Duck is one of those meats that I really love, but don’t serve all that often. Something about it just screams “special occasion” to me, and keeps me from thinking of it as a go-to ingredient. Chicken is a go-to ingredient; duck is not. That’s OK, though: we need dishes for special occasions.
Sometimes, however, the meal can just be the special occasion. Sometimes, I just feel like making something a little fancy, a little delicate, a little… pretty. On those days, I flip through my cookbooks. And it just so happens that Louis-François Marcotte’s latest baby, entitled Sexy: Cuisiner pour deux, is full of recipes that are simple, yet give you that fancy vibe. The concept of the book is that it’s all about cooking for two – preferably as a couple (hence the title). And the recipes we’ve tried so far have all been hits.
The book isn’t perfect, especially where cooking methods are concerned. Caramelizing a side-dish of endives took forever in the oven, whereas the same result could easily be obtained on the stovetop, in only a fraction of the time. Also, the book (which is only available in French at the moment) sometimes includes inexplicable vocabulary errors, such as using the word “roasted” when the ingredients are clearly being “sautéed” or “pan-fried.” Then again, I’m extremely finicky when it comes to using le mot juste (the right word), so maybe I’m the only person who is actually bothered by this.
But the beauty of Marcotte’s recipes is that they are inspiring. It’s probably not the best book for anyone taking their first steps in the kitchen; but if you can cook a little, or a lot, there’s definitely much to like about Sexy. As I said, the recipes are really quite simple, but the flavour and texture combinations are carefully - almost lovingly - crafted, and they will readily give you ideas for variations.
Like the recipe for duck confit with leeks and mashed celeriac. I didn’t alter the recipe the first time I made it, but you could probably take a guess at how it was made just by looking at it: the ingredients are cooked separately, then assembled inside a deep baking ring, and heated in the oven. It’s easy as pie (much easier than pie, really), it looks beautiful, and it tastes amazing.
The only thing I thought it was missing was a little moisture: some kind of sauce. So I decided to adapt one of my favourite duck breast recipes, and mould it to this concept. Usually, I simply sauté whole duck breast, coat it in a vinegar-and-honey shallot sauce, and serve it with sautéed apples and some sort of vegetable. This is basically the “stacked” version of this dish. And it worked out pretty well, if I do say so myself.
Ready-made duck leg confit is available at most grocery stores around here. But I was in a gung-ho mood when I made this, and decided to make my own duck confit. It was surprisingly easy, and not time consuming at all: granted, the cooking time is lengthy, but it doesn’t require you to actually do anything. And it’s worth it, as storebought duck confit tends to be slightly more expensive, yet skimpier on the meat.
Anyways, enjoy the recipe. I know I did!
Sweet-and-sour Duck Confit with Celeriac Mash, Sautéed Apple, and Stir-fried Shiitake
For the duck preparation:
2 raw duck thighs, or 2 duck confits (cooked duck thighs preserved in fat)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 tbsp raspberry vinegar, or sherry vinegar
3 tbsp mild liquid honey
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the celeriac mash:
1 small celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks
1-2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the sautéed apple:
1 Golden Delicious apple, sliced
1 tsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
For the shiitake:
250 ml (1 cup) shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
Make the duck confit (if using raw duck):
Preheat oven to 140ºC (275ºF) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Trim the duck thighs of any excess fat, but leave the skin on. Brush with 1 tbsp olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place thighs on prepared baking sheet and bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. For a crispy skin, raise heat to 200ºC (400ºF) during the last 20 minutes of baking. Let cool. (This can be made a day in advance and refrigerated, then reheated when ready to use.)
Make the celeriac mash:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the diced celeriac for about 15-20 minutes, until you can easily penetrate it with a fork. Drain, return to pot, then add the butter, salt, and pepper. Mash by hand with a potato-masher, gradually incorporating the milk, until you obtain the desired texture. Keep warm over low heat.
Prepare the duck:
Shred the cooled duck confit with a fork (or your fingers), and reserve. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, then add the shallot and sauté until it begins to turn translucid. Deglaze with the vinegar and cook for 1-2 minutes, letting the shallots absorb the flavour. Stir in the honey, then the butter. Finally, stir in the duck, making sure to coat it well in the sauce, and heat through. Keep warm and reserve.
Make the stir-fried shiitake:
In a wok, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, and cook for about 2 minutes. Throw in the shiitake mushroom slices, and stir-fry, stirring often, until they are browned and tender (try not too overcook them). Stir in the chopped parsley, reduce heat, and keep warm.
Sauté the apple:
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a small frying pan, over medium-high heat. Toss in the apple slices, and sauté, stirring and flipping occasionally, until they are browned. Do not let them get too mushy. Reduce heat, keep warm and reserve.
Assemble the final dish:
Put two deep baking rings on a baking sheet. Press a layer of shredded duck on the bottom, then top with the celeriac mash. Set the oven to broil, and bake for 3 minutes, to heat everything through. (NOTE: If you do not have baking rings, you can use ramekins and serve your dish in them.)
Carefully unmold the duck and celeriac rings onto individual plates. Serve with a side of shiitake mushrooms and sautéed apples.