A tale of many jars begins and ends in a round robin of preserving and Canning-at-Camont.
Last September, we made our first batch of Confit de Canard for the 2012 season.
60 Years ago there was water above the stove. That’s the flood mark on the left.
When the Confit de Canard was cooked, processed and labeled, there was enough fat left over for a bonus- Confit de Foie Gras.
The Foie Gras was salted lightly for a couple hours (while the rest of the duck cooked) then wrapped in a net cloth and tied.
When the fat was just beginning to simmer- 82°C, I lowered the foie gras into my vintage le Creuset pot. I rolled it around for a few minutes then started taking it’s core temperature. Once it reached 65°C (about 30 min) I removed it from the the pot and the cloth, placed it in a terrine, pressed it, and let it sit overnight. Confit de foie gras mi-cuit ((rosey inside) will taste best when left to rest a few days at refrigerated temperature- 4°C.
This was September’s Charcuterie-at-Camont crew- Felix, Michael and Mick, the Confit Kings of Camont. Interested in learning how to make confit? Come for a special February weekend – Confit 101 or meet me at a French Pig Workshop in April in the U.S..
It’s not all confit and ham at Camont. The beautiful tables laden with great food, the bustling markets of over flowing tables of local food, the smiling mustachioed face of friendly farmers selling and teaching their wares are a part of my life. A big part. But sometimes it is just hard labor of the non-virtual kind.
Today I am inside, warm by the fire, and writing a book on charcuterie. But outside in the clear but cold winter day, the team of masons and builders are working at turning my ‘funny idea’ into a reality. We are all apart of the team. The Architect, the Builder and the Men. Me? I’m the Lady. I think they add Crazy in front of that. I look at magazines and websites and beautiful images of finished spaces, but what I actually am thinking, are we putting enough plugs, ceiling lights, wifi access, plumbing, windows? More, more, MORE!
The Men are very nice; they come from Poland to work in France, legally. While they be living and working in France, they are insulating the barn for Polish weather- double walled and triple glazed windows. We will be warm next year and I will make Polish sausage in this space to honor them. Working from the Architect’s good plan, we make changes daily. Flexibility is important for me; the future use of the barn hangs in the air. I am shocked at how fast the walls are going up, straight, strong and insulated. They are working with the same basic materials these barns were built 300 years ago- cut stone, rubble, and I Can barely keep up.
In the future, when Tim Clinch takes wonderful interiors that some style magazine or lifestyle website will use, they won’t know what went on or did what or how the walls leaned in dangerously on one side and leaned out even more on the other. They won’t know that the roof beams were drilled with insect holes and rot. They won;t know that the floor was 300 eyars of cow manure and straw. But I will. And I will know, too, that I hid a little time capsule of memories of Camont from it’s first three hundred years: a copy of my book, a photograph of old Monsieur Dupuy, a letter to the next owners… What else should I include?
Winter rolls through Gascony like a fast train: whistling in through December, screeching to a quick stop for January, and then on the rails again by end of February. That’s how I like my winters- short and sweet as a TGV (Train Grande Vitesse).
Winter forces Camont to calm down and take a nap as gardens get raggedy and the chickens get eaten (yes, foxes got them all). All is quiet on the Gascon ranch; the fair weather ‘Franco-Carpetbaggers’ have yet to arrive and even Cinderella, my sister, jumped ship this winter so I could work and write in peace. I am writing, plotting and producing next year on paper, but I am also a master at distracting myself. As much as I crave a bit of real down time- no schedule, no planning, just everyday what comes next- the Gascon winter clock is ticking and that tic-toc, tic-toc is starting to drive me mad. Soon I will rush to prune the orchard, and plot the potager, and finish the plans for the barn being built as we speak.
