Duck Confit

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For, perhaps, the first time in this year of charcuterie, I did not know what to expect. I was sure I had confit at one point or another in my culinary life. I spent seven years (albeit all during my naive twenties) with an expense account, after all, have traveled internationally, have written about food. But for the first time I approached a recipe truly not being able to picture the end result. I had pork confit once – the chef claimed to have spent all afternoon making it and was very proud. But I found it unremarkable; just room temperature fatty shredded meat to spread, awkwardly, on toast.

But still, I read and re-read the recipes. I plotted my path to obtain the ingredients (this being my first charcuterie effort as a part-time resident of the city of New York). I did a little research.

Hmmm…. did you know that confit is simply a term that means immersing meat or produce in a substance for preservation or flavor. Fruit can be confit-ed by cooking in sugar or honey, vinegar and water, similar to a jam. I have unknowingly confit-ed roasted peppers and tomatoes in olive oil to preserve them for a bit longer than their brief shelf life in raw form. And now, I can say, I have confit-ed duck.

It was so easy. And tasty.

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I figured that the most time intensive part of this effort – which simply involved mostly passive cooking – would be finding the ingredients. I hoped to source my protein from the Union Square Farmer’s Market but figured that I might have to venture further afield for the fat. In the spirit of confit, I planned to buy whatever meat looked good – and was not extravagantly expensive. However, that I would be making duck confit was decided as soon as I walked into the square and met Matthew from Hudson Valley Duck Farm. I told him of my confit aspirations and asked his advice. It was easy he said, just cook the legs low and slow in the smallest pot in which they would fit in a single layer.

“I don’t need extra fat?” I asked.

“You’ll end up with more than enough when you are done cooking these legs,” he assured. He also added that I could salt and season them at least overnight – but if I wanted to let them sit in the fridge for up to a week, tightly wrapped in plastic, the flavor would only improve.

In the end I seasoned the two legs I purchased from Matthew with about a tablespoon each of salt and herbes de provence and wrapped them in plastic for three days.

On day three I washed and patted the legs dry, and then arranged them skin side down in a smallish oven-proof sauce pan. I baked them for about three hours at 200 degrees, and then took the top off and finished it off for another twenty minutes or so. The fat was beautiful, golden-tinged and clear while the meat was beginning to roast, but was still tender. The fat was not completely covering the meat, as I imagined it might by the recipe instructions. Was this still confit, I wondered?

I poured the fat into a half quart canning jar, and then, when the legs were cool enough to handle, I separated them and added them to the fat. They meat fell apart in my hands and I couldn’t resist taking a taste. It was fatty and unctuous, perfectly roasted and tender. The two legs, including the rendered fat, but after discarding the rest of the skin, perfectly filled one canning jar. I made sure the meat was covered in fat and then let it sit on the counter for the next two hours before dinner.

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For dinner, I picked up a strong semi-soft cheese that I thought would go well with the confit, and a loaf of fig bread from a local artisanal bakery. At home, I had perfectly ripe tomatoes from a previous farmer’s market excursion that needed to be eaten, and made a salad of them with basil from my front patio. My husband, Steve, opened a bottle of a bordeaux-style red wine. And we ate.

It was just meat in a mug of fat, as Steve pointed out, but it was delicate and flavorful. The confit held up well to strong cheese and wine, but on its own with just the fig bread, the meat’s sweetness shone. We ate not quite half of the jar, and I capped it and placed the rest in the refrigerator, despite my (relative) comfort that it was shelf-stable. I marveled at the simplicity of preserved meat in a jar, whose roots can be traced to the time of the Renaissance in rustic southern France. I may not have been able to picture confit before that afternoon, but I know to which standard I will hold all others.

 

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Flipping Omelets

Flipping Omelets

 

While I think of myself as a pretty good cook, I am not a chef by any means. And by that I mean that I don’t – or can’t – do so many of the activities that I think define someone with an iota of formal training. Such as: sharpening knives, cutting vegetables into uniform pieces, remembering which cut of meat is from what part of the animal, flipping omelets. I’ve managed to get around so many of those aforementioned techniques – I get my knives professionally sharpened from the guy in the sharpening van who comes to the farmer’s market every month, I declare my dishes “rustic” and I have to constantly look up my go-to cow butchering illustration to remember whether I should braise or grill. But omelets – you either are eating one, or you are eating scrambled eggs. Like many things in life, there is no in-between.

 

And until recently I was fine with eating scrambled eggs.

 

I should also add that I have been eating a lot of eggs lately. I follow a mostly local diet and have also been diagnosed with gluten sensitivity so protein has been my morning nutrition of choice. Eggs over easy and frittatas needed an interesting and quick menu-mate. Then my mother bought me an avocado-green omelet pan. She had recently read Julia Child’s memoir and said she could imagine me flipping omelets like the queen of French cooking herself.  Well, then. I found an old episode of Julia describing her technique and thought it didn’t look so hard.

 

My first attempt was almost accidental. I was alone on a Saturday morning with fancy cheese leftover from the previous night’s feast. I whisked together two eggs and poured them into the nonstick omelet pan. My rubber spatula happened to be close at hand and I dragged it through the quickly cooking pool of egg like Julia had. In the time in took me to open the fridge to grab the cheese (ok, another reason I am not a chef – I rarely have the patience to create my mis en place) my omelet had already started to set. I threw some gorgonzola crumbles into the middle of my egg pool and then folded it in half with ease. I must admit, it wasn’t hard. And the appearance of an almost cooked omelet in my cute green pan was alluring. I threw a pinch of sal de herbe de provence onto the omelet and twisted my pepper mill once around. I tilted my pan a bit to cook the edges of the omelet along the curve of the metal. But what it really needed was to be flipped.

 

But I don’t know how to flip an omelet, I told myself.

 

The eggs were browning, I noticed. They would become crusty and rubbery if I delayed. I did not tell myself again that I didn’t know how to flip an omelet.

 

I had no formal training. But what I had was confidence. Confidence that I knew what needed to be done. Confidence that my wrist would know just the force and angle to use to complete that 180 degree turn.

 

Or not. Maybe I just thought that I had nothing to lose (except a few minutes and a couple of eggs) and everything to gain. And what the hell, everyone starts somewhere and sometime and I might as well start then and there.

 

Or not. I think I didn’t think. I just picked up my pan, released the eggs with a shake of my wrist and then flicked. The omelet did a half flip and landed with a perfect ten.

 

And now I am a cook who flips omelets