Gascony’s love affair with corn dates back to the 15th century, when it was introduced from the New World by Christopher Columbus and his Basque crew shortly after their return to Spain. Corn thrived in a narrow belt along the 45th parallel, which bisects the heart of southwestern France. Old Gascon recipes still rely on cornmeal for desserts like millassou, which is baked and topped with sugar or honey; and for cruchade, a starchy, savory underpinning for duck or other meats. The polenta-like porridge is often enriched with caramelized fat drippings from making confit. Left to cool completely, cruchade can be cut into thick strips for frying, but since I’m an impatient cook, I ladle a soft, golden pudding-like version onto a serving platter and garnish with fritons, crisped bits of duck skin.
What You Will Need
- Skins from 2 duck legs
- 1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal
- 2 tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste
- 1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
- 4 tbsp. (about 2 oz.) rendered duck fat or unsalted butter, melted Freshly ground nutmeg, to taste
- Make the duck skin fritons: Preheat the oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the duck skins on the parchment, stretching and flattening them slightly to maximize their surface area. Cover them with another sheet of parchment, and put another baking sheet on top of that, sandwiching the skins so they lie flat.
- Transfer to the oven and bake until the duck skins are golden brown and slightly puffed up, 55 minutes to an hour.
- Remove pan from the oven; pat the skins dry between paper towels and let cool slightly. Break the fritons into bite-size pieces.
- Meanwhile, prepare the cornmeal: In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, add the cornmeal, 5 cups cold water, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until just simmering (do not boil). Cover the pot and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and creamy, 40–45 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed.
- Remove the pot from the heat and transfer the polenta to a shallow serving bowl or rimmed serving platter. Spoon the melted duck fat or butter over the top. Dust lightly with freshly grated nutmeg, garnish with the crispy fritons, and serve immediately.