Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Don’t Be Chicken About Duck Confit!

A while back I mentioned a couple of dishes I’d been leery of trying out at home: pasta (which that post was about), pizza, and duck confit. Well, I still haven’t done that pizza yet, but I did finally try my hand at duck confit, and guess what? Although it does take some advance notice (because the duck needs to cure for 24 hours), the method I used was no more arduous than many meat dishes I make on a regular basis:

Duck Two-Ways, with Duck Fat-Fried Taters
Seriously good stuff.

The word “confit” means “preserved” in French, and the term is used not just for meat, but also for vegetables and fruits. In essence, it refers to anything that’s cooked slowly in a liquid inhospitable to bacterial growth (e.g., sugar syrup or, in the case of duck confit, melted fat), and then preserved submerged in that liquid until consumption. (For a good explanation of the confit process, see here.)

The method I used for my duck confit was a combination of the traditional recipe (which requires 4 cups of duck fat before you start) and an “easy”version from Melissa Clark of The New York Times (which has you slow-cook the legs in just their own fat).

For my “mama bear” version (not too easy, not too hard), I bought a whole duck, and rendered all the fat from the skin and fat I wasn’t using for my meal—thereby having more duck fat than Melissa Clark’s version, but not as much as in the traditional recipes.

my whole duck (purchased frozen at Costco)

If you know how to part out a chicken, you can easily do a duck, as well. (If not, go here to learn how.) But for confit, don’t separate the leg and thigh; keep them together.

Here is my duck all cut up, with the prized skin and fat in the foreground. I made the confit out of the legs/thighs and the wings, and seared the breasts and served them with a passion fruit glaze. The back and neck I saved for stock.

To render the fat, cut the skin into 1” squares, put it in a heavy, deep saucepan, and add enough water to cover it.

Simmer it slowly for about an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the water has cooked off and the skin has become luscious cracklings (which you can reheat in the oven and salt, and serve with cocktails). (See recipe here.)

my rendered fat and cracklings

Pour the fat into a container and cool it in the fridge and save it until the next day. The cracklings can also be saved in an airtight container in the fridge till use.

Now for the curing of the legs and wings. Mix together 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, ½ teaspoon dried thyme, and 1 or 2 crumbled bay leaves, and sprinkle the mixture over both sides of the leg/thigh pieces and wings. Place them in a single layer in a pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 24 hours.

the duck curing

The next day, fry the legs/thighs and wings over a low-to-moderate heat in a heavy, oven-proof skillet, fat-side down, to render as much of the fat on them as possible. Preheat the oven to 225° F while you’re frying the duck.

Flip the legs and wings over, and pour into the skillet the fat you rendered the day before (if it’s hard from being in the fridge you can warm/liquify it first in the microwave). Cover the skillet and place it in the oven, and let the meat roast for 2-3 hours, until it’s falling-off-the-bone tender. Leave the meat in the fat and let it cool, and then cover and refrigerate until the afternoon you’re going to serve it.

Scrape as much fat as you can off the pieces of meat, place them in a baking dish (uncovered) and roast at 400° F until they are golden brown and crispy—about 10-15 minutes.

Yes, it was as delicious as it looks!

You can save the duck fat for future confits, or do as I did, and fry potatoes in it to serve with the confit. (Bake the potatoes the day before, and then slice and fry them in the fat while the duck is roasting in the oven.)

A photo of our meal (which also included the seared duck breasts with passionfruit glaze) is at the top of this post.

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