Sunday, September 21, 2008


Duck Confit

In the week leading up to a recent visit to Los Angeles, my angelheart Eric and I were aware that we would be dining out most days and nights - not to be extravagant, but to give some teeth to the various discussions we have had together and with friends on the direction of Californian cooking and American cuisine in general (amongst the chosen restaurants were AOC, Fraiche and Craft LA). This meant that we had to make a real celebration of our home cooking because we would not be blessed with many occasions, and also because we did not know when we would next be able to share space in a kitchen. My angelheart Eric suggested that we prepare something that we've always been curious about and that wouldn't do our heads in - time being too precious to waste any of it on frustration and stress (and let us not forget that I was on holiday, too!).

Recently it seems that the food presented on this blog leans in the direction of French cuisine, but I assure that you that this is not how I really approach decision-making in the kitchen. Sure, I am often swayed by cultural influences, curious combinations and new techniques; however, it is not my goal to continue to exhalt French cuisine, whatever that is.

That said, confit is a celebrated south-western French method for preserving meat. This is not a terribly difficult process, but it is one that takes place over many hours. Each step requires slight attention in order to produce a confit that is not salty or fatty (irrespective of the fat that it is salted for many hours and then immersed in fat as it cooks and sits, if one is not eating it immediately).

The following recipe requires for four duck legs, but you can also try boneless duck breasts, rabbit, chicken or the shoulder of pork, as Judy Rodgers recommends in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Instead of leaving the meat dusted in salt for 18-24 hours, my angelheart Eric and I left it only for 12 hours because we out the duck legs through a marinating process that is not typical of most confit preparations. This is one of the many reasons my angelheart Eric and I adore Kate Fay and Jeremy Turner of Cibo and R'ce fame.

Duck Confit
(Adapted from Kate Fay and Jeremy Turner's Cibo: Food with Attitude)

4 duck legs
5 tablespoons sea salt
duck fat (rendered to cover the duck legs during cooking, approximately 620ml/21oz)
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
6 cloves of garlic
1 orange
1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
4 dried bay leaves
1 tablespoon black cracked pepper
2 teaspoons five spice powder
1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns, crushed

1) Coat the legs with sea salt (1 1/4 tablespoons per leg) and leave overnight, 12 hours' minimum, 18-24 hours for optimal result. Regarding the salt, in the magnificent The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Judy Rodgers' experience has led her to recommend 2 tablespoons per pound of meat. It is the salt curing that preserves the duck legs.
2) Remove the salt by washing it off under a stream of cold water.
3) Pat the legs dry with paper towels.
4) Mix onion, juniper berries, marjoram, bay leaves, black cracked pepper, five spice powder and Szechuan peppercorns together to make a spice mixture.
5) Coat the duck legs in spice mixture, cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.
6) Preheat oven to 120 C/250F.
7) Place the legs in a roasting pan with the marinade.
8) Squeeze the juice of one orange and sprinkle sliced orange peel over the legs.
9)Cover with melted duck fat. It is important that the duck meat is fully immersed in the fat.
10) Cover the pan with tinfoil and cook the duck legs for 2 1/2 hours, or until the meat is coming away from the bone.
11) Allow the duck legs and fat to cool before refrigerating overnight or until it is time to eat them. Again, ensure that the duck fat conceals the duck legs if you are going to leave in the refrigerator for more than 1-2 days (and especially if you are going to leave for months).
12) To reheat, bring meat out at least one hour prior to cooking so that meat can be loosened from solidified fat, if one is not going to cook all the meat. Preheat oven to 180 C/355 F, then cook for 20 minutes. Lightly pat duck legs with paper towel and brush off residual marinade and orange peel prior to serving.

Generally, confit of duck is browned before serving, but neither we nor our friends were particularly fussed (you will note that we also didn't bother with trimming the edges of fat around the long end of the bone before preparing, but you can do this and render the fat for this dish). The marinade produces a beautiful colouring on the duck skin, like sunset. The flesh is perfectly done, which is to say meltingly tender. Whilst we had prepared duck confit as part of an informal pot-luck, it is more popularly served with pommes salardaises, potatoes sauteed with garlic in goose fat.

