"It is rich meltingly tender when young, and fairly cries out to be simmered with wine, herbs and brandy" Robert Carrier
This is my lucky dip dish from Gabriel Gaté and his book A Cook's Tour of France, which is a selection of the recipes he featured for SBS's Tour de France programs. It's a beautiful book with a whole series of nostalgic - for me - photographs of various aspects of French life and scenery, and not many photographs of the dishes he cooks. Including this one. Fortunately for me SBS has published a picture - above - (and a video) of the dish which he calls Roast duck leg with prunes. Give it a try, because it's easy and impressive. Well that's what he says, and, in this case, I believe him.
We never cook duck in this house. David is not all that keen and it is not as easy to find duck as chicken. Admittedly it is becoming easier, but still you have to look and be prepared to pay as well. So maybe I should just ignore David's supposed likes and dislikes for once. He might be surprised.
Of course if you are in France it's absolutely everywhere, particular in the centre and the south-west it seems to me. I found one blog writer who had investigated the statistics of this and, as he suspected, found that France and China are the largest consumers (and producers) of duck in the world. No surprises there I suppose. Duck, in fact, is one of the cheaper meats in the hypermarket. And it certainly features hugely in all those beautiful terrines and pâtés in the delicatessen section.
Duck à l'orange is, of course, the most famous French duck dish - although if you are actually in France it is confit that you will find on every French restaurant menu. I'm pretty sure I have written about both of these at some time in the past. Next in fame is the version with cherries - sour cherries, but when I checked on the duck and prunes pairing there were heaps and heaps. Almost all of them included red wine but after that everyone had their own little twists. Because that's what this sort of dish is. A trio of ingredients - duck, prunes and red wine (sometimes this is port) and then go for it. Roast it, stuff it, braise it, add this and that. So here a few of what I found: Wine-Braised Duck Legs with Agen Prunes (Civet de Canard Aux Pruneaux D’Agen) from Anna Williams on the Saveur website; Duck with prunes in red wine from David Lebovitz; Spiced roast duck with fennel and prunes/Recipe Studio; Roast duck with red wine prunes and juniper berries/Eat Smarter; Crisp roast Gressingham duck with a forcemeat stuffing and a confit of apples and prunes/Delia Smith and Duck with prunes and red cabbage from Nigel Slater.
I looked to see if Ottolenghi and co had done something slightly weird and wonderful with the concept but no - they don't seem to do duck much. However, I did find a sort of French/Chinese fusion dish called Seared duck with prunes and hoisin from Kitty Greenwald in The Wall Street Journal. The French/Chinese thing reminded me of a long gone but wonderful restaurant called Chinois to which we went a few times in our relative youth. It was run by Gail and Kevin Donovan who went on to open Donovan's in the St. Kilda Beach Pavilion, and in spite of a fire at some point it has been running for over twenty years. It's a Melbourne institution but not very Chinois I think. Although I couldn't really say as I have never been there. St. Kilda is a beachside suburb that is too far for an easy night out.
So there you go - probably a not terribly interesting lucky dip. The only vaguely interesting thing I can think of to say is to wonder why it is the French and the Chinese who love duck so much. After all there is no reason that any other culture could not also 'do' duck, but apart from a few dishes here and there, the bird is not so embedded in the food culture of the country as it is there. And they are such different cultures, neither of which has influenced the other hugely. The French had a small colony in China once, but they were eating duck long before then. And there are not a vast number of Chinese restaurants in France. There are many more Vietnamese - and North African of course. But mostly French. The country may be multicultural but the restaurant scene is not nearly as multicultural as here for example.
The combination with prunes is particularly French too. They do the best prunes - Prunes d'Agen. By the way I saw that in America - I think it was America rather than Britain, prunes are now called dried plums. Which of course they are, but why? From the comment that I saw it seemed a vaguely 'woke' thing, implying that prune was a mildly derogatory thing. Oh dear.