I’ve been spending the past few weeks in the south-west of France between Bordeaux and Bergerac with my wife and daughter. We are staying in a great house in the town of Duras which we got for a bargain price as we booked for a good stretch of time during the low season month of November.
I used to work for a French company and lived for a time in Paris in the early part of the Millennium. Due to my job, I spent the best part of the past 11 years to-ing and fro-ing between Paris and wherever else I was in the world.
Despite being English by birth, I guess you could say that I have become a bit of a francophile. Although I have had some of the most frustrating (and amusing!) experience during my many visits to France, I am constantly delighted by something new that I always seem to find in France, french people, the culture or the cuisine.
The South West of France always makes me think of delicious duck, from the salty confit legs, to the buttery fois gras to the duck fat that seems to find it’s way into everything that is cooked in the region. In my opinion, the finest duck in the world comes from this area along with some of the best ways to cook it.
I have eaten Magret du Canard many times throughout France, but staying in this region, with a well equipped kitchen gives me the chance to try my hand at cooking it.
Duck is a very rich meat, so needs something fruity and sour to accompany it, classically this has been orange or cherries, but I like to use what is available locally and paired my version with a pear and shallot sauce which had enough of the sweet and sourness to cut through the oily, rich duck.
I served this accompanied with some braised red cabbage sautéed in (dairy free – sacrilege I know!) butter, pepper and balsamic vinegar and some potatoes cubed and put in the oven with a twist of salt & pepper, thyme and some of the duck fat from the breasts as they were beginning to cook (a LOT comes out!).
Serves: 2 (and a 1/2 as a hungry toddler snaffled some of this!).
2 x 300g duck breasts – if you can, get the ones from the fois gras ducks.
salt and pepper
1 pear, chopped into slices
1 shallot, finely diced and previously softened in 25g butter (dairy free for us, but the naughty stuff works oh so well…)
1 glass of nice red wine
a little chicken stock
3 medium potatoes cubed into 1cm chunks
3 sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper
1/2 head small red cabbage
30g butter (dairy free once again if you have toddlers or other difficult type allergy people!)
1) First for the cabbage, shred the cabbage finely and place in some boiling, salted water for 3 minutes.
2) Drain the cabbage and run the colander under cold water to stop the cooking.
3) Preheat oven to 200c and place cubed potatoes and thyme in a baking tray. Season with salt and pepper and have ready near hob.
4) Place a medium frying pan on hob on a medium heat.
5) Season duck breasts with salt and pepper both sides and score the skin of the duck deeply into the fat in a diamond pattern, but avoid cutting the meat.
6) Place the duck into the pan, skin side down. It will begin to release it’s fat, as soon as there is around 5 good tablespoons full, place this into the potatoes tray and give them a good swirl around in the fat.
7) Place the tray of potatoes and duck fat in the hot oven on the top shelf.
8) Keep the duck cooking skin side down for around a further 7-8 minutes. Check that the skin is not burning every now and then, it should be going a delicious golden as more and more fat renders from it.
9) Turn the duck breast to go meat side down in the hot fat for 1 minute. Take the duck from the frying pan and place in a second baking tray and in the hot oven for 5 or6 minutes if you like nice pink duck. Longer if you prefer it grey(!).
10) Pour off the hot duck fat into a cup (save it as it is so good to cook other stuff in) and deglaze the pan with the glass of red wine. Scrape around to blend in any crusty bits of duck.
11) add the previously softened shallots and pears and gently bubble. Add enough chicken stock to form a good consistency sauce
12) In a separate pan, melt butter and add balsamic vinegar. Sautee the cabbage in this until hot and add a good shake of black pepper.
13) Take duck from oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Take potatoes out of oven and keep warm.
14) Slice duck at a diagonal angle and place slices on warm plate with potatoes and cabbage.
15) Spoon pear sauce over duck in a nice thick line and serve immediately with a hearty Bon Apetit!