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Duck and crispy potatoes

Confit de canard, pommes paillasson

Confit de canard, pommes paillasson

One French Word: paillasson, a French recipe: Confit de canard, pommes paillasson (duck and crispy potatoes)

A thing one should absolutely always have in the storeroom is a tin, or several tins, of confit de canard. Legs and thighs of duck, preserved in their fat, have become much more common in recent years, and much less expensive. You can use them in a dish of cassoulet (haricot beans, duck and pork, shall I give you the recipe here some time soon?), fried into crispy morsels on top of a salad (recipe here), or just heated in the oven and accompanied by chips, sliced sautéed potatoes (pommes sarladaises = potatoes the way they eat them in Sarlat), or, as in my recipe, pommes paillasson, which is the French name for the better known Swiss rösti. This consists of grated potato fried in a thick pancake until it is crisp on the outside and melting on the inside.

This is the very classiest fast food to serve to guests who turn up unannounced forty-five minutes before supper time, and a morale boosting dish when you are feeling low. With a lovingly prepared green salad, and some ice-cream served with the alcoholic raisins I mentioned in last week’s post, you will have rustled up a meal fit for kings in half an hour or so.

The French language bit:

paillasson (masculine noun), un paillasson, le paillasson, les paillassons (a doormat, the doormat, the doormats)

from the word une paille = a straw, which also gives us une paillasse = a straw bed (une paillasse is also said of someone who is weak and gets walked over; and sometimes also, but not very usually, the draining board of a sink).

Une paille is also a drinking straw;  and a colour – jaune paille = straw coloured, literally straw yellow.

Etre sur la paille (literally to be on the straw) = to be broke, to have no money.

Un chapeau de paille = a straw hat

Une botte de paille = a bundle of straw, or a bale (but it would be the old, small bales, not the new enormous round ones)

Paillasson in my recipe refers to the texture and colour of the potato pancake, which is strawlike. Where it is evident that we are not talking about a dessert, potatoes (pommes de terre, literally apples of the earth) can be simply called pommes (which also means apples).

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for two people :

  • 2 preserved duck legs and thighs, (I buy mine individually frozen, but they are more usually found tinned), with most of the fat removed. Keep this fat for roasting potatoes, or frying vegetables for soup.
  • 4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and not too finely grated
  • Optional: onion, or garlic, and/or bits of bacon
  • Oil and a little butter for frying
  • Salt and pepper



  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  • Place the pieces of duck on a non-stick baking sheet, or on an oven tray covered in grease-proof paper (be careful of aluminium foil, they tend to stick; actually they tend to stick anyway!).
  • Place in the oven when it comes up to temperature, 20-25 minutes if tinned, even if cooked from frozen.
  • Peel and grate the potatoes. Place in a sieve, squeeze with your hands to remove a maximum of moisture. You can them pat gently between several layers of kitchen roll to remove still more moisture.
  • Add 1/4 level tsp salt per potato used, and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Mix thoroughly.
  • If you are going to add onion or garlic and/or bacon bits, fry these up and mix with the raw potato. I personally prefer my pomme paillasson “nature”, that is, without added trimmings.


  • Heat a tbs of oil (I used olive) with a small knob of butter in a frying pan, when it sizzles, scrape the potato into the pan and flatten it out with a spatula (choose a size of pan which will allow you to flatten the potato to a thickness of about 1cm or just a little more, so that it reaches the sides of the pan). Press it down, work a fork around it so that it is perfectly formed. It should not be thin around the edges.
  • Turn the heat down to medium. The potato should brown nicely on the outside but soft in the middle. If you fry it too briskly, it will burn without properly cooking on the inside. When you are ready to turn the potato cake, after about 4-5 minutes, run a palette knife under the potato to loosen, place a plate over the frying pan and turn the plate and the frying pan simultaneously. On the plate, the fried side of the potato will be on top.


  • Put another tbs oil and a little butter into the pan, heat well, and slip the potato from the plate back into the pan, without breaking it, press down, bring the sides in a little to make it regular. Turn the heat down slightly again, and fry until the underside is uniformly golden. About another 5 minutes. When it is ready, slip it onto a clean plate, sprinkle with salt and serve.
  • Take the duck out of the oven and serve onto warmed plates with a portion of potato cake.
  • Serve with a salad : I did an endive (chicory I think it is in English, you can see from the photo below what I mean) and orange salad. Orange goes well with duck. Just slice an endive, peel and slice an orange, pouring the juice over the salad, add some parsley or coriander and a little walnut oil, salt and pepper. It needs no vinegar because of the orange juice.


