“This dish represents what the nutritionists call the French paradox. The people in the south-west of France are known to be the most ferocious carnivores. In this region, mountains of fat, foie gras and meat are enjoyed. Yet in that region we have the least cardiovascular problems or illness, also they have the longest lifespan. Nutritionists are baffled by this. Maybe it’s due to the quality of life in this part of the world, the fact that the very best fruit and vegetables are eaten, together with, of course, a fair amount of best local red wine… a thirty-five hour week and a quieter life!”
Difficulty rating: Easy
Serves (Yield): 4
Preparation time: 15 minutes/12 hours curing the duck
Cooking time: 2 hours
You can cook the duck legs 2 days in advance and keep them in the duck fat. If you use dried beans, soak them for 12 hours (*1) in advance.
For the duck legs:
- 4 large duck legs (*2) (200g each)
- 30g rock salt
- 1 level tbsp black peppercorns, crushed
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
- 2 bay leaves, finely sliced
- 4 sprigs thyme, picked
- 800g duck fat (*3)
For the beans:
- 400g flageolet beans fresh (*4)
- 1⁄2 onion, peeled, chopped
- 4 garlic, peeled, halved
- 100g bacon, streaky, smoked—chopped finely (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 1 clove
- 800g water
- 1 tsp pepper, black freshly ground
- 2 pinches sea salt (*5)
To finish the dish:
- 4 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
- 2 tbsp flat parsley
Curing the duck legs
- Lay the duck legs on a small tray, flesh side upwards and distribute the rock salt, crushed pepper, garlic, thyme and bay leaves evenly over.
- Cling film, and cure over night (12 hours) (*6).
Cooking the duck legs
- Wash off the curing mix and pat dry with kitchen paper.
- Pack the duck legs in a saucepan and cover with the melted duck fat; bring the temperature to boiling point for 30 seconds, skim the impurities, lower the heat to about 80oC and check with a probe.
- Cook for 3 hours at this temperature (*7). Cool down in the duck fat, and reserve.
Cooking the beans
- Whilst the duck legs are cooking, mix the beans and all the other ingredients in a saucepan.
- Bring to the boil for 2 minutes and skim; lower the heat to the most gently simmer, one single bubble breaking to the surface.
- Cook the beans for 50 or 60 minutes (*8).
- Taste to see if they are perfectly cooked, the beans should be soft and melting, the signs are tiny little blisters in the skin, but always taste.
- In a non-stick pan, on medium heat, crisp up and colour the duck legs on the skin side for 5–7 minutes.
- Transfer the beans and cooking juices into a shallow serving dish, add the extra virgin olive oil and parsley; top with the confit of duck legs, and serve.
Chef’s notes (*)
*1 If you are using dried beans, especially red kidney beans, be careful as they hold a toxin within. They can be neutralised in two steps; first soak the beans over night for 12 hours, and discard the water used for soaking, as many of the toxins will have leaked out into the water. Second step cooking the beans; the cooking process will kill the toxins and make the food safe. If you don’t do these steps, badly cooked beans may cause you illness Dried beans are an excellent addition to your dry store.
*2 Use the best ducks available. I prefer to use the French variety of Challan, Barbary, and from the Bresse area; but now we also have some excellent English varieties of Gressingham duck or Trelough ducks from the Hereford Duck Company.
*3 Duck fat contains a lot of mono saturated fat.
*4 Of course you can get dried beans all year around, but fresh is best. My favourites are coco and flageolet or tarbais. They are available at their best during the months of July and August, and they grow very well in the British climate.
*5 Often people say that salt toughens up the wall or skin of the beans and that it also lengthens the cooking time. And that the salt has difficulty in permeating the beans; I have not found that to be true, unless you put 30g of salt to 1ltr of water.
*6 Salt has been used as a way of preserving for thousands of years, and man has depended on it for their own survival. During the curing effect, the salt permeates the meat or fish, extracting the water, by doing so, kills the bacteria. But what the cook gets excited about is the changes in the texture and flavour of the meat or fish.
*7 This method of cooking the duck legs or confit can be used for any other meat. Once cured the meat is immersed in duck fat and cooked at a low temperature which will give a succulent richness to the meat as well as a very much-loved flavour. Some people love their duck completely over-cooked and falling off the bone; personally I prefer it medium. So, accordingly, lengthen the cooking time. NB. In the past the meat was preserved in the duck fat. Today you should only keep the duck legs in the fat for 3 days to be safe.
*8 There is a very low quantity of salt, so if you don’t use the bacon in this recipe add a little more salt.
If flageolet beans are not available use cocoa beans which are an excellent replacement.