Thursday, 2 June 2016

Oh, Porto

Pont de D. Luis I
across the Douro at Porto

We've been to Portugal enough times to know we're unlikely to bust our budget on this visit.  So, instead of searching out the airport bus, for a change, we take a taxi.  This time we'll arrive at our destination without any missed stops or wrong turnings, upside down maps or curses.  It's twenty minutes to our destination, the sun is shining and the driver is chatty and friendly.  Almost there, then she takes a wrong turn.  Here is our lesson in negotiating the narrow ruas of Porto.  Just when that knot in the pit of the stomach would be tightening if we were flying solo, a local comes to the rescue and sets us back on the right estrada.  We're headed for Foz, but more of that later.

Igreja de Santo Idelfonso

Porto's history has been influenced by Celts, Romans, the Moors, the Spanish, the Portuguese and the English.  Added to this mix are the effects of Portuguese colonisations.  All are documented in its architecture which is as varied as anywhere I have ever visited.  An awful lot of it also looks neglected or entirely abandoned.

Porto Architecture

There's the modern too, in the shape of Rem Koolhaas' Casa da Música - more interesting on the inside than out, I think - and Fundação de Serralves by architect Alvares Silva Vieira.  I wish I could say I enjoyed the collection at the Serralves but a change of exhibition was going on which denied us access to most of the rooms.  They did have a lovely Agnes Martin though.  Porto also has Complexo da Bouça, a 1970's social housing project by architect Siza Vieira. This one appealed to me.

Complexo da Bouça

For food, let's start in central Porto, rising up the hill from the Douro River.  At Mercado do Bolhão  I expect to see Sardinhas and so, of course, I do.  Only mostly they aren't.  The fish I mis-identify are actually small Carapaux (Horse Mackerel), nicknamed Jaquinzinhos.  The clearly outlined backbone of the Carapau suggested a difference but it's not a fish that's popular in the UK and, hence, not one we tend to see.  They are not a mackerel at all but a member of the Carangidae family which the Portuguese value highly, as do the Spanish.  The Japanese use it for sushi, so it clearly has merit.

at Mercado Bolhao Market, Porto, Portugal

Seemingly held together by paper and string, Mercado do Bolhão looks as though it hasn't had a penny spent on its fabric for decades.  Markets draw tourists like a magnet - I can't complain, I'm one of them.  It's disappointing when the first thing you see is gift stalls, but push on.  On my visit, a stall smothered in freshly pulled garlic was the show-stopping sight.  Fruit and veg traders busied themselves podding peas and broad beans for those customers who didn't want to do it themselves, and each stall had a little shredding machine yielding a tumble of finely cut greens for the making of Caldo Verde.  And, of course, fish.  What the fresh fish on offer lacked in variety at the end of a stormy May, it made up for in quality.  Silver/pink/blue Carapaux and irridescent Sardinhas  - a choice of large and small in both; tiddly but mighty-flavoured anchovas; pink/grey fleshy Polvo; leather-jacketed Pedunculata (Goose Barnacle); Linguade (sole); black as night Peixe Espada (Scabbard fish); and easily identifiable true mackerel.  We were too late for the autumn/winter catches of Salmonete (a locally-caught mullet).

Mercado Bolhao Market, Porto, Portugal

There are good chefs in Portugal but Quentin Crewe's decades old advice to look for "simply cooked, plain food" is still good counsel unless you are being guided.  A bowl of the Portuguese Caldo Verde is a wonderful thing and you'll find it at the cheap lunch spots in and around the markets and throughout Porto.  Bread is an important element of the cuisine and it can get a bit repetitive but you would be foolish not to take the steep walk up to Praça dos Poveiros for Casa Guedes.  Recommended by a Portuguese chef friend working in London, it's all about the Pernil de Porco (roasted pork) sandwich.  And what a pork sandwich it is.  Good meat, beautifully cooked, expertly sliced and moistened with its juices, pepped-up with a little chilli heat, it's served up in a robust bun.  Personally I'd pass on the offer of the addition of Serra cheese.  The house wines are good and there's Super Bock on draught.  The room is tiny and basic but there are a few tables outside. These overlook a small park where a leper hospital stood in the Middle Ages.  Go early in your visit to Porto because I guarantee you'll want to go back to Casa Guedes.

