From what I can recall the duck was served with a warm onion marmalade and puréed potatoes and it was admittedly, an incredibly substantial and hearty way to start a meal - not that I ever complained; I just loved eating it.
I remember so much of what we all chatted about that night and the fun we had, but my memories are all centred on eating the duck confit. This may sound peculiar to some people, but I can remember special occasions by what I ate; some of these events go back years, but I remember people and special times in my life by reference to what I ate and whether I enjoyed the meals or not.
Duck confit is a very French dish and one that I have been lucky to eat a number of times in France. It was originally conceived as a way of preserving the meat as the fat in which the duck is cooked and then stored in, extends its keeping qualities. I don’t know why, but I have always has the perception that it would be a very difficult and tedious dish to prepare, but I can promise you, it’s not. I was surprised how simple it was. You need to “cure” the meat overnight before you cook it, but other than allowing for that time, there is nothing difficult or complex about it. Once the duck legs have been confited in the duck fat, you can either crisp them up immediately or store them as I have described in the instructions below.
I like to serve one duck leg per person on some braised red cabbage as a starter or light meal. I serve a lightly dressed green salad as the freshness of the leaves imparts some relief on the palate as a contrast to the richness of the duck and braised cabbage.
6 duck legs
50g sea salt
25g Demerara sugar
1 tsp black peppercorns
4-5 sprigs of thyme
300g duck fat
4-5 sprigs of thyme
1 head of garlic separated into cloves
Braised Red Cabbage:
500g red cabbage, stalks removed and cut into thin strips (about ½cm wide)
250g onions, finely sliced
2 cooking apples, peeled cored and finely chopped
50g light brown sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of grated nutmeg
50ml red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 orange
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Put the duck legs, flesh side uppermost in a dish large enough for them to sit comfortably and snugly side-by-side.
2. Mix all the ingredients for the cure together and sprinkle over the exposed duck flesh, rubbing it in a little to ensure that it penetrates the meat. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
The following day:
3. Preheat the oven to 140C/Fan Oven 120C/Gas Mark 1. Remove the duck legs from the cure and rinse well under cold running water and then pat dry with kitchen roll.
4. Place the washed and dried duck legs skin side uppermost in an oven-proof baking dish. Again the dish should be large enough for the legs to sit snugly side-by-side. Tuck the garlic cloves (there’s no need to peel them) and the sprigs of thyme around the duck legs.
5. Heat the duck fat until it has melted and is a parable consistency. Pour over the legs. Cover the dish tightly with aluminium foil and cook in the preheated oven for 3 hours.
6. Remove from oven and allow to cool to a little. Put the duck legs into a clean container and strain the remaining duck fat through a fine sieve over the legs. Allow to cool. Cover with a secure lid and store in the fridge for up to three weeks.
When you want to serve the duck legs:
7. Heat the oven to 220C/Fan Oven 200C/Gas Mark 7. Scrape any excess fat from around each duck leg and place on a small baking tray to crisp up and turn a rich golden brown. This should take about 20 minutes.
Serve each leg on a bed of braised red cabbage.Braised Red Cabbage:
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Mix all the ingredients together and place into an oven proof casserole dish with tight fitting lid. Place the lid on the casserole and cook in the preheated oven for 2 ½ hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so. If it looks like it is drying out too much you can add a splash of water.