Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Confit and Gueuze

I was in Crate and Barrel the other week, got to talking to one of the employees about the joy of Dutch ovens, and my mind turned to velvety duck. We're big fans of duck confit. Once upon a time, it seemed perfectly logical to fork out a bunch of cash for a couple of duck legs with whatever side dish came along with it. Here's the reality: those restaurants aren't charging for skill or anything, they're charging for the time and the mystique. In reality, confit was originally peasant food. Poach the bird (or other animal) in it's own fat, cool, then cover it in said fat and keep in the root cellar for months. Thankfully we now have refrigerators, packaged duck fat, and tons of olive oil roaming the supermarket aisles.

For Christmas last year, I received the divine The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal. If you eat meat, you need this book. The appreciation for the flesh is incredible. Meat should be treated with respect, and Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstal really respects what he cooks. Inspired by his recipe for confit, and the post of Michael Ruhlman on the subject at his blog, I have developed my own version of this incredibly divine dish. And, I'm not above turning the oven to 300F for a few hours on a summer weekend to create heaven. My (and the Tooth's) heartfelt thanks to both gentlemen for the inspiration!

Duck Confit:

As many duck legs as you can fit in your dutch oven in a couple of layers at most
Kosher Salt (about 1/2 Tbsp per leg or so)
About 1 tsp thyme per leg
About 1/2 clove garlic minced per two legs
1 tsp dried orange peel (Penzey's has it!) for every two legs
4 or 5 grinds of pepper for every two legs
1 bay leaf for every two legs
A small container of duck fat and olive oil as needed

1. Combine all spices and cover duck generously.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 48 hours.
3. Wipe the vast majority of the spice mixture off the duck just before you go to cook it. You may rinse if you wish, but it won't be quite as flavorful. Be sure to dry it well if you rinse it.
4. Place legs in your Dutch oven and cover with the duck fat and olive oil. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, then place covered in a moderate oven (300F) for about three hours, or until the meat has pulled far from the end of the legs and the legs themselves have sunk to the bottom.
5. Remove from oven and cool completely. Place duck in a container, cover with the fat/oil mixture until it is submerged, and refrigerate. It will keep a month or so if you can keep yourself away.
6. To serve, take out a couple of legs per person and wipe off as much fat as possible. Heat up a pan and cook the legs for 5-6 minutes a side, making sure to crisp up the skin. Serve with some potatoes or polenta or a simple salad. YUM.

The other night, I served this with fried polenta (fried in the duck fat), roasted asparagus, and a Belgian sour beer, Oude Gueuze from Hanssens Artisanaal. The acidity of the beer cut beautifully through the richness of the meat. The Tooth thought it was perfect. I think I still prefer wine with confit, but this would be a great second choice.

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