Pork Sandwiches (Pernil)
at Casa Guedes, Porto

Porto's food is certainly not fancy.  Though the city does boast a Michelin starred chef, Pedro Lemos who's Restaurant in Foz offers a menu priced to match his status.  But even he has embraced the love of the Portuenses (Porto residents), or Tripeiros (eaters of tripe - look it up), for the humble sandwich.  Here, at his new place, Stash on Praça Guilherme Gomes Fernandes, he has taken it upmarket.  The bread is the best we found in Porto and the quality of the ingredients top notch.  Try the Crab - fried soft shell crab between brioche-like eggy bread - or the Azores Tuna steak in a traditional Porto-style bun with Avocado.  The room is small but comfortable, the service spot on - we may have only wanted a glass of Vinho Verde but it was standard practice to pour a sample of two for us to choose from.  Lunch for two with a shared salad and a generous glass of wine each came to less than Euros 30.

Typical Rua in Central Porto

Praça Guilherme Gomes Fernandes is a useful address to know.  It's a pretty square with a number of good places to stop for a coffee or more.  Opposite Stash is Leitaria da Quinta do Paço. This has its roots in the dairy business and sells cheeses and very good butter.  It is where the Portuenses indulge their love of sweet things with good, crisp Chantilly cream-stuffed Eclairs or opt for a Nata. On the subject of Nata, we didn't find a really good one but the unassuming Confiteria Sao Domingos on Rua Sao Domingos, at the bottom of Rua das Flores, was a good pit-stop for coffee and very fresh Bola Arroz and Nata. 

Dulce de Leche and Noz (walnut)
scoops at Sincelo, Porto

Just around the corner from Praça Guilherme Gomes Fernandes, on Rua de Ceuta, is Gelateria Sincelo serving scoops of delicious, seasonal ice creams and sorbets.  The difficulty here is in choosing from the range.  Their Dulce de Leche is very fine, and always in season!


And then, just as we were feeling the need for something different, we found Miss'Opo on atmospheric Rua dos Caldeireiros.  Guest House/art gallery/cultural exchange/coffee shop/bar/cafe and more.  Definitely the most vibrant place we found in Porto with interesting and interested staff.  And there's a young chef in the kitchen serving really good, simple food.  Brunch was on offer when we arrived.  Ovnis (eggs) were served as a kind of frittata with mushrooms and a peppery radish and landcress salad with sweetly-spiced nuts.  Tomato Cake was intriguing and delicious, and sparked one of those conversations with the staff about our perceptions of sweet/savoury, and me trying to describe the delights of pea-pod ice cream.  This food was not at all typical of what we'd encountered.  If we'd found Miss'Opo earlier on our visit we'd have returned several times.

Rua dos Caldeireiros

We came across a number of good small food shops in central Porto for cheese, charcuterie, dried fruits, tinned fish and various kinds of Bacalhau, including Casa Natal, Casa Laurenço and Feira do Bacalhau.  There is also a very good-looking butcher's shop, Talho do Bonjardim (486) which does sell the tripe the residents love.  The shops are within a couple of minutes walk of each other on Rua Formosa and Rua do Bonjardim, between Mercado do Bolhão and Trinidade Metro station.

Atlantic Coast
by Av. do Brasil

Moving West to the Atlantic coast, returns us to Foz, where we started.  Here the wide Douro river meets the Atlantic Ocean.  Foz, we were told, is the bourgeoise area of Porto, about 5 km west of the city centre.  Up on the hill sit smart apartments, but tumbling down to the waterside are former fishermens' cottages.  The occupied ones are all painted walls and wooden shutters.  Senhoras brush steps, shake mats and swap gossip on their doorsteps, while making sure the area's cats don't go hungry.

