I’m back! Did you notice I’d gone? Did you know that I was in Port Eliot, then Suffolk, then France then the Edinburgh Festival? What do you mean you had better things to do?! Ah well, me too, but now I am all knives blazing for another winter of cooking and writing and what better way to start it off than with this delicious, simple-to-make yet very impressive duck dish.
I’ve had it twice in France, once before starting the first leg of the Camino de Santiago in St Jean-Pied-de-Port (carbs and protein needed in bulk) and once in Paris at L’Ourcine which is, probably, one of the best places I’ve ever eaten in that city. Sadly that’s not saying much these days. On both occasions I was bowled over by its sheer wonderfulness and I decided that I had to learn to make it myself.
Now, I’m not quite sure what to call it. Technically it is a hachis parmentier made with duck instead of beef or lamb but, in translation, that ends up as duck shepherd’s or cottage pie which just sounds all wrong to me. And the duck isn’t minced or mashed up so hachis is wrong too, since that technically means hash in the sense of corned beef hash. So I’ve decided to call it duck parmentier; it sounds grander, it roughly translates as ‘pie’ which is better than hash though it’s not really a pie either, and it will flummox your guests since they may not know what it means either.
I translated this from a recipe on Marmiton and changed it a bit (they only use two duck legs for four people which seems mean to me and they include the cooked carrot with the duck; I hate cooked carrot so ignored that) so technically, ta-dah!, it’s my recipe. And it’s so bloody easy that I am ruining my street cred by sharing it; everyone will now know that I am no expert and there is no point ever coming to dinner at my house when you could go to McDo’s instead. But then you haven’t tried this; when you do you might still want to come over. There’s lots of nice French red wine to go with it…
For four good portions you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
potatoes, 1 kg or about 5 medium
nutmeg, a pinch of the ground stuff or the equivalent of freshly grated
fine breadcrumbs, a good handful
butter, a few lumps (about 30g if you want to be really specific)
duck legs, 4
thyme, a sprig or two
fresh sage, about 5 or 6 leaves
single or double cream, about 75ml
cheese, something like Gruyère or Emmenthal, about 50g
The short version for those clever enough to survive without a recipe: poach the duck legs in a stock flavoured with onion, carrot, bay leaf, thyme and sage for about 25 minutes until done; make some really creamy mash, shred the duck and layer it under the mash, top with grated cheese, breadcrumbs, knobs of butter and bake at 180°C (160°C fan-assisted) for about 45 minutes.
The proper version, for those, like me, who need the numbers.
1. Peel the onion but leave it whole. Peel and top and tail the carrot then slice it into discs.
2. Put the onion and carrot in a large casserole dish with the duck legs, bay leaf, thyme and sage, a pinch of salt, some pepper and enough water to cover everything. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and cook for about 25 minutes until the duck is properly cooked.
3. Whilst the duck is poaching, make the mash: peel the potatoes, cut them into smallish pieces, put them in boiling water, bring to the boil and cook until mashable (so from 5-15 minutes depending on the size of your pieces. Drain and leave to cool.
4. When the duck is cooked, remove it from the cooking liquid (strain and keep the stock, some of which you will need, throwing the vegetables and herbs away) and leave it to cool.
5. About this point, depending on how long your oven takes to heat up, preheat it to 180°C/160°C fan-assisted/gas 4.
6. When the duck is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone and roughly chop/shred it into small pieces. I find kitchen scissors are very useful for getting the last bits of meat off the bones.
7. Put the chopped duck into the bottom of a shallow baking dish, season and moisten with a couple of tablespoons of the cooking stock.
8. Once the potatoes have cooled slightly make the mash. Again, add a tablespoon or two of the cooking stock then add the cream, salt and pepper and the egg (this is why you leave the potatoes to cool so that the egg doesn’t cook in them). Mix and mash everything together well, adding more cream and/or stock if necessary so that you have a smooth purée, not a lumpy mash.
9. Layer the potatoes over the top of the duck, then grate over the cheese to give the potatoes an even covering, sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and nutmeg, season then dot with knobs of butter.
10. Bake for about 35-45 minutes until golden brown and crispy and serve with the simplest of green salads and lots and lots of red wine. Ballsy and completely delicious.