Preparing duck confit and
foie gras on the farm
For many years I longed to participate in the preparation of these typically southwestern specialities. In January 2002 I had the chance to do so and it was an unforgettable experience.
I was warmly received at the farm "la Chicane" and my fears of disturbing the family quickly disappeared. It's a lovely traditional farm a few kilometres from St Girons, with cows and calves, sheep, ducks, rabbits, hens pecking in the courtyard--in short a farm you imagine in fairy tales.
The preparation of the ducks happens in winter, between December and March, as it's the period when the work on the farm is a bit less intensive and the weather is cold, thus more suitable for preserving meat.
At La Chicane they raise a dozen ducks per year to be consumed within the family.
The work is a family affair. First the ducks must be force fed, with corn grown on the farm, in the morning and evening for four weeks. This is often the work of the farm women.
Then the tasks are divided up: it's the men who kill the ducks (grandfather Guillaume and his son Jojo) and the women who defeather and eviscerate them.
Next morning starts the big day:
The big kitchen table is covered with a plastic tablecloth; the ducks are on one side and each family member gets in position.
At one end: Tatie (Auntie) carefully removes the livers and pulls out the intestines, then she passes the ducks to her son-in-law Jean Pierre, who cuts them ups with well-sharpened knives and a pair of secateurs. He puts aside the extra fat into a container; it will be needed to cook the confit. The noble pieces that will end up as confit are piled in layers in a large container, skin side down and between each layer he sprinkles some rock salt.
On the other side of the table Colette and her mother collect the fat from around the intestines and remove the giblets. Then it's Tatie who takes the giblets and cleans them; the inside skin comes off easily after soaking a while in warm water. They're added to the container with the pieces of confit.
This part of the work finished, the table is thoroughly cleaned and readied for the foie gras.
Colette and her mother remove the nerves from the livers, Jean-Pierre coats them with salt and pepper (17g of fine salt and level teaspoon of pepper per kilo of foie gras). The livers are pressed into canning jars then heated for half an hour in the steriliser.
The next day is devoted to cooking the confit. The fat has been cut into small pieces and placed in the bottom of a copper cauldron in the fireplace along with the biggest pieces : thighs and breasts. The wings, necks, giblets and head will be added halfway through the cooking.
The fire mustn't be too hot--the confit must boil gently, always remaining covered with fat, and stirred from time to time. Cooking time is 2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on the age of the ducks.
At la Chicane they use the straw test to check for doneness: a broom straw (brand new and clean, of course) is inserted into a piece of breast. If there is no resistance, it's done.
Then the big cauldron is pulled from the fire and the pieces are distributed into canning jars. The best parts are kept together while the rest (neck, head, wings) will be used in soups, the jars differentiated by string tied round them. The grandfather clips the ends of the thigh bones so they'll fit into the jars. Then the jars are filled up with fat so that the meat is covered.
In the past, the confits were stored in earthenware pots and conserved only by the fat that covered them; however, grandmother says they often smelled rancid by the end of the season.
Nowadays they are sterilised for 1/2 hour at 100°.
The leftover fat is filtered and stored in a jar in a cool place; it's excellent for sautéing potatoes. The leftover bits and pieces of duck are refried with onion and garlic to make "fritons".
The team effort naturally ends with a big, convivial meal around the farm table accompanied by the gentle crackling of the the fire in the chimney.
Guess what we ate? Each person gave his or her opinion on the seasoning, the doneness, etc.
At the end of the meal, Grandfather Guillaume brought out his homemade eau de vie (brandy)--100% natural enjoyment!
– Yvelise TSCHIERSCHKE