Fisherman's Cottage
Foz, Porto

The more picturesque and architecturally-proper looking the cottage on the outside, the more likely it is to have been transformed behind the frontage by one of Porto's most celebrated architects.  But there are plenty of abandoned-looking properties too, even here.  Foz is a small area, bordered to the south by the river Douro, just before it meets the sea, and to its west by a stretch of sandy but rocky coastline.   When you've had your fill of walking beside the gentle, wide Douro, you can turn your face to the, sometimes stormy, west where Atlantic breakers crash onto the rocks and lighthouse of Foz. It was a contrast we relished on our six day stay in Porto.

River Douro
Heading for Foz, Porto

Buy a 72 hour Andante card for unlimited journeys on bus, metro and train.  The Metro is good but limited - it doesn't go very far west.  The buses are great, though the timetables posted seem to be purely advisory.  The No 500 starts at the lower end of Praça da Liberdade and follows the Douro river to where it meets the ocean and on north up the coast to the fishing port of Matosinhos.  There are plenty of bus stops en-route.  You can walk, jog or bike the whole route too.  It's a good stretch.   Soon the Atlantic coast becomes less rocky, the beaches wider, and the waves provide a surfers' paradise.

Carapaux (Horse Mackerel)
at Mercado Bolhao Market, Porto, Portugal

Stop off at Confeitaria Doce Mar Av. do Brasil 519.  A neighbourhood cafe with just out of the oven 'croissants' (more doughy than you might be expecting, but good all the same), freshly squeezed orange juice and decent coffee for breakfast.  Carry on up to Matosinhos for the freshest, simply-cooked fish at Salta o Muro (translates as 'Jump the Wall'), a family-owned restaurant at Rua Heróis de França 386.  What were described as Sardinhas turned out to be fried Carapaux/Jaquinzinhos (Horse Mackerel), but were very good.  A large Piexe Galo (John Dory) was beautifully cooked but, pitifully, its fillets were badly lifted from the bone at the table before we noticed what was happening- best to do it yourself as the locals were doing.  Garlicky roasted potatoes and boiled vegetables came unbidden.  With a bottle of house Vinho Verde the bill came to under Euros 45 for two.  No photos that do the fish justice here as the room is typically windowless and badly lit but it's a good place for simply-cooked fish.  Don't worry if you can't get into Salta o Muro, as this is the area for fish restaurants and there are plenty of places on and around Rua Heróis de França.  You'll find a number of them firing up barbecues in the street.


Back in the centre of Porto, we ambled through the Ribeira riverside district and crossed the river to the Port Lodges of Gaia because we felt we should take a look.  The Ribeira is a tourist area with everything that entails.  The Port Lodges of Gaia were no attraction for us (not being port fans) but there are some good views and photo opportunities if you cross the river.  The Douro wines we drank in Porto, by the way, were excellent and reasonably priced.

Poor Box
in the Dispatch House
Musei da Ordem de Sao Francisco, Porto

Thanks to a pretty dramatic, and unseasonal, storm on our last day in Porto we missed out on a visit to Sé Cathedral, so I can't tell you anything about its merits.  Igreja Sao Francisco, though, I can recommend.  As ever, go early before the tour buses arrive.  What you read may lead you to don sunglasses before entering.  Certainly the 17/18th century oak panels applied to the Gothic interior are covered in gold leaf but the effect is much more muted than you might expect. That said, it's quite a sight.  The Dispatch House alongside is worth a look too for the unusual catacombs and religious artefacts.  Photographs are allowed here but not in the Igreja.
Vendo in
Porto (Masserelos District)

We were glad we went to Porto.  Portugal has been through a tough time but there are signs of optimism here.  The varied architecture is fascinating - old and new - and I'm glad to see Porto taking part in Open House Porto which runs 18-19 June this year.  Undeniably photogenic as those decaying properties are, it would be good to see more of them sympathetically restored.  We left feeling there was plenty more to see, and it's always good to leave something undone.  Porto has a lot of genuine charm, as do the Tripeiros.