This appears to be a year of crossing culinary firsts off the list, thanks to my angelheart Eric. I'd love to know what culinary firsts you have or plan to attempt this year.

P.S. Thank you to Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict for the Yum-yum Blog Award. It is a delight to receive such recognition from a fellow blogger whose work I admire and whose friendship I enjoy. In the generous nature of this award, I would like to share the world of Christina at A Thinking Stomach. Christina's insightful prose on garden-keeping elevates it to an art form, as opposed to keeping a garden for sheer subsistence.

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I'm glad to read you are feeling happy, and with your own dear Eric too :)

Well done for crossing a first, my first this year was to make a yeasted bread I actually like!
I'm reading Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie and while it's mostly directed to pork, I think in the end he does duck confit too, since it was that which turned him onto the practice. This looks lovely - makes me realize that it's within reach!
This is an amazingly rewarding process. Thanks for the step-by-step guide. I very much prefer someone to cook duck confit for me :-)

I have done a few first this year, next on my list is such a simple thing - homemade pasta. i got a pasta maker for Christmas last year and it's still in the box. Hopefully, I make some before it's 1-year anniversary :-)
Ooh...this looks so delicious and comforting...or is that confiting?


That's it! I'm booking you to cook when you're next in London!
You are a very, very kind man. Thank you so much for the lovely compliments. I apologize for being so slow to acknowledge them--moving has been very tough for me.

I'm so happy you have had time to spend with Eric. I am also so happy that you have chosen to share your recent confit experiment with us. I've always been curious about this but a bit apprehensive to try--your careful explanation removes all fear.

What did you think of AOC? I'm a Lucques fan, but haven't yet made it to AOC and am curious about your reaction.

Have a lovely weekend.
Very interesting Shawn, thanks for sharing with us.

This year I made baklava for the first time, which was very fun (and delicious!) and I'm planning on trying some new bread recipes and techniques this fall.
Kelly-Jane ~ Eric and I had a marvellous time together, as always. 2009 is the year we will finally be wholly reunited. I'm glad to hear that you've found a yeasted bread recipe that you enjoy making and the result thereof.

Alanna ~ Indeed, it is within reach and easy to make. The time taken to develop the flavours is worth it. Imagine having jars and jars of preserved duck legs as many do in southern France?! Ruhlman is a fabulous proponent of understanding the provenance of dishes, and he can be entertaining to boot.

Nora B. ~ Indeed the process is rewarding. It is also very satisfying to demystify a dish. Sometimes one forgets that very simple things taste sensational - no wonder most chefs have duck confit in their repertoires. Best of all, though, was preparing it with Eric, who wanted to make it just as much as I did. I have my fingers crossed that you will break out your pasta machine and put it to good use before its first anniversary!

Jasmine, honey ~ Confit is certainly comforting. The surprising thing is that it does not taste "fatty," even after bathing and setting in all that delicious duck fat.

Anthony ~ It would be a pleasure to cook for you anywhere in the world - and hopefully one day soon!

Christina ~ Should I have more time to plan the next trip to southern California, I'll give you a heads-up. It would be nice to go to Lucques together. As for AOC, it has a different feel to Lucques. It is more electric in the main dining room (fortunately, Eric and I sat with our friends upstairs, where there are less tables and a little more privacy). The feel of the small dishes is the same as the offerings at Lucques - rustic, robust, mouth-watering. The staff is knowledgable, and the restaurant is well-located (a short walking distance from The Grove). Let me know what you think of it when you get around to heading in that direction (after you've properly settled in to your place, I should imagine).

Sara, darling ~ I have wanted to make baklava for ever so long, but I keep being put off by all the syrup/honey. Good luck with the new bread techniques that you are going to learn over autumn. I hope you post the results!
I can vouch for this one. Eric made it for Merryl and I when I was home in October. Yummmmm!





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