Saturday, May 14, 2011

Towards Duck Confit

Today I broke down a duck. We bought the duck whole (cleaned) and frozen at Al's Meat Market, and thawed it in the refrigerator. Once thawed, we opened it up, and removed the giblets from the inner compartment. The neck, heart, and kidneys (with the last of their fat trimmed off) went into a gallon freezer bag for stock. The liver is in its own bag in the refrigerator, waiting for tomorrow's lunch.

I then took off the thighs, leaving on them a generous amount of skin, and set them aside. Next I skinned the bird. This took the most time, but it's well worth it: save all the skin and fat (and attached connective tissue) that you remove from the meat. Skinning the wings is a pain: it's worth removing them first and saving them for last. Once the duck was skinned, I took off the breasts, trimming them of any obvious fat and connective tissue, and saved them in the refrigerator.

I then set to work on the carcass. The point is to save any usable meat (but clean the pieces of connective tissue) and all the fat. The meat goes into a bag in the fridge or freezer for use in a soup or as chopped up meat in some other dish. The fat goes into the same bowl with all the skins. The bones and unusable meat go into the stock bag. Try to keep your stock lean — you will have to skim off some fat form the top anyway, but might as well avoid putting visible fat into the stock bag.

When the bird was finally completely dissected, it was time to render the fat. Cut up the skin into roughly 1-inch bits. Place all the skin and any other fat trimmings into a pot, along with about 1/2 a cup of water. Cover the pot and set it on the stove on very-low to simmer about an hour. The fat should render out. Remove the skins (toss with salt, or maybe fry again in hot oil first, and call them "duck rind", or just discard), and strain the liquids as best you can. Let the liquid cool in a measuring cup so that the fat and water completely separate; then pour just the fat off the top to save. You should end up with about a cup of fat.

Meanwhile, create an herb-and-salt mixture with about 1/4 cup kosher salt, a bay leaf, four cloves garlic, a shallot, and about 1 tsp each dried thyme, black pepper corns, onion powder, and tarragon; combine everything in a food processor. Rub the salt mixture onto the reserved duck legs, pressing it in. Place the legs snuggly into a nonreactive bowl, cover tightly with foil, and refrigerate one to two days.

Tomorrow I will make the confit. First I will rub the legs of any salt mixture and discard it. Then I will place the legs to fit snuggly at in an oven-proof container. I will reheat the fat so that I can pour it, and completely submerge the legs in fat. I will also add some more garlic and bay leaf to perfume the fats. Then I will bake this at low temperature. The goal is to cook the legs an hour or two at between 190 and 210 degrees Fahrenheit. Then I will store the legs in the refrigerator covered in their fat (they can also be canned and kept up to a year, or so I've read).

To serve, crispen the skin in a hot cast-iron skillet for a few minutes, and have on top of a salad.