Sunday, December 12, 2010

The duck, in all its splendour ...

Well, as it happens it's perfect weather for a confit, which is, as everyone knows, about 90% hot grease. After that wonderful day yesterday it finally turned to rain, more or less as promised, today, so it's chilly, gray and dismal. Just right. I could also murder a cassoulet, but that'll have to wait.

Anyway, I stole the recipe I use from Charcuterie by Ruhlman & Polcyn: the first - and so far, the only - book I ever bought on Amazon. Not that that's stopped their marketing droids sending me regular e-mails suggesting that as I liked that book I might just enjoy "Joy of Tantric Cooking", or "Sex and the Kitchen". Personally I doubt it, but you have to admire their optimism.

Whatever, you start out, naturally enough, with some duck bits. Legs are good, and if it's a big duck the upper wings - what Frog-persons call the manchon - have good eating on them too. Stick whatever you've managed to get hold of flesh-side up in a dish just large for them and set that aside, out of reach of the cat. And when that's done, peel an orange and finely chop the peel (you can use a zester but I personally find them buggers to clean), smash a couple of cloves of garlic and finely chop a thumb-sized lump of fresh green ginger. And a spring onion, while you're at it.

Then it's time to get that electric coffee-grinder that you never use anymore out from its hiding-place at the back of the cupboard in the pantry (or maybe you're well-equipped and actually have a spice grinder), put two heads of badiane (aka star anise) and a stick of cinnamon bark in it, and whizz them excitedly until they're coarsely ground. Then sprinkle that over the duck flesh and rub it in a bit, before sprinkling evrything else over and pressing it in. Finally, strew a couple of tbsp of kosher salt over everything, press that in too, and put the lot in the fridge overnight.

About four hours before you plan on eating, scrape the duck clean, rinse it (just how enthusiastically you do that depends on how salty you like your confit) and pat it dry, then put it skin side down in a deep frying pan or whatever (I happen to have a nice big stainless-steel casserole from Ikea which is just the right size for six to eight duck legs) and put that on a gentle heat to start rendering the fat. After half an hour or so there should be quite a bit: this is good. And at this point you could usefully turn the meat over, still on a gentle heat, so that the flesh starts to cook in its own fat.

This, on the other hand, is not confit but a clafouti. I had the oven on anyway, and it seemed a shame not to use it to the full ... Anyway, you've doubtless got the idea by now: just let it cook gently for about three hours, turning occasionally. Cover it if you like: I usually do, and I've not noticed any bad side-effects. If anything, it probably cooks a bit quicker as the meat that's not bathed in grease cooks slowly in the steam. Anyway, when the meat starts to fall off the bones it's about ready: put it in a dish in the oven to keep warm.

The best way I've found to not waste all that wonderfully healthy cholesterol is just to cook some cubed potatoes in it, sprinkled with some herbes de provence: like that the fat just magically disappears, and you can scrape up all the lovely brown crispy bits from the bottom of the pan. And when that's done, turn the heat up and put the duck back in skin side down for ten minutes or so, just to get the skin nice and crispy.

You will note that, unusually for me, there is no alcohol involved in all this. Make up for lost time by drinking  a good burgundy, or a Chateauneuf du Pape, with it. Your liver will thank you for it.

And whilst I think of it - for reasons which are not particularly germane to the issue at hand, so I'll spare you the sordid details - what is it with bloody Yoda? Apart from being a two-foot short dwarf with  incredibly bad hair and pointy ears, which I can see could give you a bad attitude ... but why does he hate the English language so? I've thought about this for some time, and come to the conclusion that he's either an aphasic retard or an incredibly long-lived Nazi war criminal who's taken refuge on Tatooine after a few botched dentistry jobs (the ones where you drill out the caries without having the patient open their mouth).

I mean, his entire sentence structure German is: gotta wait until the end of five paragraphs to get to the verb and work out about what he's going on. Insidious little sod, even got me doing it. Exterminated he shall be.

On the agenda for the coming weekend: Bryan's housewarming (just hope I don't wind up, after more telephonic confusion, at Bruno's instead). He's finally committed himself and bought an apartment in Chambéry: currently hasn't managed to get the heating working, so it must be all of -5° inside - so the whole lot of us are supposed to turn up on Sunday bearing food, drinks, and lumps of coal. To burn in the middle of the floor. We shall have a barbecue!

On arrival we'll each get handed a paintbrush, a bottle of paintstripper (and a few ice-cubes, just to be civilised) or a spatula to get to work on the "decor" which is, let it be admitted, pretty bloody dire. There must have been some sort of collective psychosis back in the 60's leading to walls being painted in bordeaux red with dark wood half-panelling, stuff like that: glad I missed out on it. At least the bathroom ceiling isn't black, or purple. Yet.

On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure how wer'll all fit in there. Granted, at any given time 20% of us will be out smoking on the balcony (or in the outside loo on the balcony, of which Bryan apparently owns 30% - such are the joys and the vagaries of French property law), but even so ... especially as Karen will be there, and all by herself she manages to occupy 120% of any available space, regardless of its actual dimensions. We shall just have to try not to swing any cats (for that would be cruel, under the circumstances).

And in major horticultural news, we have discovered that neglect bears fruit. As it were. After years of carefully looking after the one remaining pot plant in the house - watering it every 6 months or so, whether it needed it or not, and occasionally chatting to it (usually, I must admit, Improving Words along the lines of "buck your bloody ideas up and get some leaves or it's down to the tip for you") - the damn thing persisted in alternating between withered and black and slimy, so eventually we gave up. So now it's decided to flower. Probably sees it as its only chance to reproduce before it dies: I just hope it's hermaphroditic. If not, it'll be sadly disappointed.

Two or three times a year we organise a little party up at Cote Rousse (this being the little business park where we have our offices)  and Friday was the latest. It's an excuse for vast quantities of wine, cheese, saucisson, pâté, rillettes and the best bread in Savoie, and there's always a theme. This time it was "L'art Contemporain Rétro", which is kind of an oxymoron, featuring works "from private collections" by such celebrated artists as R'no Djorg  and JuanCarlos Büyio. Here, for instance, is a unique specimen: "Le rétro on s'en balance". Could be yours very cheaply.

I should also say that these affairs are also an occasion for some rather stretched puns.

By the way, I would suggest that if any of you had plans to come and visit, do put them off. Margo is supposed to be getting her enormous quilting machine sometime Real Soon Now, so the TV room and her office have exchanged places, the corridor upstairs is lined with tottering piles of boxes, the guest room has become a warehouse and yet curiously enough, there's even less room than there was. Despite the net contents of the place having actually diminished, as she's even - gasp - thrown some stuff away! I suppose it may have been unwise to expose some of those boxes to the light of day: the contents seem to have grown.

It's official: I am a Kinder kid (that's the chocolate bar, not the German for "child"). I sent off an apologetic e-mail to my petite suisse Sandrine at Hach-Lange, excusing myself for having been so stupid as to use CloseHandle() rather than RegCloseKey() in a driver and thus causing the system to bug-check at load time. She replied, telling me that I was what they called a Kinder: brown on the outside, blonde on the inside. Very sweet of her.

And it's been nothing or a double helping for TV series:  being polite pays, apparently. But having downloaded seven different episodes on Friday morning, I have to ask myself: does the entire American population sit on its collective fat arse watching TV for 6 consecutive hours on Thursday nights? It's not that I'm ungrateful, just wondering. I mean, I'll be catching up for the next week.

Anyway, I'd better go make a quiche for this little moveable feast, then start writing a web server. Amazing what one can find to do to occupy one's foggy Sundays.

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