What it is and how it came about
Basically, this is a “shepherd’s pie” with the red meat replaced with duck. For those not in the UK or France who may not be familiar with either shepherd’s pie nor a parmentier, it’s a layer of cooked minced or shredded meat, possibly with some vegetation added, placed in a large flattish dish and covered with a layer of mashed potato. The dish is then baked in an oven (to cause some amalgamation of flavours and also to heat everything through thoroughly) and lastly grilled to make a crisp layer on the top of the potato.
This came about after buying this dish ready-made in a French supermarket. It was pretty good, so the next time we visited, we bought a couple of them, at one a day or two later & froze the second for later use. The duck in these dishes was confit de canard – duck slow cooked at a low temperature in its own fat. I didn’t have the time to do this so cheated and this is the result. We think it’s a lot better than the shop-bought variety… although we kept the name.
This recipe uses a slow cooker as an alternative to cooking the duck legs “confit”. The result isn’t identical but it’s equally good. So you will need a slow cooker, although a large cooking pot with a heat reducer under it on a very small heat source on the stove top would probably work. You will also need an ovenproof dish – ceramic or cast iron – around 30 x 18 cm.
Ingredients for four portions
- Four duck legs
- 2 large shallots or equivalent
- 500 ml boiling water
- Enough of a vegetable stock cube for 500ml of water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 dozen black peppercorns
- Small handful of herbes de Provence
- 1 kg potatoes suitable for mashing
- 50 ml milk
- 20g butter (if you’re using salted butter, use a little less salt in the water for the potatoes)
- One large or two small eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Dissolve the stock cube in the boiling water. Stir to disperse, pour into the slow cooker and switch the latter on to “high” to warm the whole thing up quickly.
- Add the salt, peppercorns and herbes de Provence to the slow cooker and put the lid on.
- Peel the shallots, cut them lengthways and then across, so you get four pieces from each one. I find this creates a reasonable surface area for the flavour to get out whilst not leaving a load of tiny pieces to be strained from the cooking liquid later. Lift the slow cooker lid, pop the shallots in and close the lid again.
- If you have a good non-stick pan, you won;t need any kind of fat or grease for this next step; if not, use a little vegetable oil – say 10 ml. Get the pan hot then put in the duck legs. Cook for around 10 minutes, turning frequently, until the exposed meat is browned and some of the skin on the back shows signs of being cooked.
- Remove the frying pan from the heat and get it as close to the slow cooker as possible. Use a pair of good tongs to lift the legs and place them in the slow cooker. If the pot is big enough, don’t overlap the legs. If you have to overlap them, overlap the long bones so that the main part of the meat is in the liquid. Scrape any liquid/fat remaining in the frying pan into the slow cooker pot.
- Reduce the heat to low and leave for two hours.
- Test the duck with a sharp object – a skewer should pass straight through the thickest part of the meat with virtually no resistance; when withdrawn, any liquid that exits the hole should be clear (as in, not pink). If the duck isn’t quite done, leave it for another half hour and test again. Repeat until it’s completely done – the meat will also have shrunk back leaving the long bone almost empty.
- Remove the duck legs from the cooker carefully – they may try & fall apart as you do! Place them one by one on something which has a draining channel, such as a carving dish. Using a sharp, pointed knife, such as a filleting knife, and a fork, remove the skin and any remains of the layer of fat underneath it. Discard them. Now, using a pair of forks, strip all the meat from the bones, roughly shredding it into bite-sized pieces or smaller. If it all ends up completely shredded, that’s fine, as is anything in between.
- Peel the potatoes and cut them into roughly equal-volume pieces of around 4cm each dimension. I prefer to leave potatoes unpeeled, especially for chips, but having the peel present doesn’t work so well for this recipe.
- Put the potatoes in cold water, add the teaspoon of salt and heat on a high light until boiling, then turn down to a rolling boil until the potatoes are soft – usually around 10 minutes but can vary from 6 to 15, depending on the potato variety, the size you’ve cut them to, etc.
- Drain the potatoes, add the milk and the butter, then mash them with your preferred implement. There is nothing like a proper potato masher for this job but finding a good quality one, especially at a reasonable price, is really hard nowadays.
- Crack the egg into the mash and mix it in really quickly with a fork (if the potatoes are still hot – if they’re cold, you can take your time 🙂 )
- Spread the duck meat in a reasonably even layer in the bottom of an ovenproof dish – ceramic or cast iron – around 30 x 18 cm. Moisten it bit by sprinkling some of the cooking liquid over it. We used 6 or 8 tablespoons but you can adjust that to your taste.
- Spread the mash in a reasonably even layer over the duck. Run a fork along the length of the mash to produce “tramlines”, so the whole surface of the mash is covered with parallel lines.
- Put the dish into an oven pre-heated to 200C (fan oven) or 210C (non-fan) and bake for 35 mins.
- Grill the dish for 5 minutes at a high setting.
- Serve immediately with a selection of vegetables and a good red wine.
- Whilst the potatoes are cooking, wash and slice a dozen Chantenay carrots. Steam them for ten minutes. Add them to the duck meat when spreading it into the dish, before adding the mash. You could also use steamed asparagus cut into 1/3 cm lengths. Don’t use too much asparagus or it may overwhelm the duck.
- Add 100ml or so of robust red wine (e.g. Italian Sangiovese) to the liquid in the slow cooker before putting the duck legs in and give things a bit of a stir. If doing this, use 100 ml less water for the stock.