Thursday, September 27, 2012

My favorite duck recipe: confit de canard

When I wrote about Brasserie Julien, the Paris restaurant that features in my new novel, The Fallen One, I promised our recipe for confit de canard which I enjoyed there that day. Today’s post fulfills that promise.

Just out of the oven and ready to be “canned” for storage.
I know, probably because of the fancy French name and the perception that French cooking is complicated, that most folks wouldn’t tackle making duck confit, but it really is not difficult at all, and the rewards are a dish of really exceptional flavor.

The making of confit is seen as a speciality of Gascony and was simply a way to preserve meat in the age before refrigeration. The idea is simple: salt cure a piece of meat (generally duck, goose or pork) with herbs and spices for flavoring, then poaching it slowly in its own fat until it’s tender and practically falling off the bone. After that, the confit is completely submerged in the fat in a sealed jar. In a cool, dark place, it will keep for several months. We feel a few month’s aging in the back of the fridge improves the flavor.

Anyway, that doesn’t sound difficult, does it? Actually, the only difficult thing (or rather expensive if you’re just buying it) is getting enough duck fat assembled to cook the dish. In a pinch, we’ve just used lard and it has worked out well enough. Generally, we just save up all the fat from roasting a few ducks and we’re good to go.

The standard way of serving the dish is to remove it from the fat, then heat in a frying pan until the meat is warmed and the skin nice and crispy. There are two standard accompaniments. One is potatoes fried up in the duck fat and the other is red cabbage slowly cooked with apples and red wine. My suggestion is to do both! At Brasserie Julien, the confit was served with écrasé de pommes (see my post two before this one). But crisp potatoes that have been fried in duck fat is utterly decadent and utterly fantastic. You simply must try it at least once.

Confit de Canard
Serves 4

4 duck legs
½ cup kosher or pickling salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper
4 bay leaves (fresh if possible)
1 qt rendered duck fat

1. Mix together salt, garlic, thyme and a good grinding of pepper. Rub this mixture into each duck leg on all sides.

2. Lay the duck legs in a glass dish, skin side down and place a bay leaf on each leg. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 24 hours. Some recipes say 36 hours. We feel this makes the confit too salty.

3. Remove the legs from the container, thoroughly rinse off salt mixture and pat legs completely dry.

4. Preheat oven to 220° and melt duck fat on the stove over low heat.

5. Place legs in a pan large enough to fit them in one layer, but small enough to not have much excess space. Cover the legs with the melted duck fat.

6. Place in oven and bake for at least two hours. Traditionally, you can tell the confit is ready when you stick the meat deeply with a toothpick and it slides out easily. Depending on the duck, this may take over three hours.

7. You can eat this right away or store it in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. The flavor will improve over this time. We usually leave it for at least a month. If you are going to “age” the confit, put the legs in a container where the legs will be completely covered by the fat by at least ½". We use quart mason jars which will hold 2-3 legs, depending on size. Seal tightly once cool and put it in the fridge.

8. To serve, take the confit from the fridge and melt the fat by placing the container(s) in boiling water (make sure you loosen the lids). Remove the duck legs from the fat carefully so they don’t fall apart.

9. In the bottom of a cast iron or other ovenproof frying pan, heat the legs, skin side down for around 15 minutes in a 350° oven. Then turn on the broiler and brown the legs, skin side up until they’re a nice mahogany color. Careful! It can burn quickly.


S. C. Gates said...

I take it your cholesteral tests are a long way off?

I have heard from others about the ambroisial experience of duck-fat fried potatoes. Will definiitely try some day.

How many refrigerators arein your home?

Rick Blechta said...

Ah, the health question. For sure this isn't something you want to eat more than maybe a couple of times a year. You have to look at it as a very special treat. In reality, it's probably got no more stUrated fat than a nice big slice of chocolate cake with buttercream frosting.

Thanks for writing in!