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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Confit Duck - Slow cooked duck in its own fat

I could not possibly go past a French inspired weekend of cookery without preparing a batch of Duck Confit.  This age-old process of curing and preservation of meats such as duck, pork and goose can be the recipient of much criticism because there are no healthy justifications to make or eat this dish.  But there must be something good about it if the French have been doing it for centuries and it has etched itself into culinary history.  The thought of poaching rich duck legs in its own fat for hours on end can sound off-putting at first and health authorities will probably condemn it, but you do not consume the fat in any more excessive a manner than usual.  The confit legs once ready are used by dry frying and rendering more fat away.  The result is a flavour enriched succulent game meat that is quite unique from its conception to its taste. 

Duck Confit has had much more popularity in recent times as more restaurants serve it up and more food mags list recipes using it as a component.  I have even ordered it at a bistro style pub in Port Melbourne.  Although I cannot say that I was too impressed by it as the meat was dry and lacked any real flavour and resembled an overcooked rotisserie chicken…but I am no food critic.  On my journey into confit I discovered just how simple it was to prepare, and can appreciate the method it takes to produce this French delicacy that can attract around a $50 price tag for a couple of legs in a can weighing about 800 grams.  In good restaurants expect to pay no less than $40 for a confit duck meal which would include just a single Maryland piece and some decorative vegetables.  

Now I have always been of the notion that if you can make it at home (and it tastes good) then why not!  I can understand that food producers and retailers have a living to earn and I do not want to take that away from them.  I just feel that there is more pride associated and achievement when you make something yourself.  Nine out of ten times home-made wares would be cheaper to produce than store bought goods and aside from this is the assurance of freshness and can ensure the absence of artificial ingredients and additives.

It was probably just coincidence that the butcher in the supermarket that I usually went to for my Asian groceries actually had some in the window.  There happily on display were the duck Maryland cuts with various cuts of offal.  Now I am not too sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing – it depends on how highly Asian cuisine values duck legs as compared to beef tripe.  Either way I was quite content and at $13.99 a kilo, even happier as I could buy a little more than I set out to.

Different recipes for confit duck list a variety of ingredients from the aromatic department of herbs and spices that are used to impart flavour into the meat.  Salt plays a major role in the curing process and it use also ensure a longer shelf life of the finished product.  One thing that is a “must do” however, is to allow the meat to marinate in the fridge overnight, or even longer as some recipes suggest.  As a rule never decide that you are going to confit some duck legs on a whim and decide to do it all on the same day – it is a two day saga to say the least. 


6 duck legs with thighs
4 tbsp x Salt
6 cloves x Garlic, crushed
1 x Shallot, finely diced
6 sprigs x Thyme
1 tsp x Black Pepper
About 4 cups duck fat (3 tubs of Luv-a-Duck range will suffice)

(Day 1)
Wash the duck legs and pat dry with a clean towel
Dust the salt on each side of the duck legs and work the salt into the meat
In a small bowl combine the garlic, thyme and pepper
Using a dish large enough for all the duck legs , sprinkle half the mixture in an even layer
Place the duck legs, skin side up into the dish and sprinkle the remaining mixture
Cover with a lid or cling wrap and allow to infuse in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours.

(Day 2)
Preheat oven to 110 degrees Celsius (depending on how hot your oven gets you may need to adjust this accordingly)
Melt the duck fat in a saucepan until it is slightly warm
Dust the spice mixture of the duck pieces brushing of any excess salt
Discard the spice mixture and any liquids and pat the duck dry.
Clean the dish and return the duck pieces skin side up 

Pour the fat over the duck ensuring that the meat is completely covered
Place into the warm oven
Bake in the oven for 3-4 hours or until meat is softened
The confit is done when the meat can be flaked off the bone.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly

Now you need to decide how long you are going to keep the confit for.  If you plan on letting it permeate further within the confines of your pantry then use a sterilised glass jar (large one or two) and make sure you cover the meat with enough of the fat otherwise it just won’t keep.  This method of preservation will give you up to 6 months shelf life.  Just be sure that there is a sufficient amount of fat covering the meat at all times.  If you plan on using the confit within a couple of weeks then you can store it in a plastic container, again with enough fat but this time it must live in your fridge.  I kept mine in two big glass preserving jars and they looked like high school science experiments – but minus the formaldehyde.

Things to do with duck confit:

As a roast meal – First remove as much of the fat as you can then dry fry duck in a hot skillet until the skin is crispy.  Use rendered fat as a base for roast potatoes and any other roasting vegetable for that matter.  
Use shredded duck meat in a salad
Duck Rillettes (click to link to my recipe)
As a component of the French classic Casoulet (I will make this dish soon and link here)
As filling for savoury pancakes, sandwiches, pastries etc. etc.

The list goes on limited by only your culinary creativity and your power search of the internet.

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