Thursday, December 21, 2006

Daube of Duck with Prunes

When I first saw 'daube' on a menu for some reason I assumed it was something in pastry, rich and wintery. So when I ordered it one night for dinner in a small restaurant in France I discovered I was only partly wrong. I was served a steaming plate of food that was lovely and meaty with a good slick of red wine gravy but there was definitely no pastry involved. I subsequently found out that in fact the name derives from the dish in which it was traditionally cooked - a round ceramic pot whose lid was concave so that it could be filled with water thereby surrounding the stew with heat as it cooks in the fire. Clever.

In the village near to ours in the Gers there is a café that serves a particularly splendid menu de la region and, this being duck territory, the main course is a daube made with duck and finished with another local speciality, pruneaux d'Agen. The meat they use is from the legs and thighs, still on the bone to add depth to the finished sauce and to make a fine use of the bits of duck less popular than the breasts - the alternative is confit and there is only so much confit you can eat in a week. The red wine they use is a damned fine local 'rough red' and the addition of prunes gives it little dollops of sweetness rather than making a sugary sauce.
I have eaten this daube often and always with pleasure. So as the temperature finally dropped to wintery this week in London I decided it was worth having a go at making it at home. Starting with a recipe for beef daube I changed a few things and added some others and the end result was very good - but not as good as the one in Gondrin (yet).

Daube of Duck with Prunes

1kg/2 1/2 lbs duck legs and thighs on the bone
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 tbspns goose/duck fat
2 tbspns flour
1 tbspn tomato purée
300ml/1/2 pint rich red wine
300ml/1/2 pint stock
bouquet garni
100g/4oz prunes, soaked

Start this at least one day before you plan to eat it!

Chop the duck into reasonable sized pieces - my sweetheart is a dab hand with a cleaver and he chops each joint in two - the aim is to have good sized edible pieces that are roughly the same size.

Heat the fat (or olive oil) in a large pan and seal the duck all over. Take it out of the pan and put to one side while you add the onion and garlic to the pan. Stir it around for a few minutes till it softens then add the flour and tomato paste, mixing briskly. Add the red wine and the stock and bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Add the seasoning then put the duck back into the pot along with the bouquet garni. Cover the top of the pot with a sheet of aluminium foil under the lid then bring the daube back to the boil very gently. Put the casserole into a very slow oven - gas 1 - and cook for 5-6 hours.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool then refrigerate overnight. Next day skim the fat from the top of the daube before reheating and adding the prunes.

Served with a cloud of mashed potatoes and boiled brussel sprouts and carrots, it's the kind of dinner that makes winter worthwhile.

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