When is building a fire like cooking a duck?
This winter has been mild thus far. Not even a serious day of frost and I am still kicking off my slippers and refuse to wear socks when I go out.
But the old stones of Camont are cold to the touch and demand a certain amount of heat to make it comfortable enough to sit and write, plot and plan the coming New Year. I am so excited to say that after all these years that I really now how to build a GREAT fire now.
I’ve been heating and cooking by wood for a long time: a cabin in the woods on Lopez Island in my 20′s, open fires across Africa and a small wood stove for the barge in my 30′s, yet another big cabin in the big woods in California in my 40′s, and of course, this 300 year old stone house in France ever since.
I love bonfires, have a burn pile going all the time and have nursed a two-meter wide fireplace at Camont for many years. I’m a fire sign- Sagittarius- and I know how to build a fire. So why did it take until now, this very mild winter for me to get it?
I slowed down. I became a little quiet even. And I finally took the time to really understand how to build a fire- upside down & with very little wood. And then I took just a little more attention then normal, say ‘a cup of coffee’s worth of time’, to build my fire these last quiet mornings. The tangible reward has been a week’s worth of fabulously warm mornings and all day heat with very little effort. What simple but primordial rewards for a bit more understanding and a little bit of time. I have been fire-proud all week and can’t wait to teach my ‘new’ techniques to a group of wood fire oven students this summer.
When boasting about my new found fire techniques to my buddy Mrs. Wheelbarrow, she gently reminded me that me building a fire is like so many people learning to cook. Really learning to cook, not just making a recipe. Cathy told me she didn’t really understand salting until she came here and saw us using scant amounts for curing, a well-rubbed in tablespoon instead of burying a duck breast in salt. Isn’t that always the case? A small bit of information can make a huge impact?
So, understanding the nature of food, a duck in this case, and the spices and seasonings, and a method of cooking is truly understanding how to cook. This is not a recipe for a Roasted Duck, rather this is understanding HOW to roast a duck.
#1- What & how: Take a little more time to think it through, then understand your material- the duck, the seasoning, the simple techniques you will use- a covered pot, an oven. I wanted this duck to confit, steam and then roast – all in the same pot. the oven would be slow and steady but with a long cooking time.
#2- and the all important Why: this duck was roasted for an All-Duck Cassoulet for an up coming iPad App. (eta- end of the month) I salted the duck overnight, added a cup of duck fat and a cup of water to make a base, several whole garlic cloves, bay leaves, and peppercorns then cooked it in a covered doux-feu (thanks Bill & Taf!) for 3 hours in a slow oven.
#3- Pay Attention: as the fat simmered, I rolled it around a couple times. Otherwise I left the lid on to do it’s work, half roasted & half confited; the duck was falling apart tender and ready to add to the cooked beans to make great no-pork cassoulet.
So when is cooking a duck like building a fire? When you pay attention, go slow and be patient. Learn a few basic techniques, read a few good words and think about what you are doing. Tell your friends and invite them for dinner, or just to come over for a warm spot by the stove. Then enjoy the hell out of your results!
These great photographs are by Tim Clinch for the Cassoulet- a French Obsession iPad app. Coming soon!