In 2016, American food commentator and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain declared, "Fergus Henderson is the most influential chef of the last two decades, even though you have likely never heard of him."
I had heard of him. I had heard him tell, very loudly, some of the funniest and wonderfully subversive jokes. He was in Melbourne for the Food and Wine Festival. His sense of timing was impeccable as he delivered his lines through the tremors bought on by his Parkinson's disease. Ten years before Renee Redzepi opened Noma in Copenhagen, Henderson was championing the British Isles' true food, from ox tongue to skate cooked in butter with anchovies. While other people were still sculpting kiwi fruit, he was serving up bacon knuckle with pickled cabbage – made in an open jar with an aroma he described as 'umphy'. From The Restaurant, St John in Smithfield, London, he redirected the course of British dining following a path through its fields and forests and along its rivers and shores. By following straight and narrow in the footsteps of centuries of chefs who cooked from the countryside, and used every scrap of every animal, he reintroduced the nation to its own national culinary traditions.
Below is his method for making confit of duck, goose, pheasant, etc…
How to do it
In a plastic, glass, or china container, scantily scatter coarse sea salt, black pepper, and twigs of time. Place a layer of your chosen meat and repeat your scattering. Keep on with this layering until done. Cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours. This, as well as flavouring it, removes water from the meat.
The next day there should be a salty puddle at the base of your container. Remove the meat, and vigorously brush off any remaining salt, pepper, and time. Dry the meat with a clean tea towel, place in an oven dish or pan, cover with duck, goose, or pork fat, or a combination, then cover with foil.
Cook in a medium oven until the flesh is giving; check with a sharp knife, but avoid it falling apart. (Ducks legs: 2 ¼ hours. Goose legs: 2 ¾ hours. Rabbits leg: 2 hours; Pork belly: 2 ½ hours.) When it's cooked, remove the meat to a glass, plastic or china container where which you can seal, then pour fat over to cover. Seal container, allow to cool, and refrigerate. This will now keep and improve for many months.
From Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking, Bloomsbury, 1999
Fergus suggests you pull apart the duck meat and serve through a salad, add to a bean stew (note – not a cassoulet) or place on a tray and crisp skin in a hot oven. Serve with a Conception Pinot Noir available below.
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