Casa da Música, Porto
Architect: Rem Koolhaas

Friday, 20 May 2016

Finding poetry in a mushroom

Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless
widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes.  We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek.
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiples:

We shall by morning
inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.
Freshly made Tagliolini
Sylvia Plath's poem 'Mushrooms' beautifully captures the strength in the seeming delicacy of mushrooms.  Black Morels (Morchella elata) or Yellow Morels (Morchella esculenta) are more distinctive than most fungi but can be confused with the False Morel (Verpa bohemia) which bears a slightly less pitted cap. Chalky soil and coniferous woodland are their favourite habitat but conditions have to be just right before they will make an appearance.  Amongst other demands is a temperature which doesn't fall much below 5C.  So, early in Spring most morels on sale in the UK have been imported from Turkey but late spring we can hope to be offered UK-grown ones.  Morels are coming to the end of their season, so be quick.

I've written about morels before, specifically Creamed Morels and if the idea of them piled on toast appeals as much to you as it does to me, you'll follow the link.  But today I've made fresh Tagliolini, which falls like the tresses of Botticelli's Venus - yes, I am having a dreamy day in the kitchen!

Once you've made your pasta, you need only morels, shallot, a little butter, cream and, perhaps, chervil, and it takes moments to prepare.

Tagliolini with Creamed Morels
(Serves 4)

200g (8oz) '00' flour
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
a little extra flour and some fine polenta to prevent sticking

50g (2 oz) unsalted butter
1 shallot, peeled and very finely diced
About 75g (3 oz) fresh Morel mushrooms, sliced in two (more if large), brushed to clean
175-200ml (7-8 fl oz) double cream
Salt and pepper

To make your pasta, put the flour and salt in a bowl.  Make a well and add the eggs.  Mix to bring the ingredients together. Either knead in a mixer with a dough hook for 2 minutes or on a work surface, by hand, for 10 minutes.  If you use a machine, knead the dough by hand on the worktop for a further half minute (the warmth of your hands finishes it off perfectly). You will now have a smooth firm dough. Wrap it in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour (it will keep happily in the fridge for 2 days).

Feed the pasta dough through the pasta machine on its lowest setting.  Fold the dough in two and repeat 3 more times.  Increasing the setting by one mark each time, feed the dough through the machine once until you reach setting No. 6.  I'm short of kitchen space so find it easier to cut the rolled pasta in two, or more, part-way through the rolling to make it more manageable and resulting in 2-4 sheets of pasta.  Lay the sheets on a very lightly floured work surface for 10-15 minutes to dry out a little (I tend to move it around a little to make sure it isn't sticking). This resting/drying period makes it easier to handle.

Feed the sheets of pasta through the Tagliolini (fine) cutter and lay the results out on a tray.  Scatter lightly with fine semolina (flour is OK but semolina is better) to make sure the strands don't stick together.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add salt (correctly it should be 1 litre of water to 10g of salt and for this quantity of pasta you should use at least 2 litres/20g). 
As the water comes to the boil, melt the butter in a large frying pan.  Add the finely-diced shallots and cook gently until completely softened.  Add the morels and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add the tagliolini to the rapidly boiling water, bring back to the boil and cook - 90 seconds is right for me.  As the pasta boils, add the cream to the morels pan, cook gently until slightly thickened and remove from the heat.  Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, stirring well to coat the pasta.  Stir in a little of the pasta water to loosen the mix a little.

Serve with a shower of chervil leaves and with parmesan on the table.  A sprinkle of poetry is optional.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Sweet and the Sour

Basic Country Bread
made from the Tartine Bread
by Chad Robertson

It's June in San Francisco and the thermometer, in what I was assured was a temperate city, has hit 93°F.  We take the BART from the city to Berkeley, home of the University of California, and emerge from the subway, scuttling like lizards from one small circle of tree shade to another.  We're early and, if we'd had any sense would have sat in the shade of the wisteria covered entrance of the restaurant until the clock struck one.  But we're young and impatient and anxious not to miss a thing so, of course, we explore Berkeley in the searing heat.  By the time we climb the stairs and claim our table we have turned into a couple of freshly boiled lobsters, vermillion limbed and steaming in the cool café calmness of Chez Panisse.  Glasses of iced water and Californian Zinfandel soon restore our equilibrium.  The food is everything we had hoped it would be: perky, zesty salads, crusty sourdough breads, an abundance of herbs, and aromas of baking, all combining to reassure we were in the right place.  

