Thursday, 29 March 2012

Homemade duck confit

If I'm eating out and duck confit is on the menu, it's pretty much a given that I'll order it. It's irresistible, delicious and one of my favourite ways to consume meat. It can also be a bit pricey in restaurants, inexplicably so when the ingredients are cheap and preparation doesn't require lots of complex steps. It's simply meat poached gently in its own fat.

Of course, if you're in France on a break it's much cheaper to buy a tin or jar or two from a supermarket to bring home. The main disadvantage is the weight - if you're flying, lugging back confit will seriously affect your baggage allowance.

My advice is make it yourself. Duck legs are incredibly cheap - you can usually buy a pair from around £3.50-£4 in the bigger supermarkets. They sell at this price because the breast is in greater demand as a separate cut. As well as a frugal treat, confit is incredibly simple to make, but it does need time so it's probably best to do it on a weekend when you can be around to keep checking on it. This is how Parisian Boy's mother taught me to make it.

What you need: 
2 duck legs
White wine or white vermouth
Fresh thyme and bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic
2 heaped teaspoons of sea salt

What to do:
Check the skin on the duck and pull out any stray feather stumps. Chop the garlic roughly and tear the bay leaves into pieces. Make a layer of half the garlic, half the bay leaves and thyme sprigs and half the sea salt in a dish in which the legs will fit snugly. Put the legs on top, skin side up, and cover with more salt and the rest of the garlic and herbs. Cover with a lid or some clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for 24 hours.

Next day, brush off all the salt, garlic and herbs from the duck. If there's liquid in the bottom of the dish, discard it and pat the legs dry with kitchen paper if necessary. Place both the legs, skin side down, in a snug saucepan - they should fit as tightly as possible. Pour over a very generous glass of wine or vermouth - at least 150ml. Turn on the hob and bring the pan almost to the boil - as soon as it starts to bubble, turn the heat right down to the lowest setting and put a lid on the pan.

You can now leave it to poach for 2 hours. The fat should start to render fairly soon so check on it regularly - you don't want the fat bubbling over and catching fire. This shouldn't happen on such a low heat, of course, but you also don't want the meat cooking too fast so use a heat diffuser if you need to reduce the lowest setting a little further.

By the end, the meat should have shrunk back from the ankle and the skin should look thin rather than plump with fat. Take the pan off the heat and let the legs cool in the fat for 20 minutes. Once the fat is cool enough to handle safely, you can take the duck legs out of the pan.

To eat, reheat in the oven, skin side up, for about half an hour at 200C. The skin should crisp up nicely. 

Cook's tips: 
To store, pack one or both legs into a plastic or foil container or a wide-necked glass jar and cover with the fat. It'll stay fresh in the fridge for at least a month as long as it is completely submerged in fat. You can freeze the duck at this stage - defrost only in the fridge overnight, not in a microwave.

If you're like me, you'll want to eat one of them immediately, but the confit will stay fresh for a day in the fridge without submersion in its fat. Just pop it into an airtight container or cover it with clingfilm on a plate.

Don't throw away the fat - it's full of flavour and makes the best roast or sauté potatoes. If you make confit more than once, use the fat on subsequent occasions for the poaching - the vermouth brings flavour but is really there to kickstart the initial process. The fat will stay fresh indefinitely if you keep it in an airtight jar in the fridge. Sometimes enough liquid is released during the poaching that it will form a layer of jelly under the fat - you can use this to make gravy.