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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

CIMG6080

Preparation:

  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

CIMG6091

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!

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One French Word: frit, a French recipe: Pâtes fraîches aux épinards, aux câpres et à la coppa frite


Pâtes fraîches, coppa frite

Pâtes fraîches, coppa frite

We are lucky in France to be able to buy really excellent fresh pasta. All sorts. I use mostly tagliatelle. I’ve tried making them myself, but it seems to be something I’m not really very good at. Maybe I’ll take myself off to Italy one of these days and do an intensive course with a wonderful Italian lady who makes it every day… Pasta is so versatile, you can always find the ingredients for one sauce or another, and even plain, with just a little olive oil, a squeeze of garlic and a few shavings of parmesan, it is always so satisfying.

The French grammar bit (rather a lot today, if you are not interested, scroll quickly down to the recipe!):

frit, adjective, frit (m), frite (f), frits (m.pl), frites (f.pl) = fried, pronounced free (for the masculine), freet (for the feminine), don’t pronounce the s

From the verb frire = to fry (je fris = I fry)

But also a feminine noun, une frite = a chip/French fry.

Pommes de terre frites (or simply pommes frites or frites) = chips/French fries (literally fried potatoes, but when they are not in the shape of chips/French fries, they are called pommes de terre sautées, slices or cubes for instance).

Steak frites    (also written steack frites) = steak and chips/French fries, is the French national dish, the food most consumed in France, despite all the gastronomic dreams non-French nationals may have of what the French eat on a daily basis. It is the dish most often served in French restaurants, according to a recent survey. I personally eat it about twice a year, never at home, always in a brasserie (an old-style French restaurant), as I eat little red meat and few chips come to that.

Expressions include avoir la frite, or avoir la patate, both meaning to be on good form  (il a la frite, il a la patate = he is on good form).    (You can also say avoir la pêche to mean the same thing, as we saw in a previous post, probably used more than frite or patate.)

The recipe today is for pâtes fraîches aux épinards, aux câpres et à la coppa frite    (fresh pasta topped with wilted spinach, capers and fried crispy coppa). Coppa is italian cured rolled pork, something like raw ham. You can use bacon, but it’s not quite the same, or raw ham, but it needs to be a little fatty to crisp up properly.

Do read this recipe through before starting to cook! It is not complicated at all, but you need to go very fast, or the pasta overcooks or goes cold, and the crispy coppa uncrisps.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 2 to 3 people:

  • 1 packet of fresh pasta of your choice (mine are tagliatelle and the packet weighs 350gr) . You can use dried pasta if you wish. 
  • 1 packet or about 12 thin slices of coppa
  • 2 tsp of capers drained of their vinegar
  • three good handfuls of spinach leaves, washed, destalked and dried in a tea towel (they don’t have to be baby leaves, mature ones will be just as good)
  • a clove of garlic, chopped finely
  • fresh parmesan cheese, either grated or shaved (a couple of tbs per serving) 
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Wilting the spinach

Wilting the spinach

Preparation:

  • If you are using fresh pasta, which only takes a couple of minutes to cook, prepare all the other ingredients, lay the table and pour the wine before cooking the pasta in salted water. If you are using dried pasta, you should have enough time to do all that while it is cooking. Whatever you use, follow the suggested cooking time on the packet and don’t forget to salt your cooking water.
  • Cut the slices of coppa into 2cm (3/4 inch) strips (stack the slices and cut them with kitchen scissors).
  • In a frying pan or wok, with a little olive oil, fry the coppa until it is quite crispy. Stir it to separate the slices.  Remove from the pan to a plate covered with a double layer of kitchen roll.
  • Fry the garlic rapidly in the same oil, stirring, for about 30 seconds.
  • Throw in the spinach leaves, stirring rapidly, just to wilt them. Have the capers ready prepared, add to the spinach as soon as it is wilted, turn off the heat.
  • Drain the pasta. Divide between individual plates. This all has to be done very fast. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, a portion of the spinach and capers, finish with the crispy coppa. Grind a bit of fresh black pepper, and sprinkle with grated or shaved parmesan.  Don’t insult this dish by using ready grated, packeted parmesan, which is inferior and tasteless usually, compared to the real thing. Treat yourself to a chunk which you must keep wrapped in the fridge. Expensive but classy!
  • Serve quickly, accompanied by a glass of lusty red, something from the Languedoc or Gaillac if you are serving French wine.

Pâtes fraîches

Which pasta do you prefer, fresh or dried? Can you get fresh pasta where you live? Or maybe you are good at making it (in which case you can give me a lesson!).

Bon appétit!

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