I should say I am going back a bit and only hope Chez Panisse (the Café) is as good now as it was then, and on the few visits we've managed to make since.  But this is not all about Chez Panisse, even though Alice Waters' has most most definitely influenced my life.  It's about how that early visit to the USA opened my eyes to the sweet and the sour and made me think more deeply about the food I eat.

There was plenty of bad food in San Francisco back then, and still is I'm sure.  In Europe, good food was the norm.  Three weeks travelling around the USA was mostly a culinary disappointment.  America generally was in thrall to ghastly trans-fats and GM foods.  Attitudes, thankfully, are changing.  I'm sure I ate my share of muffins, pound cakes and pastries that owed nothing to the delights of butter.  This may explain why San Francisco made such an impression on me.  Here, if you looked carefully, things were different.  The Farmers' Markets were proof that San Franciscans appreciated their food.  In came the smallholders, farming their land without the 'help' of chemicals and technology, bearing, according to the season, bright green fresh fava beans and peas; white, lavender, dark purple and striped eggplants; red and golden beets; juicy tomatoes in all sizes and colours; and, numerous summer and winter squashes.  In too came raspberries, cherries and apricots in late spring; luscious, perfectly ripe peaches and nectarines in summer; persimmons in autumn; and, sweetly acidic Meyer lemons most abundantly through autumn and into spring.  These markets thrive still, I'm assured.

"All sorrows are less with bread"
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Another indicator was bread.  It was in San Franciso that I first took notice of the term 'sourdough'.  Although I've since learned that  back then 'San Fransisco sourdough' cultures were often used in conjunction with commercial yeast for a better rise.  After two weeks of eating, mostly, tasteless breads, I couldn't get enough of this stuff.  

First attempt Sourdough

Sourdoughs aren't an American invention, of course.  Until commercial yeast was developed all leavened breads were made using naturally occurring yeasts.  French bakers brought their techniques to Northern California during the mid-19th century Gold Rush.  Breads made with ferments derived from yeasts naturally present in the atmosphere have their origins thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt and with nomads throughout northern, central and eastern Europe.  The French have their Tourte de Seigle rye bread, the Germans make Pumpernickel, in Ethiopia teff flour is fermented to make Injera bread, the Greeks have Psomi, and in Denmark, Rugbrød is almost always made using a sourdough ferment because commercial yeasts are unsuitable.  

Years ago I tried to make a starter dough.  The recipe was long and the starter short-lived.  Never progressing beyond the 'cheesy' stage, I dumped the pot and turned to hunting out the best bread around, not an easy job in a country that invented the Chorleywood Process.  About a year ago I was given a present of a copy of Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson.  And there it sat, a reminder of my previous failure as a bread maker.  I knew he was a revered bread maker and founder of San Francisco's Tartine Bakery.   I knew too that he'd honed his craft working with Richard Bourdon, one of the first bakers in the US to revive using the very wet dough and wild yeast leaven practices of French bread makers in the pre-industrial age of bread-making. Afterwards he travelled to Provence and Savoie to work with Daniel Colin and Patrick LePort in search of "the loaf with an old soul" before striking out on his own.

Finally I took the book down from the bookshelf, dusted off my fear of breadmaking and embarked upon the labour of love that is "Making a Starter".  Sweet and sour aromas alternated in the kitchen over the next week telling me when the starter was hungry and when it was sated.  On first reading, the detailed guidance did seem a bit over the top but it did make me pay attention to what I was creating and ten days later I had my first loaf.  It was so beautiful I nearly cried.  OK, I've recovered and realise one loaf does not a bread expert make.  There is still so much to learn.

