DUCK CONFIT FOR A SPECIAL OCCASION

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…

Duck Confit1


DUCK CONFIT
(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.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here


DuckConfitcomposite

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!

plated2

Dinner is served!  Duck confit and gratin of potatoes…
Life is good!

bday

ONE YEAR AGO: Ken Forkish’s Warm Spot Sourdough 

TWO YEARS AGO: Bran Muffins, Rainbows, and a wonderful surprise!

THREE YEARS AGO: Salmon Wellington

FOUR YEARS AGO: The Green Chip Alternative

FIVE YEARS AGO: Weekend Pita Project

SIX YEARS AGO: Let it snow, let it snow, eggs in snow

BLOOD ORANGE DUCK: A WORK IN PROGRESS

For the longest time I admired photos of blood oranges, without being able to find any around.  Now that they are available on a regular basis, I am a happy camper, bringing a few home with me whenever I spot them at the grocery store.  What I love about blood oranges the most is their mysterious nature: you never know how red they will be inside.  The skin tries to give you a hint, but… it can be very deceiving.  For this particular recipe from Donna Hay, I needed a fairly large amount of their juice, so I went to work on my oranges, each with their unique shade of red. Gorgeous!

I had a few problems with the recipe, explaining why the “work in progress”. To start with, the orange juice must be reduced by boiling (together with orange marmalade, sugar and vinegar), for what Donna says it will be 12 to 15 minutes, until thickened. Since you must brush the skin of the duck with the resulting sauce, trust me: 15 minutes simply doesn’t do the trick. It took me over 35 minutes, and I had to watch the pan like a hawk, because it boiled over quite quickly.

In preparation for roasting, the duck’s skin is pricked with a skewer, and the bird is dropped in boiling water for 10 seconds. Think carefully about the whole strategy, because you will be placing a reasonably large piece of meat in boiling water, and removing it 10 short seconds later. The duck will have a very high tendency to slide. Boiling water. Slippery bird.  Not a good match.  Be prepared. Once that part is taken care of, you’ll brush its surface with the blood orange reduction sauce, placing it over a rack on a baking dish protected with foil, as you see here.

My next problem with the instructions was the roasting temperature and time.  According to the recipe, roast at 350 F for about 1 hour, then cover the duck with foil and roast for a further 20 to 30 minutes.  The photo in her book is a mouth-watering masterpiece of golden brown crispy skin. Not sure how she would get there in those conditions, I had to increase the temperature and cook my duck a lot longer, even though my duck was almost exactly the weight she recommends in her recipe.  In the end, the meat was not very flavorful, and definitely not tender the way I would like it to be.

The best part of the meal was the side dish I chose to go with it: shredded Napa cabbage, very simply dressed with lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, prepared 15 minutes before serving. Very refreshing, perfect to cut through the fatty duck.

So, it’s back to the drawing board on this one. I liked the flavor of the sauce, and feel that the recipe has the potential to be a winner. Knowing myself, though, I know it will take me a while to try it again. If anyone has suggestions, advice, tried and true methods, please post them in the comments or send them to me by email. I am all ears!

ONE YEAR AGO: Mahi-Mahi

TWO YEARS AGO: Memories of Pasteis (one of my favorite blog posts…)

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CELEBRATE WEDNESDAY WITH PLUM-GLAZED DUCK BREASTS

It wasn’t our wedding anniversary, nor his birthday, nor mine. Valentine’s Day won’t arrive for a couple of months.  It was just a simple Wednesday, stuck in the middle of a frantic week with the usual extra-struggles after traveling for a while.  But, I wanted a special dinner for us, just for the fun of it.  Duck breast filets (maigret de canard sounds even better… ;-)) are very easy to prepare, although potentially intimidating if it’s your first time to cook them.  A recent issue of Fine Cooking had a recipe with plum preserves to form a saucy glaze, perfect with the duck meat, that shines with a little sweetness and a little spice.


PLUM-GLAZED DUCK BREASTS
(from Fine Cooking magazine, October 2011)

2 boneless, skin-on duck breast halves
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 cup plum preserves
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

Heat the oven to 425°F. Trim any excess skin and fat from the duck breast and, using a very sharp knife,  score the skin and fat underneath in a 1-inch diamond pattern. Be careful not to cut all the way through the flesh, you want to just get the layer of fat underneath the skin to be exposed, so the fat renders more efficiently.  Pat the duck dry and season with salt and pepper.

Heat an oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Put the duck in the skillet skin side down, reduce the heat to medium low, and render the fat until only a thin, crisp layer of skin remains. It will take 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the preserves, soy sauce, five-spice powder, and red pepper flakes. Remove the duck to a platter, pour most of the fat off the skillet, and return the filets to the pan, skin side up. Brush the preserves mixture over the breasts. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a breast registers 135°F for medium rare, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the duck to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.  Heat the remaining plum mixture briefly, slice the duck diagonally  and spoon the pan juice over.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here


You won’t need much else to round out this meal.  White rice and carrots with an agave nectar glaze were wonderful for us, next to the rich and flavorful duck. But the best part of this meal was the smile on Phil’s face when I said we were having maigret de canard for dinner…  Sweet memories of Paris make any evening a special event!

ONE YEAR AGO: Holiday Double-Decker

TWO YEARS AGO: Tried and Tasty!

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