just add water

We began another meal cycle last weekend, this time with a whole duck. Mike and I have become big fans of duck as much for its flavor as for its versatility, so this was a series of dinners we were particularly looking forward to. We took a quick trip to The Brooklyn Kitchen on Saturday to get some new tools, returning home with a shiny new boning knife and poultry shears which Mike was eager to put to use.

parts

He took the duck apart, setting the backbone, wings and organs aside for me, and reserving the extra skin and fatty bits to render down later. I placed the duck trimmings into a stockpot with some vegetable trimmings, salt and water and let them perk away to make a stock, then I stepped aside and let Mike get to work on confit.

Here’s what happened next, in his words:

After breaking the duck apart into its components, I sliced the breasts away from the bone and set the legs aside for confit. We had two additional legs that we had ordered separately, which I used as well.

the cure

I had previously made a batch of cure mix, based on a recipe by Dan Barber of New York’s Blue Hill restaurants. I sliced a shallot and scattered it on the bottom of a small casserole. I then sprinkled generous portions of the cure mix over the duck legs and rubbed it in. The casserole then went into the fridge for 24 hours. (I have cured legs for as long as 72 hours, but it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference how long you cure them, once you pass the 24-hour mark.)

nestled

The next day, I pulled the casserole from the fridge, brushed the cure mix and shallot off the duck legs, and placed the legs into a larger casserole. Meanwhile, I gently warmed about three to four cups of duck fat on the stove, so that it would melt. I poured that over the legs and put the casserole in the oven on 200. I let them bake for two hours, turned off the heat, and left them in until the casserole was cool to the touch. The legs went into a plastic container, with the fat poured over them. I lidded up the container and placed it in the fridge. You could, if you can spare the casserole, simply store them in the fridge that way, as long as you cover them with plastic wrap.

When you’re ready to use the legs, be sure to pull the confit container out of the chill at least one hour before you need them. This helps the fat soften up enough that you can pull the legs out without all the meat shredding off the bone and remaining in the fat. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.

confit

We didn’t eat any of our duck that first night, but we had the makings of three duck dinners at the ready, and on Sunday, I tackled the first in the series, a duck and sausage gumbo. My first taste of duck and sausage gumbo came years ago, at the now-defunct LeBleau’s Cajun Kitchen outside Destin, Florida. I was smitten and began work on my own version soon after I returned home, and while it may not be the most traditional gumbo recipe out there, it’s a crowd-pleaser.

Dinner:  November 11, 2007

Duck and Sausage Gumbo

I usually make a big batch of gumbo for friends shortly after Thanksgiving, using the carcass of the bird to make stock and adding some of the leftover turkey meat to the gumbo. If you’re looking for a new way to use up some of your post-turkey day leftovers, this is a good option – just use turkey stock and meat in place of the duck in the recipe below.

For the roux:
1 cup fat (you can use vegetable oil or whatever sort of fat you wish; I used duck fat for this)
1 cup flour

For the gumbo:
8-10 cups stock (I used duck stock, but you can substitute chicken)
1 bay leaf
Several sprigs fresh thyme
1 lb. spicy smoked sausage (andouille or something similar), sliced
2 cups cooked shredded duck meat
2 cups diced onion
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced bell pepper (green is traditional but I’m not a fan, so I use red)
Salt
Cayenne pepper to taste

For serving:
Steamed white rice
Sliced scallions
Crusty bread
Your favorite vinegar-based hot pepper sauce

Melt fat or heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the flour to the oil and begin whisking until incorporated. Stir or whisk often, keeping a close eye on the color of the roux; you want a deep, toasty aroma and caramel-to-brown color, but be careful, as the mixture can burn very easily. This amount of roux cooked over medium heat usually takes between 30-45 minutes start to finish.

roux

While the roux cooks, add the stock, bay leaf, thyme and meats to a large stock pot and bring to a simmer.

Once the roux is ready, add the diced onion, celery and bell pepper carefully to the skillet, stirring to coat the vegetables with the roux. Cook for another minute or two, then ladle in a cup or two of the hot stock, stirring well. Carefully pour the vegetable/roux mixture from the skillet into the stock pot. Season with salt and cayenne, stir, cover and simmer until the liquid thickens, adjusting seasoning as necessary. Cook for 30 minutes (or longer over very low heat). Remove the thyme stems and bay leaf, and ladle into bowls. Add a spoonful of white rice and garnish with scallions. Pass hot sauce and bread at the table.

Dinner:  November 13, 2007

Mike took the reins for our next duck dinner – smoked duck breasts with sautéed kale and farro with cranberries and a bit of Rogue River Creamery Smoky Blue cheese crumbled in. He says:

The smoked duck breast was easy. Following the instructions that came with our Cameron smoker, I set the smoker on the stove top and piled about 1-1/2 tablespoons of cherry wood chips in the center. I placed the drip pan on top, lined with a sheet of foil. The rack went atop the drip pan. I scored the skin of the breasts and generously salted and peppered them. I placed them on the rack and turned the heat to just under medium. They smoked for 20 minutes. When I removed them from the smoker, I placed them into a hot iron skillet with a bit of olive oil, to sear the skin of the breasts.

Mike felt that they were a little more done than we usually like, but thanks to the smoker they still were tender and juicy, with an irresistible hint of cherry smoke present in the meat, skin and fat.

We’re having the third meal of this duck cycle tonight: a couple of confit legs, crisped up in our cast iron skillet, potatoes fried in duck fat, frisee salad and a nice bottle of red. It’s one of our favorite easy weeknight dinners – sort of a grown-up version of convenience food, but elegant and delicious.

(I’m taking brief but much needed hiatus and plan to return sometime next week. Be well!)

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