Friday, March 19, 2010

Duck Confit

For Christmas Brandon gave me The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert, who supposedly changed American cuisine with her recipes for duck confit and cassoulet. She's basically the Julia Child of rustic French cooking.

I'd never heard of her, but I'm also more comfortable rolling tekka maki than curing duck.

I think Brandon was hoping I'd suddenly get the urge to preserve poultry and then whip up a rich, hearty cassoulet. But we don't have a vacuum packer to sous v
ide duck legs, and the traditional method calls 6 cups of rendered duck or goose fat, plus some Butcher's lard.

Yeah, right. Maybe when Emi goes away to college.

A few weeks ago, however, Anne Burrell demonstrated her short-cut version, or what she called "Cheater's Duck Confit." What I like most about Anne's show "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" is her emphasis on techniques rather than just recipes. Basically her approach to confit is to skip the lengthy curing process and cooking the duck low and slow to render out the fat, then browning and braising it with wine, fresh thyme and bay leaves.

It looked easy enough, so I decided to make it for Brandon's birthday.

Since duck is out of season, I had to buy it frozen at our local gourmet grocery store, and at nearly $30 for four legs, I was pretty nervous about this dish turning out. Thankfully, Anne's recipe was as easy as she made it look on TV.

I put the legs skin-side down in my trusty LeCreuset dutch oven and let the fat render out on very low heat (second to lowest s
etting) for more than an hour, before turning up the heat to medium-high to brown both sides. I couldn't believe how much fat those legs produced. My pot had a good half-inch of bubbling, yellowish, yummy goo.

Browning the duck was as good as frying it.

The only glitch came when I cooked the onions in the covered dutch oven. There was so much condensation that the onions never really caramelized, so if I were to do this again I think I'd leave it uncovered. The rest of the recipe was a breeze.

While the duck and onions were braising in the oven for 90 minutes, I got to work on my side dish - celery root and potato puree. Other suggested side dishes included lentils, a salad of dandelion greens, spinach or potatoes cooked in duck fat, but I wanted something starchy and somewhat bland to balance the fatty confit.

The long braising time turned the duck a deep, rich brown and the meat was so tender it fell away from the bones.
I also served asparagus spears sauteed in a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. The clean, acidic bite of asparagus helped cut the richness of the otherwise delicious meal.

It turned out that one duck leg per person was plenty. But if you cook more than you need, you can always use the leftovers to make cassoulet.

Tune in later for my take on ice cream cake!

Celery Root Puree
1 large celery root, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 to 5 medium-sized red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons of butter
1 cup heavy cream

Combine water, milk, salt and pepper into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add celery root and potatoes. Cook until veggies are fork tender. Drain liquid and add cream and butter. Puree with a food mill or immersion blender. Salt and pepper to taste.

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