Friday, February 10, 2006


Today, as I was casting about for something to have for lunch, I remembered that I had salted away two Muscovy duck legs, and they were sitting in the back of the fridge waiting for me.

Yes, salted. For these were no ordinary duck legs. These were Duck Confit, and they are to plain ol’ duck as Smithfield ham is to one of those canned Meat-Blocks.

I had prepared these duck legs a couple of weeks ago. Step one was to take the legs and salt them down with kosher salt (about one tablespoon per leg). I then placed them, skin side down, on a bed of fresh rosemary, thyme sprigs, and a full head’s worth of garlic cloves that I had smashed with a hammer. A couple of bay leaves, a couple of cinnamon sticks, and a couple of star anise pods went atop the legs, then a nice coating of black pepper, more rosemary and thyme sprigs, and another head’s worth of smashed garlic cloves. I sealed the container and shoved it in the fridge for a couple of days.

The next step, after the legs had sat in that herbaceous mess for at least 36 hours, was to take the legs out and brush all the salt and herbs off them. Meanwhile, I heated the oven to a pleasant 225°F.

This is where advance prep was helpful. I had saved a big, honkin’ container of clarified duck schmaltz from the last time I roasted a duck, and it came in handy. I threw it all in my sauté pan and got it melted down. In went the duck legs, on went the lid, and then the pan went into the oven as soon as I had brought the whole morass to a low simmer. Now, off to find an errand or two to do while everything sat and cooked for three hours.

The three hours up, I took the pan out of the oven and placed the duck legs in an earthenware crock. I then strained the duck schmaltz that was still in the pan through a fine sieve, being careful to remove anything that was not Pure Duck Grease. This golden, honey-like liquid I then poured over the legs, submerging them completely. Then, after a brief cool-down, the crock went in the fridge.

If the legs are well-covered by the fat – they should be completely buried – the duck confit will keep for months.

Today, when it was lunch time, I took the legs out and scraped off most of the fat. A couple of spoons of lovely congealed Duck Schmaltz in a small skillet, heated until it was nice and hot, and then in went the duck legs, skin side down. Five minutes later, when the skin was golden brown and crisp, I turned the legs over and gave ’em another four minutes. Out of the pan, a quick drain, and onto a plate, with a few spinach leaves and blood oranges for garnish and contrast.

As for the duck schmaltz, I melted down whatever remained in the crock along with the residuum in the skillet and strained it. Useful stuff, schmaltz. I like to throw it on roasted potatoes just to kick up the Heart-Stoppage Quotient. Mad flava, dat!

Now, it’s a Major Indulgence to gobble up two whole legs’ worth of duck confit. The meat is normally used to add a salty jolt to other dishes – it’s great in a salad, for example. But, damn, that meat...falling off the bone tender, full of flavor and with just enough salt to pop the top of the old sphygmomanometer...hoo, boy, was that tasty.

I’m off in search of a gallon or two of liquid refreshment. Maybe some of that fine Vacqueyras Clos Montirius 2003. A fantastic lunchtime wine, so I’m told. Loamy, yet accessible. Four stars!

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