The Great Quest

My favourite restaurant dish

Those who have dined with me (Ian), since the 1970s, will be aware that my evaluation of a restaurant menu ceases as soon as I hit the word “Duck”. I’ve even been known to encourage others to pick the duck item, in the full knowledge that they couldn’t eat it all, so I can finish their order. Three serves of duck at ‘The Green Door’ restaurant in Subiaco on one occasion bears witness to the success of this strategy.

In my view, the pinnacle of the ingredients for duck dishes is duck confit. Duck leg and thigh, salted, then cooked, stored in duck fat, then cooked again with crispy skin and various delectable sauces is sublime. Beyond the culinary excitement, this method of cooking allows the long-term storage of duck at room temperature, left submerged in the fat after the first cooking, in either glass (by small producers) or, commercially, in cans containing either two or four portions.

We’ve seen duck in this stored form in numerous shops and supermarkets in France.

Emergency Food

To diverge a bit, one of the issues on a barge is food. Wine stores pretty well, but fresh food is dependent on the proximity of supermarkets and fridges and freezers (we don’t have the latter on Catharina – not even a small one to the dismay of our friends – “How can you exist without ice for your gin and tonic?”). There can be situations, particularly in rural France, where the distance between villages with supermarkets, and the delight in extended stays in some bucolic location conspire to empty the fresh food larder.

Then it’s on to canned goods.

One of our fellow bargees has a blog that deals with food and barging, and this subject in particular. In her blog, Di Murrel extols the virtues of a number of solutions, but canned duck confit (“A Duck in the Cupboard) has a central role in staving off starvation in this event of a food desert.

So, it was with eager anticipation that I contemplated provisioning Catharina for the lean times, and also began plotting how to engender such a situation.

Jackpot

When we ‘found Neo Vita‘ it was in the small northern Dutch town of Middenmeer, very far from France both in distance, and culture. Lovely place, but only a small strip of shops. They had a small supermarket. Imagine my joy when, on one whole wall, on the top shelf, there was a row of dozens of the big cans of “Cuisine de canard maigre confites “. It was utterly unexpected. I immediately re calibrated my ‘hunt and seek’ strategy for duck confit. Even Dutch villages had the stuff!

It was a busy time, so we did not get around to buying a couple of cans, learning how to point Neo Vita in the right direction, and keep her going that way occupied all our attention.

So off we set, sans duck confit, but sanguine in anticipation of the obvious Dutch love of Duck confit.

I was wrong.

The Search

At each stop, where we went to a supermarket, I would look for canned duck confit. Every time, my search was in vain. For the three weeks of our first cruise, I became increasingly desperate. How could we be cruising without duck to cook? – that was part of the deal!

Never caught a whiff for the first year. We returned this year, and, desperate and determined, I continued the search. The first stop was always the section that had the ‘foreign’ foods, canned hot dogs and the such-like; then, after the inevitable disappointment there, a wider search – tinned goods, cookery items, traiteur/deli section, pet food – whatever. No luck. So then go and buy the bread, cheese and wine.

Foreign and exotic food section common to most supermarkets in the Netherlands

Foreign and exotic food section common to most supermarkets in the Netherlands

Good things come …

You may recall from a previous post that we just  managed to squeeze into a small space at the end of the quay in Sneek. We were keen because we were almost out of bread, cheese and wine – and heading into the wilds.  We dashed off to the nearest supermarket – an Albert Heijn – and while Lisette began to get the essentials, I began my now desultory, but formal search for the confit.

Lisette says she heard the squeal from the end of the aisle. She looked around to find this silly man capering around, throwing his arms in the air in obvious delight.

Yes, there they were – right next to the canned hot dogs, two large cans of Cuisine de canard maigre confites for €13.80 (A$20). We hadn’t bought much in the way of bags, and weren’t able to buy them straight away but as soon as we returned to Catharina, I grabbed a bag and raced back to get both cans.

Finally two cans of confit

Finally two cans of confit

Whew.

The Quest Continues

Our guests Gill and Graham arrived a few days later, and we moored in Steewijk while we visited Bavaria. With eager anticipation, I noted the presence of a nearby Albert Heijn store. When we returned, I was quickly inside. Success again. Three more cans!

Cleaned out the store. The blue 'ah' sign is now my favourite

Cleaned out the store. The blue ‘ah’ sign is now my favourite

Now I can store them on display in the kitchen (and have the reserve can in the bilges).

A constant reminder - or is it temptation?

A constant reminder – or is it temptation?

Now I have five cans. Enough you might think! But Gillian is a very keen duck consumer too. So a week or so later we were in Zandaam. Zandaam is the corporate HQ of Albert Heijn, and The Verwers and Catharina used to deliver to the Zandaam Albert Heijn when it was just one of two or three family stores. Gillian went into the retail store and found no less than four cans – and bought them all.

Nine cans of duck confit - should keep us going for a while!

Nine cans of duck confit – should keep us going for a while!

The consumption begins

Well it’s getting a bit extreme now. Gill is taking one can home. Our family is requesting we bring back a can too, but it is time to create a famine. So we did, in Zandaam, open our first can.

The first can opening - can't wait!

The first can opening – can’t wait!

There is no photo record of the meal but we had a combined chicken and duck meal, with the duck in a superb orange sauce according to a French recipe. Served in our gilt edged formal sauce boat. Wonderful.

Still, even after Gill and Graham left, we still had seven cans.

We had soup in a speciality soup restaurant in Ghent, and part of the meal was fresh fruit –  a plum each. So this was the trigger to use one of Di Murrel’s recipes, Duck with plums.

Quick and simple to prepare, but smelt and looked delicious

Quick and simple to prepare, but smelt and looked delicious

One of our best meals, and certainly the best I cooked.

Two portions of confit with potatoes fried in duck fat and vegetables and a glass of Burgundy Pinot Noir of course

Two portions of confit with potatoes fried in duck fat and vegetables and a glass of Burgundy Pinot Noir of course

It was a tough gig, two portions of confit each, but we were equal to the task.

Not much to wash on the plates

Not much to wash on the plates

So now we have six cans left, some will go home, some will stay in the bilges for an ’emergency’ next year. The notional ‘best by’ date is 2018, but they will not last that long.

While I think of the subject of emergency meals, I’m reminded that the in the middle of winter, Swiss peasants used to craft a meal out of stale bread, cheese and wine – might just look that up too…..