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..
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.
For more of these beautiful pictures by Tim Clinch check out our new publishing site-
Remember those special times when Bob and George and Willie got together and jammed all night? Or the Duke dropped by with his entourage for a mid-summer masquerade fest? How about when your favorite friends showed up with a hamper full of goodies for an impromptu pique-nique on the terrace? Put them all together, pop open a box of cold Pink Wine, and join me in celebrating the French Summer with old friends and new… at Camont!
Pop over for a weekend to bake, i-shoot & can to your heart’s content with some of my best friends. This French Summer I am booking out the Gypsy Caravan for friends only- those mad, special creative and talented friends of Camont.
Le Weekend #2, August 4 & 5 with Emm at Camont.
“How to Make Bread”- A 1-day bread making workshop with Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, a.k.a. Em, based on his best selling, award-winning book.
Meet Emmanuel. Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. Just call him Em.
Em lives with his family in Hastings on the South Coast of England. Originally from South Africa of a Greek family, he bakes. And bakes and bakes. And now, he teaches you to bake, too. Join Em at Camont in Kate’s Kitchen to discover the journey of good bread using organic local French heritage wheat and Em’s fool-proof, easy techniques. You’ll go home smiling with the knowledge that you too, can make good bread. Who else is coming over for a weekend? Read More
May Day. All is quiet this early morning but the vast aviary outside my kitchen door. In France, this first seasonal holiday, Labor Day, is the promise of Summer to be. Although it still smacks of worker’s right and labor issues, waving red flags or lily of the valley, it is just a very quiet day in the Gascon countryside.
Mayday- Mud! The famous Garonne River Fog is late this year; it has rained, rained, rained these last two weeks. So much rain now that with the soggy bottom clay silt soil holding moisture like a sponge, the promise of a clear sunny sky later makes morning fog. My own little micro-climate at Camont alongside canal & river is good for the garden…if I could only get to it though the muck.
This week’s market also shouted “Mayday” with a rouge abundance of rhubarb, strawberries, peppers and early tomatoes. Instead of pique-niques, boat rides, country walks, and gardening, I’m sticking close to my Keeping Kitchen and brewing up some seasonal treats- micro batches, single jars, starter vats. Here’s the list from the market booty…
- a place for making food to keep for the winter.
- an edible way of keeping traditions alive.
- a gathering then sharing of abundant harvest.
Over the years, I’ve referred to my French pantry, the way of keeping it stocked, and the very kitchen at Camont as the “Keeping Kitchen”. Within these stone walls at Camont, I have been keeping the traditions of Gascon cooking alive as well as adding to it with my own fresh take on authentic recipes- folding in a new good idea here, leaving out an old bad habit there but always keeping true to the spirit if not the actual letter of the laws of the kitchen.
Good friend and co-conspirator in Italy, Judy Witts- the DivinaCucina diva and I hatched the idea of another combined blog effort like the Going Whole Hog blog project we did a couple years ago. We wanted more than a way to keep tabs on each other’s gardens, kitchens, and lives in Tuscany and Gascony. We want to share our euro-view of what surrounds us as not-quite natives/not-quite-expats. Trends come strong and fast up the internet pipeline but from here they can actually be old world news. We decided to share our everyday cooking habits for stocking the Euro-Larder otherwise known here as the Keeping Kitchen.