Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Standards: Confit de Canard

Music, like food, is one of those elements of human existence that can transcend time, generations and cultures. And, like food, themes, structure and the deconstruction of and reassembly of common tropes are part and parcel to the craft.

Take the 6 notes that comprise the opening volley of one of jazz's most ubiquitous standards (sing along at home if you like):



Those 6 simple notes can be taken apart at the hands of a true master and rearranged, repeated, inverted and stacked upon each other to form something almost symphonic:



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Hopefully you have the time and headphones to check those videos out.

"My Funny Valentine" is of course from the Rodgers and Hart musical "Babes in Arms" (1937), and I picked the Elvis Costello version because it runs through the theme almost entirely without adornment or embellishment (save a quick 8 note riff at the very end Costello's trademark Jazzmaster).

The Keith Jarrett Trio version approaches the theme from the outside looking in, capitulates and recapitulates...they move around, in and through the theme.

The same six notes, used in wildly different ways.

Today we're going to show you the classic French preparation of duck legs, confit de canard.

 In the future we're going to show you how to use it as a culinary cudgel, a food Swiss Army Knife.

Before you can be a master, you need to know the basics. This is one of our favorites -- a culinary "funny valentine."

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Duck legs, raw with dry rub
We looked for duck legs at Duc Loi Supermarket, but were rebuffed.

Still, Duc Loi has lots of meat bits - sows ears, offal, certainly lots of tripe.

We could have ordered them from Drewes Brothers Meats.

We could have ventured into Chinatown - but it seemed like folly on such a nice day to have to wrangle a bike through the Chinatown crowds and chaos.

This time we headed to reliably French Olivier's Butchery on a sunny Sunday afternoon by bicycle, after first calling to confirm they had the product.

"You guys have any duck legs?" I asked the disembodied woman, who for sure was wearing the official Olivier's uniform of black slacks and a Burgundy chef's jacket.

"I think we have four," she replied.

"Can you hold them for me, for Chris?"

"Absolutely. When will you be picking them up?"

"Within the hour."

As it turned out, she meant four sets of legs as opposed to just 4 legs. I picked up a couple of other items and pedaled off.

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Mise en place
Confit means cooked (braised, really) in fat, and as such we don't want to introduce a lot of extra liquid (and maybe even drain some off, if we can).

So, instead of brining the legs (as I might do in other preparations), I will use a dry rub.

Bitters. Not just for old fashioned cocktails.
Typically, my confit rub is half by weight sugar, half by weight salt, and herbs.

There are of course as many different variations on this as there are versions of chicken noodle soup.

99% Bittersweet uses salt, a 24hr rest, and rinses off the excess salt.

I've seen versions that use maple syrup, honey or even molasses. Some use sea salt.

Almost none use table (iodized, square crystal) salt.

I passed the fresh thyme in the supermarket today, thinking "oh, I have that at home." Well, I am a liar-mouth, and I didn't. So I went with Mexican oregano.

Confit Dry-Rub (for 8 legs):
  • 1/3 cup of Kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup of maple sugar
  • 1 tbsp of Mexican oregano
  • Dash of bitters
Dust the bottom of a roasting pan or Pyrex cake pan with the dry-rub. Pack legs in tightly, skin side up, then cover with remaining rub. Press the rub into the skin. Cover and refrigerate for at least 10 hours.

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I do not rinse my duck legs before baking, so I simply poured about a cup of olive oil over the top of the legs and put them into the oven at 275ºF.

You can use lard, duck fat, a more neutral oil (rapeseed, cottonseed, grape, corn). I wouldn't use anything stronger that generic extra virgin olive oil.

I let them go 3 hours at 275ºF then another 3 hours at 225ºF, only because I thought they might be baking too fast.

If you are feeling lucky, or bored, or simply randy, you can add some aromatics. I like the following:
  • Garlic bulbs, whole
  • Cipollini onions
  • Shallots
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Turnips
  • Celeriac
Any of those would confit well, and add to the flavor of the duck.

If you are not convinced, consider duck-fat soaked slow roasted garlic spread on fresh ciabatta.

You're welcome.


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Speaking of variations on a theme, here's one more morsel for the Elvis Costello fans out there:



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One last note: do not even think about throwing away that fat. Duck lard is lipid gold in semi-solid at room temperature form.

Like the confit that it is a bi-product of (literally, the fit in the confit), the fat is great for endless applications in the kitchen: to fry up home fries or matchstick potatoes (yams, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, etc), for roasting any vegetable from brussel's spouts to bell peppers, for greasing the pan for savory crepes, for frying latkes, to sear steaks in, for savory scones or biscuits and on and on.

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References:

Drewes Brother's Meats
1706 Church Street San Francisco, CA 94131
(415) 821-0515

Duc Loi
2200 Mission Street San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 551-1772

Olivier's Butchery
1074 Illinois Street San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 558-9887