12 February 2009

Everything but the quack

Yesterday I included pictures of duck leg & thigh sections (cooked and uncooked), breast filets, and the whole bird to show how ducks are prepared and sold at our Intermarché supermarket. You might have thought that was already a pretty good selection of products.

Medium-priced duck breast filets of unspecified French origin

But wait. The magrets ("lean pieces") I pictured yesterday are just one of the three grades of duck breast filets advertised during the sale. Those are the least expensive ones. They are of vague European Union origin, while the other two grades are French. Since you normally eat duck breast cooked pretty rare, you might want to buy the most expensive ones (assuming that the highest price means the highest quality).

Duck breast filets from the French southwest region

The highest-priced duck breast filets are marked as not just of French origin but as coming from the Sud-Ouest, the southwest of France. That's where a lot of ducks are raised and where duck makes up a big part of the people's diet. The Sud-Ouest includes the Dordogne, the Lot, Basque Country, the area around Toulouse, and the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, down along the Spanish border.

Another morsel that is very tender and delicious is the duck "tenderloin" or « aiguillette » (it's needle-shaped, and "needle" in French is aiguille) . This cut is nearly as expensive as the finest breast pieces, and it comes from French producers too. The way I've had them cooked is in a cream sauce, served with pasta, rice, or potatoes.

Duck wings are a lot less expensive than the
breast pieces — about $0.86/lb.

If you want to make confit de canard, which is duck pieces cooked long and slow in duck fat, you can buy leg & thigh sections — les cuisses — of course, but you can also buy wing sections, or manchons. The wing sections would also be good cooked to make a broth or soup.

Fresh duck gizzards go for about $3.25/lb.

And finally, the real delicacies: gizzards and hearts. These need to be cooked as confit, too, very slowly and for a long time in duck fat, because that tenderizes them. Both are very tough muscles and need long cooking. So why not in duck fat?

The hearts cost a little less than the gizzards.

Properly cooked, though, both are delicious. I've blogged about serving the gizzards (gésiers) as part of a summer salad or winter salad, or served hot with chicken and vegetables. You can buy them already cooked, either shrink-wrapped or in tins, or you can buy fresh ones and cook them yourself.

One recipe I've seen says to thinly slice the duck hearts and then sauté or grill them quickly, maybe on skewers. It says to cook them quickly and serve them medium rare, so that they don't have time to toughen up. I've never tried that. Maybe this is my opportunity.


  1. When we first arrived in London the only way we could afford to eat duck was to go to our local butcher and buy 'C' grade ducks. These are birds that have had a bit of an accident on the killing chain in the abattoir and have lost a limb. We always refered to these as 'Legless Duck', but in fact, I generally tried to get ones that had lost a wing rather than a leg, as they were better value.

    We were lucky in a way to live in a very poor area of London, where the butcher stocked all sorts of peculiar things like this because that's what his clientele could afford, or sometimes, with items like chickens feet, what the mainly immigrant community actually asked for.

  2. Ken,

    How about a good chicken feet recipe? :-)

  3. Susan, I guess we are the immigrants here and we buy what we can afford. I'm a big believer in taking inexpensive but good-quality foods and making something delicious out of them. I'd rather not know about the slaughterhouse accidents, I guess. But then nature is cruel.

    Bill, chicken feet? I'm sure they make great stock, with lots of gelatine. As for eating them, well, you could pick your teeth as you go, I guess.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?