Living in London, I've got easy access to some of the best bread around.  But I did want to develop my own bread 'starter' because, damn it, everyone seems to have their own now.  I wanted my own so that I never again had to use commercial yeast on those occasions when I did feel the urge to bake a loaf, knock-up some Chelsea Buns or feed that lingering nostalgia for Lardy Cake.  Quantities of flour recommended in the book can be off-putting - well to me anyway - so if you do want to give this starter a go you might, like me, want to refer to the Tartine Bakery Blog which is more up to date.

Homemade sourdough and marmalade

So, as I write, a little pot of starter sits on the kitchen worktop and every morning I take a couple of minutes to feed and water it sparingly, like it is a living being - which, of course, it is.  Its sweet and sour aromas guide me as to its modest needs.  Another pot sits in the fridge, an insurance policy against disaster striking (Chad assures me it won't happen).  Robertson says, "A baker's true skill lies in the way he or she manages fermentation.  This is the soul of bread making."  And now that I have a 'sourdough starter' I have confidence in, it's time to take a fresh look at those European recipes and, maybe, find that elusive Lardy Cake recipe to recreate memories of childhood treats. But will I ever find Robertson's "loaf with an old soul"?

Monday, 4 April 2016

Coleman Coffee Roasters

Guatemalan Filter
at Coleman Coffee Roasters

I don't write much about coffee.  There are plenty of other bloggers in London who have that covered and there's more than one App for that.  But I do know what I like and Coleman Coffee Roasters pulls all the right levers for me.

Saturdays would not be same without my morning Piccolo mid-shop at some of my favourite food businesses at Spa Terminus in Bermondsey, South London.  Here is the home of Jack Coleman's Roastery and also where, for a few hours on a Saturday, a tiny corner of The Little Bread Pedlar bakery is given over to serving Coleman's South American sourced coffees.  I wrote about Coleman Coffee Roasters over a year ago, so click on the link for some background.

Ceramics by
Anna Frith Hodgson

So why a return to Coleman Coffee?  A few weeks ago there came some teasing photographs on their IG account - a 10 year old Synesso coffee machine, a covetable span of old Umbrian yellow and jade green terrazzo, a beautifully made walnut and terrazzo table and shelf, both topped with lovely earth-toned Anna Frith Hodgson ceramics.

Hundreds of hours of hard graft have gone into paring back the layers of previous uses - fashion shop after bookstore - to the shop's strong bones when it was a delicatessen 40 years ago.  Found items are re-purposed and any additions, like coat hooks, have been carefully sourced.  Coleman Coffee's shop is now open for business on Lower Marsh SE1 and it feels like it's always been this way.

Walnut and Terrazzo Shelf at
Coleman Coffee Roasters

Alongside great coffee there is a lovely Spanish Butter Cake and Greek Papadopoulos biscuits for dunking into a cup of Barry's tea.  More substantially there are Staffordshire Oatcakes with fillings such as Smoked Bacon and Tomatoes fried in whey butter, Ham and Coolea, Lancashire Cheese and Hot Pepper Jelly, or you can have them simply spread with jam.

Staffordshire Oatcakes at
Coleman Coffee Roasters

It's a small place, seating around 18, but there is a great little courtyard space out back with two big sharing tables where you can sit under a jasmine bower and admire an impressive mulberry tree and a pomegranate tree snaking up the the wall to reach for the sky.  Pretty damn perfect.

Into the courtyard garden at
Coleman Coffee Roasters

Coleman Coffee Roasters 
20 Lower Marsh
London SE1

Monday, 28 March 2016

Confit Duck

Confit Duck Leg

Occasionally, when roast duck is decided upon I claim the legs.  A disappointment to some until "confit" is mentioned.  If you have a good plump duck it roasts perfectly well without the legs and gives you the opportunity to make one of my favourite dishes in the world - Confit Duck.

