Cooking Through The Nature of the Feast: A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the last book in the Inspector Gamache series to date. It is the very satisfying culmination of several important series plot points, including the very puzzling question of why Three Pines—the peaceful, if occasionally murder-prone, village that provides safe harbor throughout most of the books—cannot be found on any maps.

After several of the Three Pines residents find a charming antique map that, surprisingly, depicts the area, it is presented as a gift to Armand Gamache, formerly a Chief Inspector of the Surêté du Québec. The occasion is the first day of his new job as Head of the Surêté Academy, the institution that trains all new members of Quebec’s provincial police force.

Having previously cleared out the rot of brutality and corruption in the Surêté actual, Gamache is now on a mission to cleanse the Academy of any lingering moral disease. It is no easy task, made more difficult by the fact that there are still corrupt officers to be unmasked. When someone is murdered at the Academy, Gamache must protect his students, even as he’s unsure of whether the evil he’s been working so hard to eradicate hasn’t already lodged in a young heart.

Once more, Louise Penny has written a terrifically complex book on good and evil, kindness and cruelty, and what it means to be brave. Also, for the first time, Gamache is a suspect himself, and I spent an uncomfortable amount of time worrying that he might actually be the killer. The ending was immensely satisfying yet bittersweet, not knowing when the next book will come. For once, however, I didn’t feel impatience with an author to write more and quickly, as Ms. Penny’s incredibly moving postscript tribute to her husband, who has dementia, would placate even Three Pines’ churlish Ruth.

Fortunately, I could eat my feelings instead by indulging in this very last recipe from the accompanying (and still free!) cookbook, The Nature of The Feast:

Duck, Brie, and Fig Confit Sandwich

*Makes 2 servings


For the fig confit

1 cup dried Turkish figs, finely chopped 

½ cup (128 ml) dry red wine 

½ cup (120 ml) water 

3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, firmly packed 

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely minced 

For the seared duck and sandwich assembly

1 boneless, skin-on duck breast 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

4 slices sourdough bread 

2 teaspoons softened butter 

¼ to ½ cup (5 to 10 g) baby arugula 

¼ cup (50 g) Kalamata olives, pitted coarsely chopped 

2 ounces Brie cheese, sliced 


1. Prepare the fig confit: In a 1½-quart (1.5 liter) saucepan, mix together all of the ingredients and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to gently simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally to ensure that nothing is sticking to the sides or bottom of the pan, until the excess liquid has evaporated and mixture has thickened like jam. Cool completely before use. The confit may be made 5 days ahead and chilled, covered. 

2. Sear the duck breast: Rinse the duck breast thoroughly under cold running water and pat dry with a paper towel. Place the meat on a cutting board with the skin side facing up. Use a sharp to knife score the skin and underlying fat in a crosshatch pattern, being careful not to cut all the way though to the meat. This will help ensure that the fat can render out properly and render the skin perfectly crisp. Season all sides thoroughly with salt and pepper. 

3. Set a large, heavy skillet over high heat and allow it get very hot. Place the duck breast in the center, skin side down. Reduce the heat to medium and allow the meat to cook, undisturbed, for 8 to 10 minutes, to ensure an even sear. Using tongs, carefully flip the meat, and cook for an additional 5 to 6 minutes on the opposite side. Once crisp and golden all over, remove the meat from the pan, and let rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing thinly. The meat should remain light pink inside. 

4. To assemble the sandwich: Place a large skillet or grill pan over moderate heat. Meanwhile, spread ½ teaspoon of the butter on 2 slices of bread. Place the buttered sides down in the pan and quickly top with an even layer of fig confit, Brie, olives, arugula, and sliced duck. Divide the remaining butter between the 2 remaining slices of bread, placing the butter sides facing up. Apply gentle pressure to bring the sandwich together. Once the brie begins to melt and the bottom slice of bread is evenly browned, carefully flip the sandwiches. Toast the opposite sides to your desired shade of brown, continuing to press lightly as they cool. 

5. Remove the sandwiches from the heat, slice in half, and serve immediately.

I could not find duck breast in either of the supermarkets I visited while shopping for this recipe, only whole duck. Being the pragmatic sort, I decided to buy an entire duck to roast the night before (and never fear: my family was highly appreciative of the unexpected culinary treat). Thus, I wound up making this sandwich with roasted duck breast instead of pan-seared, but I doubt that it was at all detrimental to the flavor of the dish. I was also unable to find Turkish figs, so I made do with Californian and still ended up with a terrific confit. 

Frankly, the entire sandwich was a delight! The sweetness of the confit blended perfectly with the richness of the duck breast and brie as well as with the sharpness of the arugula and olives. The only thing I would tweak about this sandwich is the amount of brie used: I would personally throw in a little more, but I really like brie. And for all that it’s a very fancy sandwich, it was actually very easy to put together once I had all the ingredients.

And that’s it, alas, for the Louise Penny retrospective! Next week, I dive into the back catalog of an author I first encountered while writing this column, and try my hand at a type of pastry I’ve always been a wee bit suspicious of. See you then!


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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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