Both the duck and the potato should be really crispy. Nothing worse than confit which has not been crisped up properly. And the potato should be melting in the middle. Doesn’t your mouth water just looking at the picture?

Bon appétit!


One French word: mâche, a French recipe: croustillant de canard sur lit de mâche

Mâche, feminine noun (la mâche, de la mâche, but one doesn’t say une mâche or des mâches) = lamb’s lettuce.

Not to be confused with the verb mâcher = to chew (je mâche, tu mâches, il/elle mâche, nous mâchons, vous mâchez, ils/elles mâchent)(= I chew, you chew, he/she chews, we chew, you chew, they chew). Do you remember the lost ‘s’ denoted by the circumflex accent (^)? This comes from masticate, (mastiquer en français).

Il ne mâche pas ses mots = he doesn’t mince his words, he’s not afraid of plain speaking.

Lamb’s lettuce is not as frequently used as other salads, but it is becoming more “fashionable”, especially since it is now presented ready washed in packets. That’s the problem with lamb’s lettuce, it’s tricky to wash, because it grows on sandy soil which get stuck between the lower leaves. But it is worth the trouble, its emerald green adds sparkle to any dish, and it has a pleasant chewy texture and fresh flavour. I bought my mâche fresh this morning from a local farmer.

Croustillant de canard

My recipe today is for a croustillant de canard sur lit de mâche (crispy duck on a bed of lamb’s lettuce). Let me explain. It consists of a cuisse de canard confit (a duck leg and thigh preserved in duck fat), and radishes and lamb’s lettuce. I think in our family it was my brother who first cooked a cuisse de canard confit crispy this way, my son also does a great version, but some people, in the south west of France particularly, thought it pretty heretical.  I find it less rich and definitely economical, as one duck leg and thigh will do two people.

Une cuisse de canard confit

You will need for 2 people as a main dish:

  • one cuisse de canard confit (I used a frozen cuisse, tinned is better for this recipe, there is more duck fat)
  • a couple of good handfuls of mâche
  • about 10 good sized radishes
  • a little raspberry vinegar, salt and pepper

Mâche et radis


  1. Wash the lamb’s lettuce in a basin of water, swishing it around so that any sand falls to the bottom. Repeat several times with fresh water.
  2. Dry delicately in a tea towel.
  3. Nip off the root end but try to keep the rosette whole, it looks better.
  4. Clean and trim the radishes. Dry.
  5. Arrange the lamb’s lettuce on two plates, slice the radishes.
  6. Unless you make your own, duck legs are sold in tins surrounded with duck fat. Remove the duck leg leaving a little fat around it.
  7. Place it in a heavy frying pan, one which is not going to be damaged by the shredding process, warm it up, and with two forks, remove the meat from the bone; discard the bone, but keep the skin.
  8. While continuing to heat the meat, separate it with the two forks until it is completely shredded.
  9. Gradually pour off the duck fat (into a pot which you will keep for frying vegetables). Keep stirring and shredding the meat, turning it frequently so that it crisps on all sides. And continue pouring off any excess fat.
  10. When the duck is golden and completely crispy, divide it in two and arrange a little pyramid in the middle of each plate.
  11. Sprinkle half a tsp raspberry vinegar over the salad (not over the duck), and add several grinds of black pepper and some fleur de sel or salt flakes.

Salade de confit de canard

This dish is not as fatty and rich as plain confit, because the grease has been progressively poured off. And the thick salad leaves offset the duck perfectly.

Bon appétit.

One French word: ananas, a French recipe: magret de canard froid à l’ananas confit

Ananas, masculine noun (l’ananas, un ananas, des ananas) = pineapple (pronounced a-na-nasse, you say the s for once!, but only in the singular. Then again, in certain regions, they don’t say the s.  In the plural, you don’t hear the s any longer anywhere).

Pronunciation: a word about “liaison”: la liaison is when you run one word into another, as here, un ananas, you join the n of un to the a of ananas, and the s of des into the a of ananas in the plural. The rule is roughly that when a noun begins with a vowel, you run the consonant into the vowel. For example: deux beaux ananas, two lovely pineapples, you run the x of beaux into the a of ananas, to make deu bozanana.


Cold duck breast

Magret de canard froid à l’ananas confit

My recipe for today is magret de canard froid à l’ananas confit (cold duck breast with caramelized pineapple). Very often, a duck breast (magret) is so enormous, that it is too much for one meal. You can eat one half hot, and the other cold.  But you can also cook duck breast ahead of time, chill it in the fridge, and slice it for a cold meal, picnic or lunchbox.  To use cold, duck really needs to be nice and pink inside, or it will just be dull and dry.

