28 March 2011

Food Lab 8: Duck

There was a man. A man who loved to cook. This man had a dream. His dream involved poultry. And animal fat. For many long years he dreamed. And cooked. And stored animal fat. And sought fellow travelers, people who could understand, nay, share in his dream.

One cold, slightly snowy March Sunday, it all came together.

The man.

The plan.

The team.

The animal fat.

And Food Lab: Duck was born.

Sadly, the IAs were unable to join us. but Mad Kitchen Scientist and The Executive Committee had right-minded friends in for the weekend, so we still had a full compliment of 6.

Our mission? Duck confit.

Confit as a technique arose as a way of preserving duck. According to many recipes, a batch of duck confit well covered with fat and sealed in a glass jar or stoneware crock can keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Ours didn't make it quite that long.

Of course, we had to start with drinks. Since blood oranges are in season, we went with a variety of blood orange cocktails: a blood orange margarita, a blood orange Negroni and a blood orange French 75. All quite tasty.

We had 3 full ducks, plus an additional 6 legs. We had planned to cook the legs and wings entirely in duck fat, but Chef Spouse just grabbed the bag of fat cubes that was on top. Not duck fat - bacon fat. Which turned out just fine.

So while Chef Spouse mixed the cocktails, we dumped the bacon fat and the big ass bag of duck fat into a large pot and started it warming while the Mad Kitchen Scientist butchered the three whole ducks, reserving the livers and hearts.

Confit is surprisingly simple to execute: you salt down (and season if you like) your duck parts while your vat o' animal fat comes up to temperature (275). Then you rinse and dry your duck parts, submerge them in the fat, and cook for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Then you remove the parts from the fat, remove the cooked meat from the bones, and enjoy the tasty deliciousness.

The other cool thing is that at the end of the process, you actually have MORE fat than you started with, because some renders out of the legs while you're poaching them in fat, thus encouraging you to make even MORE confit. Not that this crowd will need much convincing.

Quick note: this is a LOT of animal fat. You will need to be able to wipe up spills. Two words for you: shop towels. Much more effective than paper towels.

While our duck legs were taking their warm fat bath, we had other duck parts to play with.

Like those reserved livers and hearts, aka pate. We started by sauteing the livers and hearts in duck fat with minced shallots and garlic. We also reconstituted some "Chinese black fungus" - yes, that's really what it was called. No, I can't be more specific. In round 1, we stuck with the basic: bread crumbs, salt and some chiffonade fresh sage leaves from plants I'd trimmed back that morning. We blitzed it up in the food processor and popped it into a crock in the fridge.

But you know us: we can never leave well enough alone. So with the second half of sauteed innards, we added tarragon, blood orange zest, and some dates. Verdict? The second batch, a little more complex and sweeter, was better.

Chef Spouse also wanted to perfect his method for searing duck breasts. If not done properly, the fat can get gummy or rubbery. He tried high heat the whole time, starting low and going high, starting high and going low, and the winner: high heat the whole time, but flipping the duck breast onto an extra slab of duck fat so there was always fat between the meat and the pan. Of course, it did manage to smoke up three rooms and set off the smoke detector. But it was totes worth it.

The other thing to remember is that the USDA recommends cooking duck to 160 degrees. Do that, and you'll end up with duck-flavored shoe leather. Take the duck off the heat when it hits 120 degrees, let it rest to about 130-135, and eat it. Live dangerously.

But we still had more parts, although at this point things start getting a little fuzzy for me. Hey, we'd had a fair amount of wine. We went on to tea-smoke some curried duck legs. And roast the 3 carcasses plus 2 more Chef Spouse and I brought along to make duck stock. And we deep fry cracklins on the stove top in more duck fat: black pepper versus white pepper versus five spice powder, which was the best of the three.

As the out of towners observed: we were all on the quacklins diet.

Thank goodness I had my annual cholesterol screening done back in January. By next January, I might be back to a reasonable level.

No comments: