It is hard to beat duck confit when you want to have a memorable meal. I will never forget the first time I had it, actually. I was all alone in Paris (my first trip to Europe!), having flown from Brazil to take part of a scientific workshop sponsored by The World Health Organization. The 2-week workshop launched the sequencing of the whole genome of Mycobacterium leprae. In those days, sequencing DNA was a cumbersome, slow, and painful process, nothing to do with what it is today. I was one of the lucky people invited to participate of that initial workshop. I knew very little about automated DNA sequencing, but even less about duck confit. On my first evening, very tired and a bit insecure to walk around town, I crossed the street and bravely entered a restaurant near Institut Pasteur (Le Pot au Feu). The special of the day was duck confit, so that’s what I ordered. I thought I had died and gone straight to heaven, arriving at dinner time. Unforgettable experience, even if all alone sitting at my table, staring at couples in love all around me. Or so it seemed… Paris and romance go always hand in hand.
I made duck confit twice in the past, before my blogging years. Even though both meals turned out great, the process was not very pleasant: a lot of fat to deal with, and a pretty intense smell lingering in the house for way too long. This time, I used sous-vide to cook the duck legs and I have one word to describe it: WOW! I go as far as saying that buying the Anova circulator is worthy it just to make duck confit. Easy, very little fat needed, no lingering smell, and once the duck legs are cooked, they can go still in the bags to the fridge and stay there for 2 to 3 days until showtime. Cannot get much better than that…
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)
3 tablespoons salt
2 cloves garlic, smashed (optional)
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
6 sprigs thyme (I used dried thyme)
4 sage leaves
Coarsely ground black pepper
4 duck legs with thighs
4 tablespoons duck fat
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt in the bottom of a dish or plastic container large enough to hold the duck pieces in a single layer. Evenly scatter half the garlic, shallots, and thyme in the container. Arrange the duck, skin-side up, over the salt mixture, placing one sage leaf underneath each piece of duck. Sprinkle with the remaining salt, garlic, shallots, and thyme and a little pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
Rinse the duck pieces well, to remove the coarse salt. Dry the meat with paper towels. Place each piece in a plastic bag, adding 1 tablespoon of very cold duck fat inside, vacuum-seal the bags. Submerge the sealed bags in a water-bath set at 82 C (180 F) for 10 hours. When the time is up, chill the pieces in an ice bath and place in the fridge, still sealed.
About 45 minutes before dinner time, remove the duck from the fridge, open the bag and scrape off most of the congealed fat. Place in a roasting pan, skin side up, cover with aluminum foil and warm up in a 375 F oven for about 30 minutes. Before serving, place the pan under the broiler to crisp up the skin. Alternatively, you can warm up the pieces and then sear the skin on a blazing hot skillet.
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Comments: I made this recipe for a very special dinner. First, it was my beloved’s Birthday, and since it falls very close to Christmas, it’s tricky to have a party for him. Most people are away visiting family, or too busy with the holidays. But, it turns out that two VERY special friends made a trip all the way from Brazil to be here with us on that special day! And they are amazing cooks, so the pressure was high on me to deliver a nice meal. Needless to say, I did a lot of research on duck confit sous-vide before settling on the method I shared here.
Several things are important. The duck itself. The best kind to get is Moulard duck, so I special ordered it from d’Artagnan (remember my latest IMK post?). Then, the salting to cure the meat before cooking. Some sous-vide methods advise you to do that step in vacuum-sealed bags, but the meat can turn out overly salty. I decided to salt the pieces in a baking dish in the fridge for 36 hours, then rinse the meat well before cooking it. The sous-vide step is another major consideration. I visited a discussion forum (eGullet), and read everything I could find on duck confit before settling on my choice of 10 hours at 82 C (180 F). As to the amount of fat to use, one tablespoon is enough, but you could even omit adding any extra fat. If you look at the last photo on the composite picture above, you’ll notice that there was a lot more than one tablespoon of fat in each bag. The fat rendered from the leg itself will be more than enough to properly coat it during cooking. So, if you rather not render duck fat or buy pre-rendered fat, simply go from the salting step to vacuum-sealing. It will work like a charm. Of course, you could get by with olive oil too. The main goal is to cook the meat submerged in some type of fat, duck fat being the best one for flavor.
I feel that I hit the jackpot with that combination of time and temperature, would not change it in the future. Finally, the last consideration is how to warm up the meat before serving. I did not want to deal with a hot skillet and searing the skin, making a huge mess right before our meal, so I went with a regular oven. First 375 F for about 30 minutes, then running the pieces under the broiler to crisp up the skin. Would not do it any other way, it was spectacular! The meat had the exact texture I remember from my first duck confit enjoyed in Paris! Not too salty, not too greasy, simply perfect!
Dinner is served! Duck confit and gratin of potatoes…
Life is good!
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