April in Paris: Duck, Duck, Confit
If I close my eyes and let my mind wander ever so slightly, I can still taste the best duck confit I ever had. It was not, actually, in Paris but Brussels, after several long, thankless days of intense and demanding work. My 30th birthday was barreling down on me, about to attack in a matter of hours (I also had to get on a 6:30a flight home on said birthday; I did not book that nightmare myself, but that is a whole other story).
After a few beers to shake off the day, I set out in a cab with Tim and Carolyn, two of the world’s most spectacular dining companions. The meal was quite possibly the deal of the century; we felt like we should have paid twice what we did. The duck confit was — dare I say it? — orgasmic. Bronzed, crispy skin. Moist meat with a flavor even the best dry-aged tenderloin would envy. All those magical duck-fat flavors, but somehow not greasy. Just… yeah. Dessert was awesome (man, those Belgians work some magic with chocolate), more drinking (and antics) ensued. The only thing that could have made it better would have been having Mr. Kitchenette there (also not turning 30). But that duck was burned into my brain, and my taste buds.
I never had any ambitions or illusions about making duck confit at home. I know what to confit usually entails, and it is just not something I ever saw happening in The Kitchenette, for all the reasons Melissa Clark gives here. It is the stuff of restaurants and Cordon Bleu-trained chefs with vats of duck fat at their disposal (and someone to clean up after them). Plus, I had already had the Best Duck Confit EVAH. So when Melissa Clark made it all sound so damn easy… well… I had to think about it for a good long while. So long, in fact, that I sat on the recipe for more than two years.
Yeah, that was kind of dumb.
But here we are now, making really simple duck confit at home any time we want and probably later roasting some potatoes in the leftover fat or who knows what! And daydreaming about duck confit and an April in Paris. Worth the wait, I say. But don’t wait as long as I did to make this one.
Duck Confit with Braised Savoy Cabbage
duck adapted, barely, from Melissa Clark in the New York Times
Naturally, I cut down the number of duck legs, because I might be able to make duck confit at home, but what am I going to do with enough for four? I mean, other than rub duck fat all over my face and laugh manically before passing out from too many champagne cocktails. But that was it. If you want to wow your friends and make the original (which serves four), follow the link. Ms. Clark recommends as an accompaniment a salad of bitter greens, which I like. But I love the sweetness of this braised cabbage, which makes a nice duck-leg pillow.
This is one of the very few times that cutting down a recipe also seemed to have an impact on cooking time. Depending on your oven and the size of your duck legs, you will want to keep an eye on them in the last stage of cooking, lest they become dried out and overdone. You can put the legs back in the oven, but you can’t put the moisture back in the legs.
for the duck
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 small bay leaf, crumbled
2 moulard duck legs, rinsed and patted dry but not trimmed
for the cabbage
1/2 Napa cabbage (aka Chinese cabbage or savoy cabbage), cored and sliced into thin ribbons
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon water
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
For the duck: In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf pieces. Sprinkle duck generously with mixture. Place duck legs in a pan in one layer. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Gently brush excess salt mixture off the duck. Place duck legs, skin side down, in a large ovenproof skillet, with legs fitting snugly in a single layer. Heat duck legs over medium-high heat until fat starts to render. When there is about 1/4 inch of rendered fat in pan, about 15 minutes, flip duck legs, cover pan with foil, and place it in the oven.
Roast legs for 1 1/2 hours, then remove foil and continue roasting until duck is golden brown, about 30 minutes more.
For the cabbage: While the duck is crisping in the oven for the last 30 or so minutes, put a heavy skillet (with a lid) over medium-high heat and melt the butter.
Add the cabbage and cook, stirring often until it wilts. Add the water, reduce the heat to low and cook covered until cabbage is very tender, about 15 minutes.
Stir in the cream, return heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid is almost completely evaporated.
Remove duck from fat, reserving fat for other uses. Serve hot or warm over cabbage.