Cooking French Stuff at Home: Canard aux Pruneaux

There’s an epicerie fine called Rock du Palais literally right across the street from my apartment. It’s become my go-to on on those nights I plan to spend dabbling in the canned-and-jarred chapter of France’s inexhaustible cuisine. They have all kinds of great stuff there: duck foie gras, duck magret with duck foie gras, duck confit with duck foie gras, gizzards, duck with raisings, duck with apricot, terrines, pâté, rillettes and mousses. There’s also a wide array of jarred fish soups, garbures and cassoulets. Hanging in the window is a collection of sausages, a 100% duck sausage being the house specialty that the guy there will encourage you to taste. There’s also some cute stuff perfect for gifts – truffled cashews, infused oils, different types of brittle, beautifully designed boxes of biscuits and gateaux. And behind the counter, a carefully curated selection of wines on offer – ranging from a crisp and affordable Entre-deux-Mers white to an austere Medoc tied up by tannins.

On my last visit, I told the guy that I had just moved in across the street and that I would over the next few years come to sample everything at his store, bit by bit. He gave me a stern nod and helped me choose my first of many canned goods: Canard aux Pruneaux (duck with prunes).

I took it home and cooked it for dinner bain marie style, which is to say by placing the opened can into a pot of hot water (water level reaching around an inch from the lid) and cooking it on low heat until the boiling water indirectly cooks the contents of the can. As it cooks, the thing pops and jumps because of pressure on the metal. This is nothing to be frightened of, just comes with the process. Sure, this method requires time and patience (especially as the wonderful aromas urge you to finish it up quick), but it allows the duck fat, of which there is plenty, to liquefy and melt off the chunks of duck. The meat can then simply be picked out, fully cooked but with no residual fat clinging to it. This method will also allow you to more easily save and store all of that precious prune-infused duck fat for later use. (I mixed it into some basmati rice the following night, for example.)

The outcome was absolutely divine. Tender pieces of duck with the skin and meat infused with sweet, floral notes from the prune. There were also little crunchy and caramelized bits of meat at the bottom of the can, which, when combined in one bite with the plump, juicy prunes, were outrageously good. I plated the stuff on white rice, which caught any excess fat dripping off the duck. I’d also recommend something pickled on the side (maybe even pickled prunes!) to fully round out the flavor profile.

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