Saturday, March 26, 2011

A cheaper, easier duck confit

Confit (cawn-fee) is my favorite way to eat duck legs, but it's very dear to buy it prepared. So once a year or so, I buy several ducks on sale, frozen, and keep them in the freezer until I know I have a couple of days to work on them. It is quite a process once they are thawed, but well worth the effort.

First, I assemble the containers: soup pot, crock pot, large plate, one large and one small plastic container, cutting board. I get out the kosher salt and the peppercorns. I make sure there is plenty of hand soap near the sink. I get out my kitchen scissors and sharpen my knives. I find a pair of tweezers.

This is my duck deconstruction process:

Any skin that you think you will be eating needs to be clean of any feather remains that you can feel. Use tweezers if you can't grasp them with your fingers.

Put a thin layer of olive oil in the crock pot.

Cut off the neck skin to the wishbone area. Set the skin aside in the larger plastic container and refrigerate. It will be stuffed and cooked later. Remove the wishbone and put it in the stockpot.

Remove the giblets from the interior of the carcass. The heart and gizzards go into the stock pot. The liver goes into the small plastic container.

Cut off the wings from the body. The wing tip and the middle bone go into the soup pot. The mini drumstick goes into the crock pot.

Cut off the breast portions by snipping under the legs, up behind where you took off the wings. Set them on the plate for now. Any loose fat goes into the crock pot.

Break the back in half, then cut across where the break is. Put the upper half of the back in the stock pot. Turn the lower half (legs, thighs and back in one piece) over and salt well. Put it skin side up in the crock pot and salt well. Stack the three duck's back pieces on top of each other, add black pepper corns and a couple of bay leaves, put on low and cook overnight. The fat will render and the duck will be gently boiling in its fat by morning. Turn off the crock pot. You can put the entire crock in the fridge and pull out the pieces as you want to eat them, just making sure the rest is covered by fat each time. Or you can take the meat off the bones, put in small glass canning jars and pressure can the jars; properly canned meat is good for up to five years. Or so I've heard; I've never been able to keep confit that long. To crisp the legs and thighs, put them in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes.

If you don't want the fat on the duck breasts, you can add the skin to the crock pot, too. Then remove the breasts from the bones, and add the bones to the stock pot. Poach the skinless, boneless breasts (do not overcook) and serve with a fruit sauce (orange or cherry are my favorites), or cook the bone-in breasts with their skin attached in a 425 oven for 30 minutes, letting them set for 10 minutes when they come out of the oven before slicing and serving. I usually don't season them with anything but salt; I add pepper later to taste. I love to make a salad with citrus in it, and slice warmed duck breast over it. I usually cook the livers at the same time as the breasts, salting and peppering them before they go in the oven.

Cover the bones, wings and upper backs with water, add a little salt and some peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves and simmer overnight. After draining the stock through cheesecloth into a glass bowl, cool the solids and pick off as much meat as you can. Store it with the gizzards and hearts in a zippered bag. Refrigerate the stock and skim off the fat. Then reduce the stock by half and use for sauces.

The duck fat is great to fry up potatoes, and can be used to add flavor to many savory dishes. Try brushing it on root vegetables before roasting. The French use it a lot. They may be on to something.

A simplistic cost breakdown:
3 ducks = $36
6 breasts for dinners or salads
6 legs for dinners or lunches
6 thighs for dinners or lunches
2 cups reduced stock
pound of confit pieces 
pound of stock pieces, giblets and hearts
3 livers (enough for a nice paté)

As you can see by the Amazon link, the legs of the three ducks alone would cost twice what the whole ducks did.

I'll blog about using the duck neck skin to make a Cajun-like boudain later.

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