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.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Sweetmeat Cake

Candied Citrus Peels

Following a winter of gorging on particularly good citrus, there's a stash of candied citrus peel in the fridge. Maybe I'm a bit mean but I do like to get my money's worth out of citrus fruits.  It's a frugal point I've made before - Candied citrus  - but home-made is far better than anything you can get in a supermarket and way cheaper than the, admittedly, good stuff from up-market stores.  Having urged you to make it, I notice I've been less than helpful on how to use these carefully preserved peels.  Time to remedy that.

We're talking lemon, orange, grapefruit and cedro, sweet and bitter flavours essential to much of our cooking when you stop to think about it.  Chopped peel has to be in the mix for many British fruit cakes like Christmas Cake, and Easter Simnel Cake.  Ditto Tea Cakes, Fruit Tea Loaf, Hot Cross Buns, Yorkshire Fat Rascals, Cornish Saffron Cake and Wiltshire Lardy Cake (although some would disagree). Christmas Sweet Mincemeat too benefits from the tang of bitter that preserved peel brings to the party.  It goes into Italian Christmas Panettone, Colomba di Pasqua, Panforte and Pangiallo.  Chopped candied peel is fantastic in a Cassata ice cream or scattered along with some raisins in a Bread and Butter Pudding.  A little added to a Brioche mix or a Steamed Sponge Pudding works well too.  You can elevate a simple Pound Cake by either folding candied citrus, chopped, into the batter or decorating the top when cooked with thin slices.  I'm sure you can think of more now we've got going.

Here's another idea for which, as so often, I'm indebted to Jane Grigson and her book English Food.  'Sweetmeat Cake' is an 18th century open tart.  There is also a version of it as 'Sweet-meat Pudding' in Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747).  I always approach these old recipes with caution.  Tastes change.  In this case the recipe was very simple and the ingredients list rang no alarm bells.  What caught my attention was that rather than candied peel providing just a background note, here it has the starring role.  There's a 19th century version of this recipe, known as 'Duke of Cambridge Pudding' which dispenses with the hazelnuts (optional in the earlier recipe) altogether and calls for 4 egg yolks (no whole eggs).  Grigson implies she prefers the Sweetmeat Cake recipe and declares it her favourite of the 18th century open tarts.  For her its butterscotch flavour and semi-transparent filling has a "much superior flavour" to the later 'Treacle Tart'.  I get what she means, there is an almost jellied quality to the cooked filling, and a slice of this is lot lighter and less sweet than a portion of treacle tart.

Sweetmeat Cake

Personally, I'd include the hazelnuts because I am a fan of frangipane.  For this tart I made a sweet shortcrust and, because I have a horror or undercooked pastry, I baked it blind before adding the filling (the original recipe does not).  I've given my pastry recipe here but Jane Grigson's recipe states simply "Puff or shortcrust pastry". I've changed her wording in the method a little to allow for giving you my pastry recipe.  I've also slightly reduced the amounts of candied peel, sugar and butter in the filling from the first time I made this.  Otherwise, it is just as she instructs.

Sweetmeat Cake slice

Sweetmeat Cake
(makes a 23cm shallow tart)

PASTRY (this will make twice as much as you need, so freeze half the pastry for later):
250g (10oz) plain flour
25g (1oz) ground almonds
Pinch of salt
150g(6oz) butter
75g (3oz) icing sugar
Grated rind of half a lemon
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons milk

100g (4 oz) chopped candied peel
50g (2 oz) chopped roasted hazelnuts (optional)
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
150g (6oz) caster sugar
150g (6 oz) lightly salted butter, melted (gently)

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the ground almonds and salt.  Add the butter and rub in with fingertips.  Sift in icing sugar and add grated lemon rind and mix.  Lightly beat the egg yolk and milk together and stir into the dry ingredients.  Mix until the dough just comes together then turn out and knead gently to smooth the surface.  Divide into two and freeze one for later.  Cover the other half and rest in fridge for just 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C (fan 180C)/Gas 5.
Roll the pastry thinly and line a greased 23cm shallow flan tin with it.  Prick the base several times and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes.  
Line with greaseproof paper and baking beans and bake the tart base for 10 minutes.  Remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for 5 minutes.
Reduce the oven to 180C (fan 160C)/Gas 4.
Scatter first the chopped peel over the tart base and then the chopped hazelnuts.
Beat the remaining ingredients together thoroughly then pour into the tart case.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, checking it after 30 minutes.  The top should be crusted with a rich golden brown all over.  Expect the mixture to rise above the pastry then sink back down a little after its removed from the oven.  The top will crack on cooling, a bit like a brownie mixture does.  Do not worry if the centre part of the filling is a little liquid beneath the crust as it makes a delicious sauce.  The consistency is a matter for individual taste.

Best eaten warm (though it does keep a day), with or without cream.  A very good use for some of your winter stash of candied citrus.  What do you mean, you don't have a stash - Candied citrus