Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Duck confit, white bean mash and blackberry sauce with Pinotage

Despite the poncy title this little number was actually created out of leftovers.

We had some beans and some duck confit leftover from making the Cassoulet. Rather than make another cassoulet (and put on another stone!) I thought I'd try something a bit lighter.

So, the beans. Dead easy really. The beans had already been soaked so all I needed to do was cook them. An hour and a half or so at a steady simmer did that. After they cooled a little I blitzed them in a blender until they formed a smooth, creamy mash.

The bean mash was a bit bland, so I seasoned with a good bit of salt and pepper and some nice olive oil. However, it still wasn't quite what I was after. It needed something extra which had me reaching for the spice cupboard. I toasted some fennel seed and caraway seed, ground them in a pestle and mortar and added them to the bean mash. Much better.

The duck confit is very easy to cook. It's simply added to a frying pan over a medium heat and allowed to heat through. It's so tender it nearly falls off the bone as it cooks and the smell does wonders for stimulating the appetite.

When I was thinking about this dish I knew that it was going to need a fruity sauce to give it a lift. We have some cherry trees growing down by the river near where we live and I was really tempted to make a sauce with some of the cherries. But, we also have some blackberries growing in our garden which are really tasty and I thought a blackberry sauce would go nicely. Thankfully I wasn't wrong.

As is usual when I've thought of something to do but I'm not certain it'll work, I googled it to see if it had already been done. Yes it has. It's handy to get some hints and it helped to make sure I made the sauce savoury rather than sweet like a bramble jelly.

For the sauce I sweated off some finely chopped shallot in a little duck fat - I find it hard to now to consider frying with anything else - and a couple of bay leaves. After a few minutes I added some freshly picked blackberries, about a cereal bowl full, and a fair bit of black pepper. The blackberries broke down in a few minutes after which I added a splash of the Pinotage we'd be drinking with the meal. It seems the done thing really.

The final result was one very satisfying meal. The Pinotage went really nicely with it. I'd say it was medium to full-bodied so texturally it matched the meat and beans. There's a spicy note, which comes from the Pinot Noir in its heritage I guess and which matched the black pepper and other spices. It's also quite fruity and that marries with the blackberry sauce. It wasn't bad at all.

Monday, 13 August 2012


I thought French cooking was difficult, but with the right ingredients we achieved an authentic tasting cassoulet without any hassle.

Right or wrong, I think the success of the cassoulet depends two things. The confit duck and the beans. Admittedly there aren't too many other ingredients in a cassoulet.

For the confit duck we used Succes Gourmand tinned duck confit. At £10 for the tin it seemed like a bargain as it contained 4 pieces - which turned out to be 5 when we opened the tin! Using tinned makes life a lot easier than having to make your own confit duck, and means you get a lot of the all important duck fat. Cassoulet starts with a generous portion of duck fat.

This recipe cooked a cassoulet that fed the two of us very well. You'll need:

2 pieces confit duck
Duck fat
2 handfuls or dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight (it might seem like a pain to use dried beans which need soaking, but the taste is much better than tinned)
1 chopped onion
4 cloves of garlic,chopped
2 sausages - use what you like, straight pork, Lincolnshire or Cumberland will work fine
Pork - you could use 4 rashers of bacon, but we used some pre-cooked ham hock, about 170g
Herbs - we used dried bay, thyme and sage.

Put the oven onto 180c, and on the hob melt a generous amount duck fat in a big pan that can go in the oven, or a casserole. Add the chopped onion and garlic and soften over a medium heat, you don't want them to brown. 

When the onions and garlic are soft add the soaked beans and herbs, cover with water and bring to the boil Boil for 10 minutes or so, skim off any scum. After 10 minutes put the pan in the oven for an hour.

Just before the hour is up melt some more duck fat and brown your sausages. Fry the bacon as well, if that's what you're using.

Remove the pan from the oven. Add the sausage, bacon or ham and the confit duck. Put the pan back in the oven for another 45 minutes or so. You want the beans soft and you might get a golden crust as well.

I thought cassoulet was going to be a lot harder than this. The hardest part is probably getting hold of duck confit, but you can buy that from Amazon! I think this is going to be one of those dishes that we end up cooking again and again.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Tapas and Rosè

If summer won't come to England we're just going to have to pretend, and what better way to pretend than to eat tapas and drink chilled rosè?

It has been a dreadful summer so far. Grey skies, low light levels, floods and only a brief break in the clouds once in a while. I almost hold myself responsible. I bought a barbeque back in early June and I think it's rained ever since.

Well, we finally had enough and decided to just pretend that it's summer and decided to go Spanish with a few tapas inspired dishes.

Patatas Bravas - simple but effective. The missus (A) found a great recipe from the 'perfect' Felicity Cloake. The potatoes are roasted rather than fried. We've been having a lot of roasted new potatoes recently, by themselves with a gargantuan amount of salt they are insanely delicious. With a smoky tomato sauce and a creamy garlic mayo they are equally moreish and more suited to a tapas style tea. They were tremendous.

Another tapas staple - Padron Peppers. There can't be many things easier to cook. Put padron peppers into hot oil, cook until they blister, sprinkle over sea salt in obscene amounts, eat.

Squid is another favourite. We had some delicious cuttlefish recently at Bravas, a cool little tapas bar just off Whiteladies Road but which would not look out of place in Barcelona's back streets. The Spanish waiter lending it an even more authentic feel. We couldn't get our hands on cuttlefish, but did get some baby squid from the fishmongers on Gloucester Road. Simple seems to be the way with tapas so we just fried the squid and then squeezed over a load of lemon juice.

Our fourth dish wasn't strictly speaking tapas, but we simply had to include chorizo in some way and this chorizo and chicken liver salad from Tom Parker-Bowles seemed like a very nice way to do that. We get great chorizos rosario from Murray's on Gloucester Road. They release a fabulous oil when fried in a hot pan. When cooked, remove the sliced chorizos and add the chicken livers which have been dusted in seasoned flour. 3-4 minutes in the pan and the livers are done, crispy on the outside, smooth in the middle. We added them, the chorizos and some chopped mange tout to some salad leaves. The salad alone would make a great meal.

To complete the meal we went for a spanish rosè or rosado - Marques des Rojas from Averys. Made from Syrah (Shiraz) grapes it has a hint of spice which goes nicely with the chorizo. It's a deep pink, and could probably pass for a Pinot Noir in colour, and retains plenty of body so it pairs nicely with a range of food. It complemented all of our dishes - patatas bravas, squid, padron peppers and the chorizo salad. Versatility like that is really unusual, and would be hard to find in anything other than a rosado.