Tuesday, July 19, 2011
A Fabulous Fall Meal (In July) - A Recipe for Duck Confit
On Sunday, we had one of the best home cooked meals we've eaten in a long time. Oddly enough, it was the type of meal I would enjoy in October or November, when the fall garden is in full swing, the air is crisp and the colors of the leaves mirror the colors on your dinner plate. Lucky for us, we received a culinary preview of what to expect later on this year.
A few days ago, I decided to try my hand at making duck confit. For those of you who've never had it or who might think to yourself, "I don't like duck", this is one of those dishes that rises to the level of divinity or magic when prepared properly. Something as perfect as duck confit also supports my belief that the greatest culinary creations in this world have their humble origins on the farm. In this case, I can imagine a farmer realizing that he can preserve the annual blood harvest by preserving the meat in some kind of fat. With the addition of herbs and spices, what was born out of necessity ultimately developed into something to be savored. After all, 'confit' describes food that has been immersed in a substance not only for preservation, but also for flavor.
To accompany the duck, I sauteed the Dragon's Tongue beans and Napoli carrots I'd harvested from the garden with garlic, butter and a slash of water. Sprinkle in some sea salt and pepper at the end and you're all set. The Dragon's Tongue beans lose their purple streaks when cooked but retain their snap and sweetness.
I also made a gratin from the Yukon Gold potatoes I'd harvested that morning. Here's the recipe in a nutshell:
Yukon Gold Potato and Mushroom Gratin
Use a mandoline or knife to cut 2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes into ultra-thin slices. In a small pan, saute 8 ounces of thinly sliced mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme and a pinch of salt for a few minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. In a measuring cup, mix 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg with 1 cup of heavy cream.
In a 9 inch deep-dish pie pan or an 8 x 8 inch casserole dish, lay down a third of the sliced potatoes into a neat pattern. Sprinkle some sea salt and pepper and spread half of the mushroom mixture on top. Repeat this process for the second layer and then cap off with the remaining potatoes. Season the top with salt, pepper and thyme. Slowly pour in the heavy cream mixture and press down with the back of a wooden spoon to distribute the cream. Add additional cream if needed until there's enough liquid to reach the top edge of the potatoes.
Bake covered with vented foil for 1 hour at 400 degrees F and then uncovered for an additional 20-30 minutes or until the top has browned. You can also broil the top for a minute or two to help brown it further.
While it does take a couple of days to marinate, the process for making duck confit isn't that complicated. You may notice that some of the techniques and ingredients used in the following recipe deviate from more traditional ones. I've opted for a simpler approach but can assure you that the results are spectacular in their own right.
Simple Crispy Duck Confit with Glazed Cranberries
6 duck legs, rinsed and dried
1 large white onion, halved then cut into thin slices
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 sprigs of rosemary ( 4-5 in long), cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tablespoons dried juniper berries
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
olive oil (not extra-virgin)
If you have enough duck fat lying around to use in place of the oil, well then by all means. Otherwise, the olive oil will suffice.
With a mortar and pestle (or the back of large cleaver) bruise the juniper berries. In a medium casserole dish, spread the onions evenly. Sprinkle half of the juniper berries, peppercorns and rosemary. Then place the duck legs on top, skin side down. Coat the top of the legs with 1 tablespoon of the salt, using your fingers to spread it evenly. Flip the legs and do the same to the other side with the remaining salt. Sprinkle the remaining juniper berries, peppercorns and rosemary. Cover the casserole dish tightly with plastic (pressing down with your hands) and allow the duck legs to marinate in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours.
After this resting period, remove the duck legs and set them aside for the time being. Pour the onions and spices into a large pot and spread evenly. Arrange the legs on top. Now pour in enough olive oil to barely cover the legs. Heat the pot over low heat on the stove top until the oil temperature reaches 180 - 190 degrees F. The oil will expand in the process. Add more oil if needed to ensure that all of the legs are covered. The goal is maintain the oil within this temperature range so test periodically with a cooking thermometer. (The oil should bubble gently.) Partially cover the pot and cook the legs for about 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender ( or just before it starts to fall off the bone).
At this point, you can allow the legs to cool down slowly at room temperature or place the pot in a water bath to cool it down rapidly. The pot then goes into the fridge overnight to further cool down and firm up the legs (If you try to handle the legs when they hot, they may break apart.)
The next day you can choose to serve the legs or prepare them for longer storage. The olive oil will have thickened overnight but should still be pourable. You can keep the legs stored in the pot, but this may take up too much room in the fridge. Alternatively you can transfer the legs and oil to a smaller container, taking care that the legs remain submerged. After transferring the legs and oil, you will notice that a lower layer of gelatin and onions remain in the pot. Heat this layer to melt it and then strain the liquid. You can store this concentrated duck stock in the freezer and use it to make a fine sauce for your duck confit.
To serve the legs, remove them from the fat and place them on a shallow roasting pan. Position a rack two thirds of the way up the oven. Place the roasting pan on the rack and broil the legs (skin side up) at 450 degrees F until the remaining fat has rendered and the skin is brown and crisp. This should take about 15 minutes. (Lower the temperature if the skin begins to burn.) You can either serve the legs whole or separate the meat from the bone with a fork before serving.
Duck confit pairs will with dark fruit. For last Sunday's meal, I made some glazed cranberries to accompany it - Melt a tablespoon of butter in a small pan. Add 1/3 cup of sweetened dried cranberries, 1 cup of cranberry juice and a few tablespoons of your favorite liquor (brandy, bourbon, etc.) Cook on medium-low heat until the liquid becomes syrupy and the cranberries are plump and shiny.
One important thing to note - the duck fat/olive oil can be reused 6 - 8 times. Keep it stored in the fridge.
Lastly, I'd like to thank my friend Phil for his expert advice on this classic dish!