The lost art of duck confit

My husband and I are food geeks. We love cooking, eating new foods, and exploring different flavor combinations. We love learning about food in the process. Like most quests, however, some adventures turn out better than others.

After perusing numerous magazines for dinner ideas, I decided to try this recipe for rice and duck with apricots. While I’ve never made duck before, I’ve eaten it numerous times and know it’s good. Obstacle #1: my grocery store doesn’t sell duck. Fortunately, the owner of our favorite local Chinese restaurant loves duck and recommended another place where we might find some. She was right. I found my duck and set it to thaw in the fridge. In the back of my mind, though, I knew I had missed a crucial step. My recipe called for duck confit legs. My duck’s packaging said nothing about confit.

Since I was at work, I turned to the internet. Multiple sites reported the same basic technique: season the duck with salt and herbs, refrigerate for several days, take it out, cover it in melted duck fat and toss it into a 225 degree oven for several hours. This supposedly draws the fat out of the duck and improves the flavor. Adding fat to remove fat seems counterintuitive. Obstacle #2: I don’t have several days or four cups of duck fat at my disposal. Four cups of duck fat? Who the hell has four cups of duck fat sitting around? I asked my work BFF, Maureen. Her response? “We have vats of it at the restaurant. Have your husband stop by on the way home from work and we’ll give him some.”

She’s part owner of a restaurant. Of course she has duck fat.   

But my husband nixed that suggestion, anticipating a work departure after 7 p.m. after an arrival before 7 a.m. The guy put in yet another 12-hour day. I’m not going to make him run errands on his way home. I decided to forgo the confit portion of the recipe.

“You’ll be sorry,” Maureen said. “There’s a reason they call duck fat liquid gold.”

Dammit. I decided to at least attempt confit when I got home. The more I read, the more I saw that failing to get fat out of my duck would render my final dish a grease-laden, inedible mess. Yuck. I collect vintage cookbooks–surely, someone would have a secret alternative means for making confit.  

Nope. While The Joy of Cooking, the American Woman’s Cook Book,  The Farm Journal Cook Book, and The Storecast Cook Book all had plenty of recipes for roast duck, none of them had any suggestions for confit. My cookbooks date from the 1950s, when America shifted to convenience food. Casseroles displaced confit. My books, however, all assumed a knowledge of duck anatomy that I lack. Duck thighs nestle deeper into the body than chicken thighs, posing a challenge for folks like me attempting removal.  I cut them off without maiming myself.

Once again, I turned to the internet and found a time-saving solution. Which still took an hour and a half, but yielded delicious results that worked perfectly in the rice with apricots and duck recipe that started this whole adventure.

For the working woman–even those pursuing a vintage lifestyle–duck confit is a weekend endeavor. Pre WWII, women probably put fat-smothered ducks in the oven while doing laundry, scrubbing floors, or preparing bread, setting it to rise on top of that nice warm oven.  Despite the time required, this tasty dish is well worth the effort. It’s inspired me to seek out more classics in danger of fading from kitchens across America.


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