Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Duck Confit!

Moments after being ladled into a sterilized jar.

Below, the home confiting experience.

Friday, July 28:
Used a little over four teaspoons kosher salt on six legs. Refrigerated at 12:25 p.m.

Saturday, July 29:
11 a.m.

I took legs from fridge, rinsed them, patted dry, left them to come to room temp.

While the legs warmed, I took out four pounds of duck fat. One pound was mine, collected over several months of duck dishes. The rest was the aforementioned Grimaud's of Stockton.

After a spatula failed to extricate the fat from its plastic container, I used my (clean) fingers to pry the stuff free. Dumped it into my Le Creuset Braiser (see above). In mere moments the entire kitchen was spattered with duck fat. It made me think of all those pretty cookbook photos of garbure in yellow crockery bowls and duck nestled invitingly againt purple cabbage. Wouldn't it be great to see some photos of kitchens mid-prep? Every available space taken up with dirty bowls and wooden spoons and the hubby's breakfast dishes? I would have taken some myself, but my hands were too slimy.

So while the duck fat slowly melted on the stovetop, I washed up. Worried about clogging my sink drain, I put the empty fat containers in the recycling bin.

Judy Rodgers advises heating the fat until it is warm to the touch, then adding the legs and bringing everything to simmer point. I misread, heated the fat to 190 degrees, which took a half an hour, realized my error, and took the pan off the stove to cool. I Waited. Cleaned up some more. Waited some more. At one p.m., the fat was finally lukewarm. In went the legs.

Once stovetop, temperature became the challenge. Rodgers calls for a "steady near simmer". She keeps her confit between 200 and 210 degrees. On my electric Sears stove, 190 degrees was more like deep frying. As the fat grew hotter, I had to keep turning down the heat to prevent boiling.

Reasoning that slow and low would be better than hot and ruined, I turned the burner way down. My burners are numbered from one to nine, nine being boiling point. I found equilibirum at the "two" setting.

At 2:15 I tested the meat. Rodgers says it should be resilient but not fork-tender. Done.

After ten minutes I transferred the meat to my new canning jar with tongs, then ladled the fat over all.

A few notes....Paula Wolfert says any fat leftover from the confiting process can be frozen and used for other confiting projects, which leads me to wondering about that tall jar of fat. What happens to it once the duck is eaten? Do I have to toss it? Or can it be reused to for another confit?

I found I needed to skim more than Rodgers recommended. In fact, I skimmed constantly.

Wolfert says confit should be sealed with a layer of lard; Rodgers says nothing about it. Nor does Fergus Henderson. To seal or not to seal?

Finally, once the three week curing time has passed and we can chow down, must we finish the opened jar within a week, or does it indeed keep a while, provided I use tongs and not my dirty fingers to extricate the legs?

The truth is out there. Suggestions and/or answers appreciated!

This was quite a project, one whose outcome remains unknown. A significant difference between American and French Southwestern cookery is time: Americans are always rushing. Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals. Rachael Ray's 30 minute meals. Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade (This woman really frightens me) everything. A search on the Powell's Books website for "quick and easy cooking" elicited 748 matches!

In contrast, duck confit has, thus far, required an eighteen-hour salt cure, about ninety minutes given over to washing the duck and allowing it to come to room temp, ninety more minutes of cooking time, then several hours of cooling before refrigeration. Now we wait three weeks for the duck to do its ducky thing. Here is what Paula Wolfert has to to say about aging confit:

"As with other preserved meats, a certain amount of time is necessary to allow the chemical changes to take place that will produce the husky flavor of true confit. People on rushed schedules can taste their confit within a week or so, for that matter, as soon as it finishes cooking.....But....True confit requires at least two to three weeks to begin to develop its character."

Notably, nearly every recipe in The Cooking of Southwest France calls for preparation several days in advance; almost all the dishes are to be eaten the next day, or the day after that. Make the confit above, the berries in Armagnac, or the Rillettes of Shredded Duck, and be prepared to wait anywhere from one week to a month.

Why am I attracted to such complex, time-consuming recipes? It's not as if I have nothing better to do...I work full time. I like a clean house. Somebody needs to do the laundry.

But here I am typing away, logged into the net with nary a cord in sight. Even more alarming, in the three weeks since acquiring this laptop and the wireless internet access that came with it, I have become addicted to it. I want my New York Times online. I want to know what's happening in the world. Now.

I find myself roaming the internet, skipping from blog to blog. Me, the book lover! The confirmed luddite!

Even worse, each day I check out Google Analytics, which is to blogging what reader reviews is to the newly-published author.

It's so easy to get sucked into the endless stream of information, instant feedback, and my own (small) role in it.

Making confit got my hands (and everything else) dirty. It made me think on my feet. And now, after all that work, I have to wait, because confit-making comes from a time when year-round meat was a gift, not a given, and preserving methods answered a need, not a desire. For an everything-all-the-time American, with my Mac Airport Extreme and 748 options for quick cookery books, waiting is instructive. Waiting is enforced slowdown. And the end result will be far better than anything I might have purchased, simply because of the time that went into making it.

Time well spent.


Anonymous Male said...

Great blog.

September 02, 2007 3:17 PM  

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