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Confit de canard
- Duck Legs, with thighs (one or two per person)
- Coarse salt, pepper, thyme, bay, etc.
- Extra duck or goose fat
The classic preparation uses a fattened bird, as for fois gras. Wings and breasts, as well as legs, are confit. If you start from a whole bird, prepare the neck also, in the same way. Pick the meat off the neck to make rillettes .
The classic confit is made with Goose or Duck. Meat spiced and salted, then slowly cooked in a bath of its own fat. This keeps the flavours and juices from escaping, while the salt and gentle heat convert tough collagens into delicate gelatines. Flavours suffuse the tasty, tender, moist flesh.
Dry cure Grind coarse salt (about a ½ teaspoon per leg) with an almost equal quantity of herbs and spices. Rub the flesh and skin of each leg with this mixture. Leave covered in a cool place for 12-48 hours.
The cure can be varied: try dried tangerine peel or crushed juniper berries in place of thyme, for example.
Most recently, I found whole ducks for £1.99 at Sainsbury's on Boxing day. To confit a whole duck, bone the duck—cut the skin from neck to parson's nose, along the backbone. With a filleting knife, separate the flesh from the carcass on each side until you meet yourself at the breastbone. Sever the joints attaching wings and thighs to the carcass when you meet them. Salt everything—carcass, boned duck, and giblets—for at least 24 hours. Rinse, cover in fat (giblets on the bottom, then the duck, then the carcass, which need not be entirely covered. Poach in the oven for 2 hours at 275 °F (135 °C). The liver makes a great paté, spread on toast (Melba). The meat from the neck, heart and gizzard, with some of the fat, makes duck rilletes. The duck can be spread out, and the skin crisped in the oven before being brought to table.
Slow-cooked Confit Wipe excess salt from the meat with kitchen paper towel. Lay the legs out, skin-side-up, on a baking tray with sides deep enough to catch the fat, and sear in a hot oven (220 °C 430 °F) until the skin is nicely brown (about 15 minutes). Pack the legs in a casserole; add the fat rendered from the legs, and sufficient extra fat to cover the meat—it doesn't matter if the legs stick out. Put the covered casserole in a slow oven (150 °C 300 °F) for 90 minutes. The legs can be kept, in their fat, in the refrigerator for several weeks, or used immediately. Try to give them a few days for the flavour to develop, before succumbing to temptation.
Crisp and Serve Remove the duck from its fat, and lay it out on a deep-sided baking tray. (Warm the casserole if necessary until the fat melts.) Cook in a hot oven (220 °C 430 °F). In about 15 minutes, the skin should be crisp and brown. Transfer the legs to a warmed serving platter, draining excess fat off each one. Quickly make a gravy (some flour and the gunk on the baking tray to make a roux; thinned with water from your vegetables or potatoes, and cooked to thicken). Serve with potatoes, vegetables, and gravy.
Mashed or roast potatoes. In the latter case, peel and cut potatoes into small chunks (2-3cm, about 1in, across) heat the duck fat to around 160 °C. Simmer potatoes in the hot fat for 5 minutes then lift out with a slotted spoon, and spread on a hot baking tray. Roast for 20 minutes in a hot oven.
Braised leeks and onions, or braised peas with lettuce and onion. Using a bulb baster, or otherwise, lift the rich juices from under the fat in the casserole and use these to braise your vegetables. Leeks and onions take an hour, or more, covered well, in the slow oven. For peas, slice, dice, and brown an onion (in a drop of duck fat), add peas and juices, cook until about to boil, no more. Add a cup of shredded lettuce (laitue, that is—round lettuce, not iceberg), stir and serve.
Something sweet. I happened to have in the store cupboard a long-kept jar of Italian amareña, small bitter cherries in a syrup flavoured with kernels from the cherry stones—griottes in French. These go well with duck. So, we served the duck with a thin glaze of the bitter-sweet syrup spooned over each leg, and a few dark cherries.
Cooking slowly under fat stops the duck from drying out and allows flavour to develop. The result is tender, rich and succulent.
Rillettes are similar in process. Fat and lean pork, salted then slowly cooked—this time with added liquid, which is absorbed into the meat.