables were returned to the sauce. The sausage and pork belly were cut into chunks, and the duck leg cut in half at the joint. Time to build. Duck fat into the bottom of the gratin dish, then a layer of beans. A piece of duck leg went at the centre surrounded by sausage and belly. More beans to cover. This cassoulet has a crust of breadcrumbs and parsley. I’ve never encountered that before but there are extensive local variations apparently. The crumbs were mixed with duck fat so they’d take on colour evenly. The final move was a short time in the oven to gratinate. My cassoulet came out looking good. Nice colour on the crumbs and great blipping consistency at the edges.

Later that night…I was determined to get the duck right so I gave it another 35 minutes at home. Bingo.

Confit duck leg

I had to make a second dish given the long cook of the cassoulet components. Croustade aux Pommes et Armagnac. A nice, simple apple and Armagnac tart. Braeburn apples were sliced and macerated in Armagnac. Meanwhile each sheet of filo pastry was lavishly buttered, sprinkled with sugar, and laid on top of the previous sheet, rotating each time to form a rough circle. The pastry was lifted and tucked into a baking ring then filled with layers of apples and sugar. The edges were then pulled up and in toward the centre and scrunched. Into the oven. Tallyho! Tick tock. Tadaaaa! Boozy.

Apple and Armagnac tart