I love duck. Especially duck confit for its deliciousness and versatility. It's also easy to prepare. It also makes you look like a foodie, if you are not one already! Once you have duck confit, fixing dinners is a breeze. I am not the kind of cook who makes ten things in order to come up with a dish. I like to make one thing that can be used in ten dishes! With its glorious rich flavor and texture, you can serve it whole with some mashed sweet potatoes or sweet potato gratin and some greens. I normally sear the leg confit on a cast iron pan on medium heat, skin side down, and leave it alone for a few minutes until the skin is completly golden brown and crispy before searing the other side. You can also cut it up and sauté duck tidbits in a hot cast iron pan until the skin is crispy with some velvety meat. I remove the duck from the pan and make a dressing in the hot pan with some shallots, mustard, duck juice, red wine vinegar, and some maple syrup to balance the acidity. Whisk in enough oil and pour it over your green salad. Sprinkle duck tidbits on top. Season with salt and pepper. Voila... you have created a warm duck salad. My daughter still talks about the duck salad she had in Paris during her study abroad a few years ago. You can toss pieces of duck confit in with your pasta dishes. Use it as filling for ravioli, spring rolls, egg rolls, gyoza. The possibilities are endless. Your friends will think you are a kitchen goddess!
Sure you can buy duck confit at grocery stores or specialty markets (3 legs for $39 at Central Market) but it is much cheaper to make it yourself. When I have time to kill, I get a couple of whole ducks from a grocery store. Buying a whole duck is a much more economical way than buying duck breasts or duck legs, plus it will yield enough duck fat for you to make duck confit. Save all the skin and fat and render it to yield the prized duck fat. Just cook cut up duck skin and fat in very low heat and simmer away until they turn into liquid. Let it cool a bit and strain it before pouring into a jar, which can be kept indefinitely in the fridge. Some people prefer to add some water when simmering duck fat to prevent the skin from burning, but I found it unnecessary. You can use some of the fat for duck confit. Duck fat works wonders with potatoes, try it with hash browns next time!
How to break down a duck.
I can let you know my secret on how to cook duck breast with crispy skin and succulent juicy meat. I will save that for another post. Once you have the trimmed duck legs, you have to draw out some moisture before you can confit them. Depends on the size of the legs, how much salt to use or how long you are going to cure them. As a rule of thumb, I mix 1 heaping teaspoon of kosher salt (do NOT use table salt!) with 1/2 tsp confit spice to cure two duck legs (one poundish total) for 24 hours uncovered. I also throw in one bay leaf, a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme, a few cloves of garlic, 1 shallot chopped fine. Rub the legs well with the herb salt mixture. After the curing time is up, I rinse off the marinade and dry the legs with paper towels. Now the legs are ready to be confit.
Melt duck fat in a medium pot to completely cover the legs. Cook the duck legs uncovered, maintaining the temperature between 190F to 210F about 3-4 hours, or until a toothpick slides easily into thighs. Remove the duck legs from the fat. Strain the fat through a fine-mesh sieve into a deep bowl, saving the meat juice in the bottom of the pot. This is liquid gold. You can use it for salad dressing, pasta sauce, gravy, etc. Then pour the strained fat over the duck legs to cover completely. These duck confit can be stored, covered in duck fat and kept chilled for 2-3 months.
Now dinner is easy!!!
2 tablespoons white pepper, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons nutmeg, 1 teaspoon 5 spice powder. Mix ingredients together and store in a spice jar.
Note: If you do have a sous vide machine, I highly recommend using it instead of the above traditional method. I prefer it because it's less fussy and needs much less duck fat. You can also speed up the curing process from 24 hours to 6 hours. I add about 2 tablespoons of duck fat per duck leg then vacuum seal it. I prefer to cook each leg in its own bag. Sous vide the legs at 167F for 12 hours.