Duck Confit, Part 1

19th Jan 2007

It's snowing in Brooklyn this morning.  When I opened my eyes it had just begun to fall, and I padded over to my window like a little child at Christmas.  Snow makes me very happy, as does winter in general--I absolutely love bundling up in all sorts of ridiculous scarves and hats and I love the invigorating nip of freezing wind.   When it's summer and hot, there's nothing you can really do about it--go inside to the A/C, maybe--except be miserably sweaty all the time (plus, who looks any good in shorts?  Or maybe that's just me).  So while the record-setting warm weather has been wonderful for some people, I'm simply tired of never knowing what to wear when I wake up.  When it's snowing outside, however, when the snow flakes are massive and fluffy, it's very clear: winter coat, hat, scarf, and a big childish smile. Not to mention that colder weather this week has opened some culinary doors--big pots of soup, braising meats, dishes with big, comforting flavors.  Perhaps the hallmark is a French peasant one-pot creation called cassoulet--loosely defined as white bean stew with at least two types of meat in it, at least one being some form of pork, often a sausage. It usually has three or four types of meat, lasts forever, and is the most ridiculously comforting and filling dish you can imagine. We haven't been seeing cassoulet on restaurant menus because of the unseasonable temperatures, and I've been craving it for awhile. I've been digging into every cookbook I have comparing recipes, which range from 40-minute, straightforward affairs to week-long, authentic preparations.  Knowing our usual habits, the choice between a modern shortcut (which admittedly is probably going to taste great--my first cassoulet was an experience like this) and ambitious, drawn out process, we'll always take the more absurd route.  We love the adventurous aspect of cooking, its appeal for those who enjoy becoming obessive--like subwaying all around New York to eat extraordinary things.  Food as a reason to be irrational and passionate. I've settled on a rather authentic process I found in Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook as the backbone, with a little experimenting using other ideas along the way.   I'm going to spend the next few days walking through every step of the process.  I'll talk about some things I've learned with loads of pictures and philosophical ruminations, but this  first post is the process of making Duck Confit, which is central to Bourdain's recipe.  This is half of it, since I'm waiting right now for the duck to cure for 36 hours.  I've used Madeleine Kamman's recipe from Making of a Cook . Duck Confit, Part 1 Library_4912

  • Legs from three ducks (6 legs, about 3 pounds total)
  • 1/3 oz. salt per pound of meat (about 2 tablespoons for 3 pounds)
  • Any combination of the following spices to total 4 tablespoons.

Use more of this group: cinnamon cumin coriander And less from this group: allspice ground cloves ground ginger crushed dried thyme crushed bay leaf

  • As many garlic cloves as you can stand to peel (at least 10)

Combine all your spices in a mortar and pestle, or any small bowl if the spices you're using don't need to be crushed.  I didn't have any allspice, coriander, cloves, or thyme--it doesn't matter too much, just use what you have. Library_4911 Take each leg of duck and coat it with the spice mixture on both sides, before you put any salt on, and place in a wide casserole dish (a glass baking dish is perfect).  Next, take your salt and sprinkle half of it it all over the duck legs.  Turn the legs over and repeat with the remaining salt.  This is a basic process of curing the meat, i.e. removing the moisture using salt, which keeps it from spoiling later.  I've long been interested in curing and at some point soon, I'd like to try making my own bacon.  But that's neither here nor there. Library_4917 Toss all your garlic cloves amongs the legs, take a long sheet of plastic wrap, and cover the whole dish tightly.  Put it in the fridge, where it's going to cure for 24-36 hours.  Since I started last night, I'll probably begin the rest of the confit process Saturday morning.  So stay tuned, and in the meantime, go buy a whole lot of duck fat. Library_4926


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