Both Simon Hopkinson and Nigel Slater have recipes for roast duck stuffed with potatoes and onion.  I have yet to try the Hopkinson version, but have cooked the Slater recipe several times with great success.  The one time it didn't work out, the fault lay entirely with the quality of the duck. Pre-ordered and ticked-off the shopping list, I collected it, trustingly, unseen.  A more malnourished bird it would be impossible to imagine.  Other times, the dish has been astonishingly good with tender, juicy meat and crisp skin, achieved by adopting the Chinese way in its preparation.  The potato and onion stuffing emerges fragranced with bay and rosemary and rich with rendered duck fat.  The last few spoonfuls scraped from the cavity are sublime pan-fried the following day.  I only wish I could give you a link to that recipe but although you can find Slater's Roast Duck with pancetta and potatoes on-line, the recipe I use is an earlier one.  It appears in Real Food first published in 1998.

Roasting a duck leaves you with a good quantity of leftover fat for cooking the duck legs.  The word confit comes from the Latin conficere, meaning simply 'to do', 'to make', 'to produce'.  In Medieval times the French applied their verb confire to fruits cooked and preserved in sugar syrup or honey or even alcohol. Later it was used to describe vegetables, meats and other foods preserved in oil, fat or salt.  Ancient civilisations are known to have preserved cooked meats under a seal of fat.  Today we generally use the word confit to describe something cooked slowly and gently until it is soft and succulent and not necessarily with the intention of long keeping.  That's a shame because the flavour does develop with storing.  Confit duck, or perhaps pork belly, are foods that immediately come to mind, but it's a good long and slow method for any meats with a lot of connective tissue.  It renders the meat silky soft and luscious.

Duck legs after marinating 

Duck confit is incredibly easy and, given the cost of those sold in jars or vac-packed, well worth preparing yourself.  Once you've gone through the first 2 steps the meat will keep in the fridge for several weeks so long as you make sure it's completely covered in the fat.  Simon Hopkinson suggests at least 3-4 weeks and as much as 3-4 months.  Mine have never lasted more than 2 weeks before my resolve has cracked and I just couldn't resist a moment longer.  You don't have to restrict yourself to the legs but their fatty plumpness gives the best result.

I use either rosemary or thyme to flavour the flesh, sometimes both, depending on what I have, but bay leaf is a must.  I don't tend to worry too much about proportions but I turned to Simon Hopkinson's 'Second helpings of roast chicken' to bring some precision to the mix.

Confit Duck Legs
(serves 2)

2 plump duck legs
2 tablespoons of good salt
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 bay leaf
3-4  sprigs of thyme or a 5cm branch of rosemary
4-5 black peppercorns
A grating of nutmeg
350ml duck or goose fat
3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled but bruised

Step 1:
Briefly pound in a pestle and mortar or just mix together the salt, sugar, herbs and spices.  Pour half of the mixture into a shallow dish, add the duck legs, flesh side down, and pour the remaining mixture on top.  Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours, turning the legs once.

Step 2:
Preheat the oven to 130C/Fan oven 110C/Gas 1
Dry the duck legs throughly with kitchen paper, removing any herbs/spices.
Melt the duck or goose fat in a solid cast-iron pot over a low heat. Add the duck legs and the garlic, bring to a simmer, then transfer the pot to the oven.  Cook for around 2 hours until the meat is soft and yielding to a skewer.
Once cool, place the duck legs in a clean glass or ceramic dish (or a sterilised jar if you plan to keep them for more than 2-3 weeks), completely cover with the fat and refrigerate.

Confit Duck with onion marmalade
Step 3:
Remove the duck legs leaving behind as much of the fat as possible.  To enjoy them as I've shown above, heat a frying pan on a moderate heat and fry the duck legs skin side down for about 10 minutes until the skin is crisp, then turn and fry for 10 minutes more to ensure they are thoroughly re-heated.

Plain mashed potatoes and Savoy cabbage are perfect to balance out the richness of the duck.  A spoonful of onion marmalade provides a good sweet/sour counterpoint.  Alternatively, they are delicious served with Puy lentils and peppery watercress.