Did you think I disappeared? I know you didn’t think I stopped cooking…that would be crazy!
Two weeks ago we had poultry night. When Duck Confit was explained to our class at L’Academie de Cuisine, I immediately wanted to make it. I knew it would be challenging and time consuming, but it just seemed like one of those things that “real” chefs do, and I wanted to see if I could do it.
Confit is actually a method of preserving. There are two types of confit: a confiture in sugar (as with fruit), and a confit of meat cooked and preserved in it’s own fat. Confit has been around for awhile, since back when food preservation was not as easy as just sticking something in the fridge. Duck confit will last at least a month in your refrigerator, if you can keep it around that long.
There are a few steps in the confit process, and different ways of going about it. At the end of this post I have listed some links from other bloggers (some more famous than others) who have their own instructions for duck confit. I chose to take what I learned in class and combine it with what I read online (mostly from Michael Ruhlman’s blog) to make the preparation more suited to my kitchen and timeline.
I had never bought a whole duck before last week. I got my duck from Whole Foods Market in Fair Lakes. It was a Bell & Evans duck, and it cost me about $20. Not cheap…but I did use it in a few different ways which I will highlight later. The first order of business, was to get it home, and get the duck broken down into the pieces I needed for confit, and the other preparations I planned to make. Chef Patterson has told us in class that when it comes to poultry it is the, “same designer, just slightly different architecture.” I used what we had learned about breaking down a chicken, to break down the duck in a similar way. For confit you need the legs, so I cut these first. I also carved off the duck breasts to make grilled duck breasts for dinner (pan-seared breasts are better but I’ll save that for another post), and kept the liver separate to make a pate. Next, I trimmed off all of the fat from the duck carcass, and stored that separately. Duck Confit takes a LOT of rendered duck fat, and while the fat from this one duck did not come close to being enough to confit the legs, I used as much as I could. I stored the carcass in the freezer, and one day soon I will use it to make a rich duck stock for a fabulous soup and/or base for sauces.
Once you have removed your two duck legs, the next step is to cure them. This requires salt, and a mix of spices that vary depending on who you talk to. Professional cooks also use something called Sel Rose or pink salt in their cure. Sel Rose has sodium nitrate, and is used primarily to keep the duck a nice pretty color. I decided to forgo the sel rose, as it would have taken time to source, and frankly…kinda freaked me out.
For my cure I used:
Salt (8 grams per every 500 grams of duck, plus a little extra)
A couple garlic cloves, sliced
2 bay leaves,one pressed into each leg
a few sprigs of thyme
a sprinkling of fennel seeds
I made sure the legs were coated in salt and spices, and then covered them with plastic wrap and set a mixing bowl with a large can of tomatoes on top, to press them slightly. I left the legs to cure in the salt and spices for about 36 hours, but you can let them cure from 24 to 48 hours.
Rendering Duck Fat
This part is not so pretty. First, you need to cut the fat into small pieces. I forgot to do this, until half way through when it was taking forever and it dawned on me that I had forgotten this step. Second you need to add a little water to the fat. I forgot this step all together. Oh well. You put all the fat in a large pan and heat over a low heat. The fat melts into liquid, and the skin and any meat left on the fat gets crunchy and rises to the surface. If you have ever had pork rinds, it is kind of like that, only with duck. Some people do use these duck cracklings as “duck bacon bits” (see the link to Foodie with my Family blog at the bottom of the post). I was mostly just after the fat to make my confit.
The process of melting down the fat took quite a while, and made my whole house smell like duck fat. While this was rendering, I removed the duck legs from their cure and wiped off as much of the salt and spices as I could. Now, I had read that some people rinse the cure off the legs, rather than just wipe it off. I chose to just wipe it off, and I ended up with some SALTY duck confit (which is saying something because I am not shy with salt). If I were to do this again, I would rinse the legs quickly and pat them dry with a paper towel. The picture below shows the cured legs, ready for their duck fat submersion.
The goal with the duck fat is to have enough to cover the legs in whatever vessel you cook them in. The fat from the duck did not make enough to cover the legs, and I ended up adding some extra duck fat I had in my fridge (don’t ask me why I happen to have extra duck fat in my fridge) as well as some olive oil, until I was sure that the legs were covered.