But the real ticking time bomb at Camont has feathers. Fall migration has passed. Spring is just down the flyway. I am, of course, thinking about confit de canard. Yes, I know Fall is the traditional preserving time, but we are just going into the post-holiday, serious confit season. The foie gras madness at Christmas and New Years (along with truffle hijacking) is past, prices come down and even a premier grade AAA foie gras entier can be had for a reasonable 26 euros a kilo. I even saw frozen foie gras for the first time in the supermarket today. So this is the season to be thinking about how to put up, preserve and store duck- beak to tail.
Meat is as seasonal as fruit in rural France. Lambs are Spring only- the rest of the year it’s hogget/yearling or mutton. Family farm hogs are slaughtered for charcuterie in the Winter months, like now. Beef and veal even have their own rhythms as we move from daubes and blanquettes to grilling. To each purpose, a season.
I begin to look at my pantry shelves, nicely filled with last summer’s fruits, jeweled jars of confitures and tins of salty Spanish fish. However the poultry section, with the exception of two whole confited mallards in tins that I scored in the Basque country, is dangerously low on duck: confit de canard, pate de foie gras, cou farci, gesiers, etc.. How many jars will I need to get through the year of festive summer nights? Welcomed visitors? And school lunches for my students? I start counting weeks figuring that once a week at least, from May through October, I use confit from my pantry. Confit de canard makes a fast supper of green lentils and crispy duck legs, a mountain of duck fat fried potatoes to accompany a grilled magret, a Salade Gasconne with slices of confit gesiers, stuffed neck sausage, and a few generous slabs of foie gras. There would be no Fall soups like garbure without confit.
Oh, and cassoulet. Don’t forget each Winter there is cassoulet and that’s a great way to use the wings, or bone a couple legs to add to the saucisse de Toulouse. (I have a feeling I’ll be making it a lot of cassoulet this year). When I’ve cooked and eaten enough French food, there are also rice paper wraps and dumplings to make and tamales with prunes… all with duck confit. Shepherd’s pie or tarte de gaveuse is a perfect picnic meat pie. Confit de Canard is that blast of uber-umami flavor, silky satisfying texture and chic convenience food all wrapped into one.
How many jars? How many ducks? Two jars a week, spread over 6 months (25 weeks) = 50 jars put in the pantry. I count on getting 5-6 jars of confit, legs, breasts, wings, gizzards and necks per fat duck. So butchering and making charcuterie with 10 ducks, weighing around 5-7 kilos, means I’ll also have 50+ jars of rillettes, some pate and a few jars of smooth pain d’epice foie flan- last year’s favorite. Over the next two months as charcuterie students come and go, we’ll be making confit and more confit. Each student tackles a fat duck and passes it on to the next group. Now, that’s passing the charcuterie love forward.
You can also confit old hens, roosters and other birds. But it is at this season, when the distance memory of early spring migration thrills the Muscovy and Mulard duck farms of Gascony that I start thinking about wrapping up winter. By next month, I know I’ll have access to the best fat ducks from one of the several local Marche au Gras. As an added feature on our new cassoulet iPad app- (Available soon at an iTunes store near you), I am including an introduction to making confit de canard. After all, it is the season… and I am thinking about confit de canard.
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Big spirals of meaty sausages grilled over fire, slipped onto cassoulets, eaten with purée de pomme de terre (mashed potatoes) and much gusto. That’s what comes to mind when someone says “Saucisse de Toulouse”. Over the years spent haunting the butcher shops of Southwest France, I have just one thing to say to you- “It’s all about the pig”.
All these pictures were taken in the Marché Victor Hugo in Toulouse or my kitchen at Camont. This is how Saucisse de Toulouse is sold, always in long casings, coiled into spirals and selling for the price of good meat…because it is just that, all good meat. In France, Saucisse de Toulouse is recognized as a fundamental element of many recipes. It replaces a shoulder roast, a chop or slice of ham when preparing a family dinner. It is just good meat.
The better the pork, the better the sausage. There are no spices, additives or coloring to make it look or taste better. It is good pork, ground coarsely, seasoned only with salt & pepper and stuffed into natural casings. For the first recipe I ever wrote about making Saucisse de Toulouse, click here.
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!