The last time I had this dish, it was raining lightly, there was a definite chill in the air, the skies were gray, and we were comfortably inside a home in a foreign country. The weather is similar now and we are home but my wife is no longer wondering if she might like duck. She had never liked it until she tried duck confit or le confit de canard in La Bastide D’Armagnac, a small town in the southwest of France.
Confit derives from a word that means to preserve – so, for instance, confiture or fruit preserves refer to preserving fruit using sugar. In the case of duck confit, the meat is first cured in salt, then immersed in duck fat and slow cooked at very low temperatures before storing in the clarified fat. The salt along with the liquid fat braise removes most of the water, resulting in meat concentrated in flavor, and capable of converting non-duck eaters to eaters.
Interestingly, duck fat unlike other animal fat, contains significantly lower levels of unhealthy saturated fat, and also has a high smoke-point making it ideal for frying or crisping potatoes.
Here’s a simple method to confit duck:
Clean and pat dry duck legs with the skin on. Rub legs with crushed garlic, season with salt, pepper, powdered bay leaves and thyme; cover air-tight, and refrigerate for twenty four hours. The next day, rub off excess seasoning, pat dry and arrange in a single snug layer in a high-sided enameled cast iron pan. Melt duck fat, and pour over the meat until immersed. Cook in an oven at around 200 ˚F for about three hours or until duck meat is tender and cooked. Store the duck in the clarified fat under refrigeration. When ready to cook bring fat to room temperature, remove legs, and cook in a hot oven, skin side-up until skin becomes golden brown and crisp.
In Armagnac, the flavor of the confit was only exceeded by the simplicity and pride with which it was served by the hostess, not to mention the strength of the Armagnac to bring the food and the moment together.
The process of salt curing and dehydration as a means to preserve meat has been used for many centuries across many cultures. As a matter of fact, in thinking about the duck confit I was reminded of a childhood dish from south east India called uppu kandam, that involved salt curing goat meat and sun-drying it to preserve after which when needed the meat was pan fried and served with rice. While preservation of meat by confit and salt cures is no longer a necessity, the process of preserving meat that must have been done in large batches to justify the processing time, should have brought people together. Is it then worth one’s time to get back to these traditions despite the lack of necessity?
Happy New Year!