Thursday, March 14, 2013

Duck Legs Confit, Old School

Fear of fat is not one of my afflictions.  Fear of heights?  Yes.  Fear of anything fast moving (down hill skiing, roller coasters, etc)?  A terrified yes.  But fat is not one of those things I am normally afraid off, at least when we are talking about spoonfuls.  When a recipe calls for half a gallon of fat, and duck confit does, I get hibbie jibbies as much as any other home cook.  For years, I've tried to find creative solutions to this problem -- slow cooking the legs packed tightly in a dish, cooking them sous-vide, slow roasting them.  Some of it worked ok, some didn't, but none of it produced outstanding confit.

The inspiration for this latest, and my most successful attempt at confit came from Bergamot in Somerville, MA.  Their confit was so transcendent that I couldn't leave the place without torturing a few secrets out of their sous-chef, Dan Bazzinotti.

"I am not afraid of fat.  I am not afraid of fat."  I kept repeating this mantra to myself for a few days and it worked.  I went to Savenor's, picked up 6 cups of duck fat and 6 Long Island duck legs.  Surprisingly, the fat came to just $18.  I often spend more on a fish fillet for 1 dinner.  Did I tell you that duck fat is a renewable resource?  Once you are a proud owner of this liquid gold, you can re-use it indefinitely.  In my book, it's as green as it gets.  See the end of this recipe for filtering and storage instructions.

The whole process did take 3 days, but was surprisingly hands-off and not messy at all.  Unlike deep frying, there is no splattering.  If I spent a total of 10 minutes of active time on each of the 3 days, can I call it a 30 minute meal?  See, it's just 30 minutes, and if I can do it, you can do it too.

Duck Confit -- the real deal in all the glory fatty detail

6 duck legs (or more)
Salt and Pepper
Coarsely chopped sage, thyme, rosemary (2 Tbsp for 6 legs)
Sliced garlic (2 cloves for 6 legs)
1 cup of duck fat per leg for Long Island legs, a bit more for Moulard

Start this project at least 3 days before serving.

Day 1 -- Salting
Sprinkle duck legs with salt and pepper on all sides.  Sprinkle herbs and garlic mostly on the flesh side and put in the fridge for a day.  I use zip lock bags, but any non-reactive container will work.

Day 2 -- Cooking
Preaheat the oven to 250F.  Rinse duck legs and dry thoroughly with paper towels.  There should be no herbs or garlic left.  Put duck fat into a heavy pot (I use a 4 quart tall saucepan for up to 8 legs).  Melt the fat over medium-high heat until it reaches 200F.  Put the legs into fat and place the pot in the middle of the oven for 5 hours partially covered.  Cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate for 2 days or at least overnight.

Day 3 -- Packing for Storage
You can continue storing the duck in the pot with fat for weeks (probably longer since confit was a preservation technique even before they invented refrigeration).  Though you should always keep it in the fridge just in case.  However, you might want your pot back (at least I do).  Rewarm the pot with duck over medium heat just to loosen up the fat.  It should only get to lukewarm.  With clean hand, remove the legs wiping as much fat of them as possible and place in vacuum seal bags or freezer bags.  If using vacuum seal bags, place the duck in the freezer for an hour to firm up the fat and make it easier to seal.  Then seal and store in the fridge for up to a month.  If using freezer bags, get as much air out as you can and refrigerate for a week or freeze.  

Let the legs sit at room temperature for 2 hours.  This will make it easier to debone them and they'll cook more evenly.  Although the legs look cute with the bones, they taste best if you pull out the bones and flatten them out so that every bit of skin touches the skillet and gets crispy.  Set a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add duck legs skin side down and cover with the lid askew.  Cook for 7 minutes adjusting the heat so that they don't burn.  Touch the top of the meat with your finger.  It should be warm.  If not, remove the pan from heat, flip the legs and let them sit skin side up for a few minute to finish warming up.  I prefer not to expose the flesh to intense heat to keep it tender.  Serve with the accompaniments of your choice.

Cleaning and storing the fat
Warm up the fat over medium heat until it melts.  Strain into a large bowl through a fine mesh strainer.  Cool to room temperature and refrigerate until solid.  Scoop off the fat into containers leaving the duck juices in the bottom of the bowl.  Freeze the fat until next use.  The duck juices can be frozen too or they can stay in your fridge for a week.  They are delicious mixed with pasta, beans, vegetables or anything your heart desires.

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