Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Duck Confit

I am excited. Actually, I am very excited and possibly a tidbit giddy. I love duck, and when it is duck confit my emotions become even more overwhelming. Confit means that something is cooked, oh so slowly and with great love, submerged in fat. Usually the object of affection is cooked in it's own fat ie. duck would be in duck fat. However, this isn't necessary and impossible with somethings. Every try to render fat out of an onion or tomato? And both of those are delicious when done confit-style. (Quick pronunciation guide: confit = kohn-fee) At first the thought of slowly poaching your meal in fat might sound, oh I don't know, greasy and icky... but you are wrong. You are really wrong, like a mullet with MC Hammer pants and a mesh t-shirt wrong.
Due to the temperature of the oil being so low (190 to 220F-ish) all the moisture and flavor stays in the food. The food is cooked for hours submerged in fat and happily bubbles away while rendering itself meltingly tender and delicious.

There is something else that I am very excited about concerning today's post, and its that THIS IS SO EASY! Sorry, I didn't mean to shout, but I felt your attention was wandering and I didn't want you to miss that point. Just like the pork short rib post, the only hard part of this is finding duck legs. Yes, this is for the legs. The slow cooking melts the toughness right out and jams the flavor right back in. Worse case scenario you buy a whole duck and butcher the legs off. Now you have the rest of the duck on hand, but let's be honest that isn't such a bad predicament to find yourself in. You do need to plan a bit ahead as this (don't get scared here) takes a few days to finish. However, most of the time requirement only requires you to ignore the duck and let the magic happen. And once the duck has cooked and been cooled, still in its fat, it will safely stay in the fridge for a week. Why you ask with mild speculation? Because it is buried in fat and air can't get to it! Genius!

Well, enough chit-chat here let's get to the nuts and bolts of confit nirvana eh? The night before you want to cook the duck legs you need to cure them in a salt/herb mixture. A rule that I came across (*cough* Thomas Keller *cough*) was one tablespoon of salt (Kosher salt, remember the "What You Can Assume" sidebar?) per leg. I had three legs so: 3 times 1, carry the 2, divide by the delicious quotient and I figured out that 3 tablespoons of salt were needed. To the salt I added the leaves of 3 thyme sprigs, 2 cloves of minced garlic, and one minced shallot. After mixing it up thoroughly (you can go at this like a caged gorilla, unlike the avocado salsa) I put the three legs and salt mixture into a gallon baggie and did my best to evenly coat the legs. Place your bag of amputated fowl appendages in the fridge and go to bed. You will leave the bag alone for 24 hours, but the beauty of salt is that you are curing (read: preserving) the duck legs! The next night (You have already been working on this recipe for a whole day! Phew!) take your lightly cured legs out of the salt mixture, rinse off, and pat them dry. Set your oven to 220F. Put the legs in a pot in a single layer and cover with duck fat. What? You don't have a couple cups of rendered duck fat hanging around? Yeah well, neither did I. I used canola oil instead. Canola has four nice properties that make it my oil of choice (What You Can Assume...) in almost all my cooking: 1) high smoking point 2) neutral flavor 3) a fairly healthy oil 4) it is cheap. Anywho, now that the legs are submerged in oil cover the pot, chuck it in the oven (not literally please), and go to bed again. Yeah, this recipe involves a lot of sleeping. The duck legs are going to poach for 6-8 hours while you snooze away. Another aside here: oven thermometers are cheap and quite handy. Most ovens are not accurate between what the dial says and the true temp inside the box. So buy one, your baking will thank you. See you in the morning...

While your coffee is brewing and you are bathing in the sweet, succulent aroma of duck legs realize and congratulate yourself on working on one recipe for TWO WHOLE DAYS! It's hard work. Flip your oven off, take the pot out, remove the cover, and let it cool whilst you prepare for your day. Your duck legs should look something like this:

Remember to put the pot in the fridge before you leave. Salt and fat are both good preservatives, but let's not push the limits. Letting the meat cool while still in the fat pushes all the flavor and moisture back into the meat making it that much more yummy. When you get home that night your confit is ready for lovin'!

The post is rather long and we still have a bit left, so if you need a potty break, coffee refill, or some quick yoga, now is a good time to do so. I will wait.

*waiting patiently*

I had three legs so I wanted to do three separate dishes: crispy duck leg with sauteed red cabbage and bacon, duck pizza, and then not really sure about the third yet. So I got my pans working with the components of the first two dishes:

We have bacon crisping up on the back burner, cabbage slowly sauteing, and onions caramelizing. (Boy, amazing photo! You can really see the detail in the cabbage... *snicker*) Then the pizza crust was made from two different mixes, Bob's Red Mill and Namaste, both of which are gluten free. I would like to say that through careful experimentation and numerous trials we found that mixing these two doughs produced the exact crust we were looking for. In reality I only had a little of both types and had to combine them.

First up was the crispy duck leg over sauteed cabbage and bacon. Just like with chicken, duck skin is scrumptious when crispy and crunchy. So, into a hot pan the legs went!

The cabbage was sauteed with just a little oil on medium-low heat until nice and soft, about 30 minutes. A plop of cabbage on a plate, a sprinkle of bacon lardons (fancy talk for small chunks), and then topped with a leg.

I was wrong a couple of paragraphs ago. Crispy duck skin isn't like crispy chicken skin. It is so much better! I am shedding tears right now in loving memory of the crispy duck skin. Wife Zube and I enjoyed this with unabashed glee and possibly a couple moans. Now that our tummies had something to work on the pizza was made and baked. On top of the crust went some roasted garlic oil, arugula, left-over sauteed cabbage, diced brie cheese, caramelized onions, and shredded duck leg. This was also magically delicious but it could have used a tad more sweet. Wife Zube and I decided that next time we would incorporate some diced apple and we would add the shredded confit near the end of cooking to retain moisture. Even still this was so tasty. Also, if we hadn't had roasted garlic oil, I would have roasted a head of garlic and put the whole cloves directly on. Whole roasted garlic cloves > roasted garlic oil.

We feasted, lip-smacked, and high-fived after this night of scrumdiddilyumptiousness. Yes, that is a real word. But wait you say! There is still one unmentioned leg sitting all pretty and crispy in the pan. What is it's fate? Breakfast. I toasted a corn tortilla, fried an egg, heated up the shredded confit, mixed in some bbq sauce, and had myself one delicious breakfast duck confit taco!

I really encourage you all to try this. I got my duck legs from Pat's Meat Market in Portland, ME. Whole Foods might carry them as well. In general try to find a local meat market and ask around. I apologize for any grammar/spelling mistakes. My editor is being lazy today...

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