One of my most unexpectedly fantastic meal pairings was duck hearts and red wine. It mainly came due to my wonderfully quirky French and my belief that there must be hidden local meanings to translated words, it simply couldn’t mean that, could it?

In the south-west of France you are in the Pyrenees, a wonderful region to explore but most especially for the food. The home of some of Frances best kept secrets, Gateau Basque, Brebis cheese, garbure, boudin noir, piperade. The list could go on, but my meal was none of the above.

I was in a small hamlet called Bartres, in the western side of the Pyrenees. It was lunchtime and there was an Auberge open. It had, obviously, been a stables in the past but was now decorated in white and smelt good. There were no other clients in yet but I was there just after noon. It looked clean and was open. I needed lunch.

After the introductions with the Mme Patron, we settled into a form of French that she perceived I could understand. I warmed to the place more and more. I was looking forward to lunch.

I have a couple of guidelines in restaurants. One is what I can afford, and this then limits the menu choices down. Secondly is the following: could I cook that myself? If the answer is yes, then that narrows it down further. Finally, I look for the regional dish. If you are going for a holiday do what you can to experience some local culture if you can.

There it was: Brochette de coeur de canard. I knew what the words all individually translated as, but it couldn’t mean that could it? No! It must be some wonderfully poetic description of a way of serving duck. I love duck and was looking forward to seeing what this was. I mean the French are great at describing things in a poetic way. I ordered it. 

Caught by the adventure

A skewer of eleven duck hearts, all separated by an alternating selection of a garlic glove and a cherry tomato. It was going to be cooked over charcoal judging by the slight searing marks, and accompanied by an artistically served fondant potato and green beans.

My French was better than I believed. It was what it said in the description. So much for me believing in the poetic power of French description. Duck heart. Lots of duck heart.

In the UK duck heart is usually used as a blended ingredient in animal foods that say duck flavoured. Mme. Patron was looking at me with that look that only French women of a certain age, who happen to own restaurants, look at you with. 

It was simply wonderful. If you enjoy the flavour of duck meat then duck heart is quite simply the duckiest flavour of duck ever. I’d also had the foresight to order a demi carafe of the local red, a Madiran. It’s a wine local to the area and well worth discovering. It may very well be that you’ve heard of the grape, Tannat. Madiran used to be very severe in the amount of tannins contained within, Madiran used to have to age for many years to soften in taste, but luckily for me this was a modern Madiran, which has been softened by clever use of micro-oxygenation, and can be drunk at younger ages.

The Sommelier paired duck hearts with local Mandarin. Photo by Kelsey Knight, Unsplash.

Duck meat is juicy and tasty. It’s a dark meat and carries more fat, and therefore flavour, than chicken or turkey. It has a sweetness to it with also a savoury aftertaste. Duck heart carries both of these characteristics brilliantly, especially so when chargrilled. The meat leaves your mouth moist, this is where the Madiran accompanied it perfectly.

The tannins, even with a more modern Madiran, cleaned out the moth perfectly. Tanins are needed to dry out the mouth and prepare it for the next forkful, so that the juicy umaminess doesn’t become cloying.

This is the point of wines high in tannins, they keep the mouth dry and prepared for the next forkful of moist food. Duck and Madiran were prefect together. Duck heart and Madiran were beyond what I could have expected in a small Auberge in the foothills of the French Pyrenees. 

If you’ve a good butcher anywhere near you see if they can get hold of some duck hearts for you, they are way too good for pets! Madiran is gaining in accessibility. French Madiran is full of raspberry flavours and tannins ready to dry the mouth in readiness for the next forkful. The Uruguayan Tannat is softer and carries more flavours of blackberry and plum. They are both the prefect wine for meats high in protein and fat. As a side note it is true that Tannat, especially SW France Madiran is the healthiest red wine for you. 

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