Guest Author: Woody (with technical help from Liz)
We’ve had good success cooking beef, chicken, and fish sous vide, but we finally decided to tackle duck confit. The basic idea behind a confit is that duck legs are immersed in duck fat and cooked in a low oven until all of the connective tissue (collagen) is rendered to gelatin. Then the legs are pulled out of the fat and fried in a pan until the skin is crispy. This is usually one of those foods that one doesn’t make at home. It requires a huge amount of duck fat, not a problem for a restaurant that goes through dozens of ducks/night, but far more than would make sense for the home cook to keep around. While it’s possible to purchase this much fat, we’ve been dying to try making duck confit using a sous vide method. The benefit here is getting the duck cooked correctly (maximum rendering of collagen without making the protein excessively dry), while using far less fat than the conventional method because the legs are sealed in a vacuum bag with little volume to fill.
Following loosely on the recipe and timing provided in Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure...
Cure 4 duck legs overnight in kosher salt, seasoned with several cloves of crushed garlic, 40 black peppercorns, 4 bay leaves, 10 thyme sprigs. The cure is really important for developing flavor, but helps with food safety as well, because the legs require a long time in the bath.
Wash off the salt. Dry and place in a vacuum bag. Add 4oz. duck fat. Make a bouquet garni with a few of the bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns and thyme, rinsed and patted dry from the salt cure.
Bouquet garni at bottom right, looking like a giant spliff…not that I would know what that looks like.
Creative method offered by Keller. The problem with simply adding herbs and spices to the bag during sous vide cooking is that they inevitably end up in contact with only one portion of the meat or vegetable. The flavor is not always uniformly distributed beyond the portion of the food that they are touching. Keller’s fix is to make a bouquet garni using plastic wrap in place of the traditional outer leek leaves with herbs bundled inside and the ends cut off to allow fluid and flavor transfer. The herbs and spices do not contact the food directly, but can communicate their flavors via the duck fat in the bag. This method worked very well and has clear applications beyond duck confit.
Cook for 8 hours at 82.2° C or 180° in the circulating water bath. Just 8 hours until duck perfection!
Pull legs out of the vacuum bags (careful to save all the duck fat, which can be gravitationally separated from any other juices) and crisp the skin using propane torch. The torch is faster than pan frying and worked well because the legs were already warm through from the water bath. The torch also allows the browning of all the good nooks and crannies. This has become our favorite method for browning meats post-bath.
We ate the confit alongside a potato gratin, and a watercress salad with a sherry vinaigrette, topped with a poached egg.
It was incredibly tasty, and we still have two confited legs stored/preserved in a container of cooled duck fat in the fridge.
We’re planning to use the “leftovers” for a duck and potato pizza, or maybe some duck tacos.
Thoughts…? Ideas…? What do you think we should use the leftover duck confit for?
PS: Cleo really REALLY liked the smell of all that duck fat!