For 4 people you will need:

  • 2 good sized duck breasts
  • 4 thick slices of fresh ripe pineapple
  • 1 tbs acacia or other runny honey
  • 6cl (half a glass) of dry white wine
  • Butter, salt, pepper, vinegar
  • 2 green bell peppers (poivrons verts)



  1. Do not score the duck breasts for this recipe, so that you can make neat slices across the width when it is cold. Pat the duck breasts with kitchen paper to remove all moisture. Season on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan so that it is really quite hot and put the duck breasts to cook, skin side down to begin with. Fry for about 4 minutes, pressing down with a spatula to make sure all the surface of the skin is in contact with the pan. Pour off the excess duck fat as it melts. When the skin is nice and crispy and the layer of fat under the skin has melted to a certain extent, turn and cook the other side for about 3 or 4 minutes depending on the thickness of the duck breast. Remove from the pan and place on a plate to cool before putting in the fridge.
  3. Peel, slice and core a fresh pineapple, cut into generous chunks and keep all the juice that runs off.
  4. In a non stick frying pan, melt some butter, and fry the pineapple gently. Add 1tbs acacia (or other runny) honey and a tbs of your preferred vinegar (but not balsamic which will discolour the pineapple and make it look unappetizing). Salt lightly, and add any pineapple juice and half a glass of white wine. Cook quite briskly until the pineapple is tender and the liquid has boiled down to a coating syrup. Remove from the pan into a bowl, cool and refrigerate.
  5. To serve, place the duck breast flat on a chopping board, skin side up. With a very sharp knife, cut slices on the diagonal (as in the picture above)  about 1/4 inch thick. Overlap half a dozen slices on each plate. Toss the pineapple in the juices to glaze. Place a heaped spoonful or two, without juice, next to the duck breast. Slice two green peppers, and garnish the plates with pepper slices.

This is a really delicious and attractive cold meal, and is easy to eat out of a lunch box or on a picnic, no sauces to drip, no difficult-to-pick-up pieces.

Bon appétit.

One French word: magret, a French recipe: magret de canard caramélisé au miel et à l’orange

Magret = duck breast  (pronounced ma (like mama) – grey) is a masculine noun: le magret (= the duck breast), un magret (= a duck breast).

In fact, magret just means breast (of a fowl), but since other birds are rarely used, it is usually taken to mean duck breast. The full translation of duck breast is magret de canard, canard meaning duck. The word magret does not apply to a chicken breast. The word for that is blanc, blanc de poulet, blanc meaning “white”, the white meat. Magret comes from the word maigre meaning “lean”, as it is the leanest meat on a duck.

Recipe: Magret de canard caramélisé au miel et à l’orange (caramelized duck breast with honey and orange)


Magret de canard caramélisé

For one person:

  • One duck breast with the skin
  • half tsp salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tbs Kikkoman soy sauce
  • 1 tbs honey
  • the zest and juice of one orange


  1. Heat the oven 200°
  2. Wipe the duck breast with paper towel until nice and dry. Prick the fat side of the breast with a skewer or fork. This will help the fat to escape and make the skin crispier. With a sharp knife, score the fat in one direction and then the other to make diamond shapes. Do not score the meat under the fat.
  3. Place in an oven dish skin side up, rub with salt, grind pepper over the breast, drizzle the soy, grate the orange rind over the scored side, pour the orange juice over and let it run into the dish, and spread the honey evenly.
  4. Place in the hot oven for 20 minutes or until the skin is really crisp. The meat should remain pink. Duck is not nice when it is overcooked. This cooking time depends entirely on the thickness of your duck breast.
  5. Serve either whole or cut into diagonal quarter inch slices, accompanied with chips (french fries) and a green salad.

The magret in my picture may look a little singed, in fact it is just deliciously caramelized. This, with a dozen oysters, was my New Year’s Eve dinner this year.

If you eat magret in a French restaurant, the waiter will ask you: “Et la cuisson?” (and how would you like it cooked?),or words to that effect, to which you may answer either “bien cuit” (well cooked, at which he will certainly frown), “à point” (fairly well cooked) , “rosé” (just pink, which is personally how I prefer it), or  “saignant” (literally “bloody”, or not very cooked at all). Have your answer ready in advance, don’t get caught out! These adjectives also apply to beef (steak) and lamb.

Bon appétit.

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