Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Having spent a fair amount of time in south- west France over the last few years I have developed a passion for duck. The Gers is renowned throughout Europe for the quality of its poultry. Driving through the countryside you see large flocks of geese and ducks, interspersed with cornfields growing the mais on which they are fed. Traditionally geese were fattened for their livers but more and more it is duck foie gras that is the specialité de la région.

One of my favourite things is magret - duck breast that has been salted to rend the fat on the skin side then pan fried to medium rare and served sliced, with potatoes sautéed in the duck fat and perhaps a light green salad. It is a most perfect meal. Interestingly, the magret are in fact simply a by-product of the foie gras industry and the gersois locals, being a frugal people who know a good thing when they grow it, have adapted it into this fabulous dish. In fact, being frugal they use the entire duck in various dishes - all of them highly edible.

At Borough it is possible to buy Barbary duck legs at Wyndhams Poultry Company - quite sizable pieces with a good layer of fat under the skin - for about £2 each. Following the French model they make a wonderful supper, slow roasting the legs then using the fat that rends from the roasting to sauté potatoes. There is something about using one element to make another that creates a deeply pleasing symmetry. Add a green salad and voila! Dinner is served.

Roasted Duck Legs
2 Barbary duck legs
Leaves from a sprig of fresh thyme
500g/1lb new potatoes, halved but not peeled
1 clove garlic
Sprig of rosemary

With a sharp knife score the skin of the duck. Rub a generous quantity of salt into the skin side, place on a rack over a roasting pan and sprinkle with thyme. Roast for the first 3o minutes in a hot oven at Gas mark 7/400F/200C then turn it back to Gas 4/350F/175C and continue to cook for about 2 hours. After the first hour tip the fat that has collected in the pan into a heavy based frying pan, and again after another 30 minutes. The duck is cooked when the skin is crispy brown.

Meanwhile, warm the duck fat over a medium heat then add the crushed garlic and the rosemary - be careful, it may spit a bit. Add the potatoes, season well with salt and a grinding of pepper, cover and cook, turning occasionally, for 20-25 minutes till crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper before serving.

Plate up with the duck, the potatoes, green salad and perhaps a little beetroot for an added sweet earthiness.

C'est magnifique!

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