Duck confit - easy but expensive
"there are few things I have ever eaten that more effectively illustrate the point of the whole damn business that is home cooking." Nigel Slater
I promised to research some duck recipes for the other Rosemary - ages ago now - so profuse apologies. I apologise too that this recipe is not probably something that you are going to try - although - two things.
First it's actually not that hard - it just takes time - and money if you are going to do it properly.
Secondly there are several 'hacks' on offer.
I thought I should start with confit duck though because it is such a French thing, and such a basic thing that you have to have if, say, you are going to make cassoulet. In France, of course, you can buy duck confit in jars in the supermarket, and/or you can also buy jars of duck fat at a reasonable price. Because if you are going to do it properly you need duck fat. A lot of duck fat and yes I know that ducks are very fatty, but not fat enough. Indeed here in Australia Stephanie Alexander seems to think that ducks are hardly fatty at all:
"Having seen the size of the usual thigh from a fattened duck in France, wiggling a minimum of 400g, I wonder why we bother to make confits from Australian ducks. It takes great skill to create something soft and succulent when the duck legs are as lean as ours are (average size (200g). I am not saying you shouldn't do it, but be aware that the cooking must be extra gentle, with the fat never at more than murmur, and that the result will never achieve the succulence of the French product." Stephanie Alexander
And to prove the point here is a picture of a French duck from her book Cooking and Travelling in South-West France. That's a lot of fat. And I do remember the first time I cooked a duck being amazed at the amount of fat that seeped out. And, ignorant young thing that I was, I suspect I just threw the fat away. If you ever have fat from duck, keep it, preserve it. You can use it over and over again and it makes potatoes in particular taste super yummy. Why do ducks need all that fat I wonder? France is not particularly cold after all.
As to the confit in jars, you can actually buy, in Woolworths, Luv-a duck confit legs - on special this week for $7.00 - normally $14.00. It was a pack of 500g - so plenty for two people. Maybe I should rush out and buy some tomorrow. I have no idea how good they are of course.
In spite of all my early trips to France I actually don't think that I came across confit then. Well I was in the north, and this is really a Central French thing. Stephanie says South-West but really she is talking about the Dordogne which to me is fairly central, or at least West-Central. So in later holidays - particularly one in the Dordogne that I remember, everywhere you go it's duck on the menu. Sometimes for more than one course. And often it's confit - or magret. Confit - from the verb confrirer meaning to preserve, because this is an old, old way of preserving meat for the winter months. Magret is duck that is sautéed or fried. It took me some time to understand what confit was, although I did have a vague idea that there was some kind of conserving going on, although you would never have known from the delicious crispy and meltingly tender pieces of duck that you received. It was very rich and made me ill on at least one occasion.
Okay - so how do you do it? Well I have now read several recipes and can tell you that if you are going to do it properly you need a couple of days.
"The hard way of making this dish involves grinding up duck fat, melting it, cooking the duck legs in the melted duck fat and then recooking them several times in a pan on the stove." David Lebovitz
But it's actually not that difficult - I didn't see one recipe that had you grinding the duck fat or recooking several times. It's actually quite simple - just lengthy. You rub the duck with salt and herbs - obviously every chef has their own favourite blend here, although thyme, bay and juniper seemed to be pretty constant - and then you leave it overnight. Next you wipe off the herbs and salt - well some didn't but I think they had less salt - put in a dish that will fit the duck snugly, cover with duck fat, and cook very, very slowly in the oven (or on the cooktop, which I think would be harder), for a few hours - the time varied from two to ten, so I think I would go for around three or four. Remove duck - put in sterilised jars as at the top of the page and cover again with the fat. Keep in the fridge for a few weeks. The experts say it tastes better for being kept for a while. Then you remove it from the fat, and fry - until crispy and golden. Serve with whatever - and I shall come to that.
Weirdly enough the Recipe Tin Eats lady - a Japanese Australian called Nagi - has the clearest, most comprehensive and most authentic looking version, although I think she has rather more herbs and spices than most in her marinade.. Interestingly though she sort of steamed hers in the oven to finish and yet she got a very crispy skin. There's a video too, which is very clear.
She even used duck fat. I checked with Coles and Woolworths and you can buy a jar of 200g in Coles for $4.50. Given that she reckons you need 750ml - that's going to set you back around $18.00! And that's the cheap version. If you buy the dearer one it's $6.70 for the same amount. Guillaume Brahimi reckoned you needed 2 litres! Now you might be able to get bigger jars from other more gourmet sources, but I'm willing to bet that it won't be any cheaper - so yes it's crucial that your duck fits into your dish very snugly. Nigel Slater was also a bit taken aback:
"I've decided to make my own. A revelation, and not only because the project actually turns out to be more expensive than buying it ready-made." Nigel Slater
Stephanie suggests you augment the duck fat with pork fat - you will have to have cut some fat off pork and rendered it yourself to get that I think. You won't be able to buy pork fat, as shown here in a French market - confit duck on the left and right, pork fat mashed with herbs in the middle.
"as ducks have less fat than geese, it will always be necessary to augment the duck fat with pork fat. Certainly this is the case in Australia." Stephanie Alexander
There are various hacks though, mostly from the American contingent, and mostly either not bothering to cover the duck with fat at all, supplementing with water, or wrapping in foil, or just hoping the duck will excrete enough fat on its own. However, if they are not very fatty here in Australia then I reckon they probably aren't in America either. David Lebovitz - American but living in Paris explains his hack for his Counterfeit duck confit, as well as a spice rub that includes gin. Nigel Slater, however, persists with authenticity and he is well-pleased with the results in spite of the cost.
"The finished recipe is one of the most gorgeous suppers of all, a crisp leg aside, or astride, a layer of thinly sliced potatoes baked in the bird's own fat. You need nothing more but a mound of lightly cooked spinach." Nigel Slater
Stephanie Alexander helpfully tells us what the finished result should be.
"The finished product should never be dry or splintery; it should be soft and melting and should not taste greasy."
The picture at right is from Japanese Nagi. Looks as if she has nailed it. She serves it with her own recipe for Lentil ragout.
So having persevered and having lashed out to relieve the sameness of COVID lockdown, or having dashed to Woolworths for that Luv-a-duck special, here are some rather glorious looking ideas for how to serve it: Confit duck legs with shallots, pomegranate and coriander from Yotam Ottolenghi; Duck leg confit with Brussels sprouts and speck from a real Frenchman - Guillaume Brahimi. TheSBS version of his recipe omits the making of the confit duck, but does have a video demonstrating the cooking of the rather delicious looking Brussels sprouts - I am definitely going to try that. My last four offerings are all from different chefs on the
website: Braised duck legs with polenta and wilted chard from Chris Morocco; Duck confit with spicy pickled raisins from Dawn Perry and Glazed duck confit with olive relish and sauce verde from Naomi Pomeroy.
Some recipes at last for you Rosemary. I could be tempted by all of them.
You can do cheaper confits though. In fact I think you can probably confit anything. I have done it with salmon I think and I have to say it was delicious - very moist, but very rich. Vegetables are a thing too, as this beautiful picture from Stephanie's South-West France book shows. She has a recipe for that in the book as well. Red wine is involved.
Confrirer - just the sort of thing to do on long days locked in your house during COVID, to evoke long lost holidays in France, and to make your ultimate meal really special. Not to mention a bit of conspicuous consumerism.
Of course if you make cassoulet with confit duck then that will take at least one more day and more money for the Toulouse sausage and the special ham.