I find that the beauty of eating duck is that its a relatively guilt free experience; I spent half my childhood feeding them, so its only fair to have the favour returned.
Duck. Not only has this humble fowl enriched the lives of many across the globe, but it has even lent its name to the familiar term of ‘get down’ when in the line of fire and being out first ball (that would be cricket to the uneducated). Everyone loves duck, whether it is from Peking: crispy with lashings of hoi-sin and pancakes or dished up with an abhorrant combo of orange. Duck, duck, duck and duck: the tastiest bird I have ever tucked into (although my wife might beg to differ). Chicken? Turkey? Both bland, both white and none should really be eaten raw. So in short, disappointing fowl with very few double entendres to back it up.
It appears I have now been ‘French’ for over a year. Life in South West France is grand…in the summer. Come winter, imagine English weather, regular storms charging into the Bay of Biscay and not a warm fire and country pub in sight. These are dark days indeed messieurs-dammes and blighty beckons like you wouldn’t believe, as far as I’m concerned this is karma paying me back for bragging about beaches, surf and 30C temperatures for the last six months to my UK counterparts- no one likes a willy waver (Al Humphreys-circa 2011).
Every Brit Ex-pat who ends up in France IS a willy waver. And if you know one- tell them they are. Big time. They all like to lay claim to living in a region that produces the best this and cooks the best that. All I will say is that I live in Aquitaine so that’s: Bordeaux wines, Armagnac, Perigord truffles, Bayonne ham, and Espelette chillis. But, above all else, this is foie gras country where the duck is king.
Whether you agree with the ethics of foie gras production or not (I have noted the absence of protesting folk around these parts, but mind you I’ve never met anyone that would want to be dissected with a blunt pitch fork), Foie gras is good stuff, so is veal, badger, lamb and horse, but I don’t want to get sidetracked- this is about the bird itself, not its liver.
Here in Landes, the Frenchies have developed a cunning way to hunt their Duck. Rather than chase fowl, they sit back comfortably in a sort of ‘bunker’ and eat and drink until the duck & geese come to them. Clever. Just down the road from us is L’etang Blanc, which hosts many of these hides known as ‘Palombieres’. Traditionally a palombiere is a high-rise platform in the trees that the armed Frenchie uses for nailing pigeons, often they have cages strategically placed in the surrounding trees where they keep live decoys to help bring in the unsuspecting pigeon.
On L’etang Blanc they have just taken the same concept to water. These elaborate man-made ‘islands’ are built on stilts in the middle of the lake and camouflaged to buggery (see picture).
Many of these Palombieres have running water and electricity piped in, stoves, tv's, fridges, beds, tables and chairs. Surrounding the palombieres are lots of plastic decoys sat on the water and attached to one side of the hide are the live decoys in a cage. These are not your standard live birds, but ones which have been specifically bred for their call- they are responsible for calling in passing duck or Geese and also alerting the hunters to incoming fowl.
All the Frenchie 'Chasseur' has to do is place down his Claret, spit out the baguette, flip open the flaps in the roof and fire away at the approaching silhouettes. Most hunting is done from dusk till dawn on clear moonlit nights, hence the reason for having beds to sleep in. Well thought out indeed, these are not simply hides but an elaborate setup that takes a lot of looking after- plenty of times when I’ve been out fishing for pike I’ve seen dedicated Chasseurs rowing out to their palombieres to take care of their harem of live decoys. Good lads.
So there’s the background on how we get our duck around these parts. On to the hamming…
This recipe for duck hams is based on one I came across in Paula Wolfert’s ‘Cooking of Southwest France’ and quite a fine read it is too. The recipe is fairly standard piece of charcuterie:
2 Large duck breasts
½ cup Salt (100gs)
2 TSP of Ground black pepper
½ TSP of Herbes de Provence (or Thyme on its own work well)
2 TBSP cider or red wine vinegar
- The duck should have its skin and fat intact, shave off the skin leaving a good layer of fat behind. Score the fat cross-hatch fashion just to the flesh.
- Rub the salt, pepper and herbs into both sides of the duck so it is completely covered and place on a few pieces of kitchen roll on a plate, cover with kitchen roll and put in the fridge for 24 hours.
- The next day remove the duck breasts and wipe off all the seasonings with a damp cloth. Put the red wine vinegar in a shallow dish and dip the flesh side in for 20 seconds and then dry well.
- Place the breast fat side down onto a piece of muslin (20 inches by 20 inches) and roll up in a nice tight cyclinder to ensure there are no air pockets. Tie up nice and tight with string from end to end.
- Hang the hams in a cool dry place such as a garage or cellar for 2 weeks, they should be done when they have a bit of give when pressed between thumb and forefinger.The hams will last in the fridge for 1-2 weeks although you will probably devour them in one sitting! To seal them once used, just dip the cut end in some red wine vinegar.
So there you have it: ham of duck. Well worth doing, especially if you haven’t delved into the world of charcuterie before. Another particularly good one is this homemade Bresaola that I did a few years back.
Adios 2012, and hello 2013, hope you all have a super New Year wherever you are and do please come and see us at Hunter Gather Cook for one of our courses next year, if you are interested in a joining us for a group day or a private day just drop us an email:
This will be the last blog post here before our brand spanking new website and branding comes online in January with a shop full of our favourite kit, all our courses and a new blog packed full of HGC Recipes.