A French Hanukkah: latkes with duck confit

Yesterday, we lit our fifth candle in our newly restored menorah. Last year, I unfortunately used a little too much brute force to clean it, and yanked off the star of david that holds the shamash, the candle in the middle. I guess it was not its first accident in more than a century. Marc's grandfather brought it from Russia to New-York in 1910 where it stayed until it was given to Marc a few years ago and travelled back to Europe.  If objects could talk ...

Hanukkah lasts eight days and will run this year through December 14. The eight nights of lighting the branched candelabrum represent the eight nights a one-day supply of oil miraculously lasted for a small band of Jewish people in 165 B.C. fighting to defeat the Greek army.

Oil plays a big part in the food eaten during Hanukkah: sometimes donuts has a place on the table, and most of the times latkes. This crisp potato pancake is ubiquitous in every family, and is just so good, so addictive that you can't stop eating them. Marc's mother and grand-mother used to serve them with sour cream and applesauce. Here we tried a savory version, and made it into an appetizer. We thought we were doing a frenchified version, with the duck confit and currants, but a little bit of research showed us that, actually, this version has roots in very old jewish traditions.

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Let me quote ReformJudaism, that has a wonderful article explaining why we eat latkes for Hanukkah:

"Let's examine the real history of latkes. First, the recipe was not created until the end of the 18th or early 19th century. Although potatoes were introduced to Europe in the 16th century, it took close to two hundred years before the edible tuber made its way from animal fodder to prison food, and then to sustenance for the masses, especially the poor. The real reason for latkes is explained by the traditional activity of slaughtering the geese in early December.

For three months before slaughter, geese were slowly and methodically fed at increasing intervals and quantities to fatten them to excess. In fact, it was French Jews who were most influential in the foie gras industry because of this knowledge. Goose feathers and down were used for warmth, the meat was preserved as a confit for winter consumption, and goose fat was rendered to provide cooking oil for most of the year. Even a poor person could find a potato in the field, an onion in the cellar, and some of the precious, newly-rendered goose fat to create the Hanukkah culinary story of Neis gadol hayah shamA great miracle happened there. "

We we could have used geese confit, but duck confit is more readily available here in France. At the market we bought some already made confit from the Ferme de Lugen, and we had frozen some currants from the summer. 

While confit made across France, it's known as a specialty of my region in the South West. The confit is prepared in a centuries-old process of preservation that consists of salt curing a piece of meat (generally goose, duck, or pork) and then cooking it in its own fat. My mother used to do her own in Souillac! To prepare a confit, the meat is rubbed with salt, garlic, and pepper, then covered and refrigerated for up to 36 hours. Salt-curing the meat acts as a preservative. Prior to cooking, the spices are rinsed from the meat, which is then patted dry. The meat is placed in a cooking dish deep enough to contain the meat and the fat rendered during cooking, and placed in an oven at a low temperature. The meat is slowly poached in its own fat for four to ten hours. The meat and fat are then removed from the oven and left to cool. When cool, the meat can be transferred to a canning jar or other container and completely submerged in the fat. A sealed jar of duck confit may be kept in the refrigerator for up to six months, or several weeks if sous-vide.

Potatoes latkes with duck confit and currants

4 servings / 40 minutes

Instructions -  The latkes

  1. Grate the potatoes by hand or with the grating disk of a food processor; drain very briefly, pressing lightly. Mix in salt and pepper and flour.
  2. Melt the duck fat over medium heat, preferably in a large, seasoned cast-iron or non-stick skillet. Drop potatoes in by large spoonfuls, flattening the pancakes with the back of the spoon. Don’t try to turn them until they’re brown and crisp on the first side.
  3. Turn and continue cooking until brown and crisp on the second side, about 6 to 8 minutes total. Or put the whole batch of potatoes in the pan at once; when the underside is brown (it will take 10 to 15 minutes), slide the pancake out onto a plate. Cover with another plate, then invert the two plates. Return to the pan, uncooked side down, and finish cooking. 

Instructions - The duck confit and the currant sauce

  1. Warm the duck confit on medium heat, side skin down until the skin is golden ( about 20 min ), and turn them over for another 10 min.
  2. Warm the currants and lightly crush them with a fork until some juice is released. Stir and simmer two minutes until the sauce bubbles. 

Serve the latkes with the shredded confit and a bit of currant sauce.

 

 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup duck fat
  • 2 lb baking potatoes (Idaho or Russet)
  • 1 tp of salt
  • 2 tbsp of flour or matzo meal
  • 1 pinch of black pepper
  • 4 legs of duck confit sous-vide
  • 3/4 cup frozen currants or blackberries