Low and Slow Cooking
The duck legs slowly cook in their own fat at a low temperature of 185 to 200 degrees for 3-6 hours. I cooked mine at 200 degrees for 4 hours, and they were very tender at this point. You can tell by gently wiggling the bone, or using a fork to poke at the meat. Don’t touch the skin on the top as it will tear incredibly easily. This is only an issue if you were planning to sear your duck legs and serve them whole. Leaving the skin intact would look much prettier in that case.
Once I was sure they were tender, I let the pan cool awhile, and covered it with plastic wrap. You want to make sure that the legs are totally covered by fat, as this will keep them from going bad if you were going to be storing them for longer periods of time. Pop the whole thing in the fridge where the fat will thicken and solidify.
From my reading, it seems that many people think the legs develop more flavor if they are allowed to sit in the fat for at least a week, but I could only hold out for 6 days before I had to try them.
Eating the Confit
So what do you do with duck confit? Well, duck confit is incredibly rich. Moisture is pulled out of the meat during the cure, and then the thirsty dry meat sucks in the fat while it cooks making it very, very tender. A good comparison Chef Patterson used was with pulled pork which also cooks slowly at a lower temperature in it’s own fat. In class we were served our duck confit shredded on a salad with some bitter greens, a shallot vinaigrette, blackberries, and raspberries. The tartness from the sherry vinegar and the berries, as well as the bitterness from the greens helps to balance out the richness and saltiness of the confit. I really loved this in class, so I tried to replicate it at home.
I put the cold pan of confit in a pan of warm water until it liquified just enough for me to remove the legs. I removed as much fat as possible from the legs, and then cooked them in a 425 degree oven for about 25 minutes. Looking back I probably could have/ should have cooked them at a much lower temperature, as I wasn’t really concerned with getting them browned. I was going to remove the skin and shred the meat for the salad. You could also pan-sear the legs in their own fat, if you so desired. You can use some of the leftover fat to make some killer potatoes,too…but that is another story.
Once the duck was heated through, I removed the skin, and shredded the meat. It was tender and delicious, but it was very salty folks. If I do this again I will definitely be rinsing those legs after curing them. The finished salad is in the picture below. I think it looks beautiful, and it was very tasty, although I did long for it to be a little less salty.
I am definitely NOT a liver fan, but I did make a liver pate in an effort to use as much of the duck as I could. The link to the recipe is below, and I have to say if you want to try liver, this was a good one, as the flavor of the shallots and garlic were stronger than the actual liver flavor.
I am not posting about the duck breasts on purpose. That saga continues. I made seared duck breasts in class, but overcooked them just slightly. At home, I decided to try them on the grill. Guess what- overcooked again! I was not happy. It’s not like I get duck breasts to cook everyday. I really wanted them to be great. I think grilling them was all wrong, and when I try it again, I will pan-sear them as we did in class, and try to cook them right this time. I don’t know if you can tell, but I am still really, really, really bitter about the duck breast fiasco.
So that’s it! The journey duck is over…for now. I don’t know when (if ever) I will make duck confit again, but I am glad I know how to do it, and it was fun to try it out. Try new things- everyday. It makes life so much more fun!
This week’s class was beef night, and we made an amazing and very simple roast beef that I would love to share. I’ll be making that for family tomorrow night, and hope to post the details very soon. But first, I have a sinkful of dishes and a 19 mile run with a good friend in the morning. With much rich food, must come many dishes and much running. It’s all about balance, right?
Thanks for reading, and Happy Cooking!
Duck Confit Links
Duck Confit…It’s what’s for lunch from Michael Ruhlman
Cook the Book: Duck Confit from Serious Eats
Duck or Goose Confit from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
Duck Confit from Nook and Pantry
Confit Duck Legs from Gourmet
Other Duck Links
Duck Liver Pate from Epicurious
How to Render Duck Fat and Make Duck Cracklins from Foodie with my Family
Duck Prosciutto from eat.live.travel.write