Monday, September 5, 2016

Mouth-Watering Duck Two Ways – Cooked Sous Vide Breasts and Leg Confit

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Mouth-Watering Duck Two Ways – Cooked Sous Vide
Breasts and Leg Confit 
Difficulty: Gourmet (but worth it!)
Sous Vide Breasts: 135 degree F, 2 hr.
Sous Vide Duck Confit: 180 degree F, 12 hours
OK…I know your first question: Why on earth is it important to cook duck sous vide?

Duck breasts are best served medium rare so make an ideal candidate for sous vide. By cooking at 135 degree F for two hours much of the fat under the skin has softened and rendered out while the proteins in it begin to set, making it easier to crisp without shrinking on the stovetop just before serving. The result is supremely tender, evenly cooked meat with super crisp skin, much better than traditional cooking.

Duck confit is made across France, and seen as a specialty of Gascony. The confit is prepared in a centuries-old process of preservation that consists of salt curing the piece of meat for 36 hours and then cooking it in its own fat. Once esteemed as a preservation method, most people no longer have to keep duck through the winter without refrigeration. Today, cooking and keeping the duck in its rendered fat results in a meltingly tender, moist and extremely flavorful meat that can be used in a variety of simple preparations. It just happens to produce the one of the most wonderful delicious things on earth.

Unlike duck breasts, duck legs are tough and need slow cooking to make them tender. Confit is the traditional French preparation to cook the legs, covered in duck fat to make them tender as well as preserve them. This requires quite a bit of duck fat.  But with sous vide techniques you can get the same result with only a tablespoon of duck fat for each leg. Duck fat can be purchased at D'Artagnan, Sur la Table, Williams-Sonoma and is often carried in grocers. If duck breasts are made in advance of duck confit, you can use the rendered fat from cooking the breasts later in confit preparation.  Store duck fat in refrigerator or freezer.  It is possible to cook duck legs at a lower temperature without fat but it would not result in the traditional confit texture for shredding the meat which requires cooking at 180 degree F. Prior to cooking, one must cure the legs with a simple mix of salt and spices.

  • 4 boneless duck breasts, 5-6 ounces each
  • 4 duck legs
  • 1 C Kosher salt
  • 1 Tb dried thyme
  • 6-8 whole black peppercorns
  • 3 crumbled and 4 whole bay leaves (divided)
  • 4 Tb duck fat
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper for duck breasts
  • Fresh thyme
  • Grated orange zest
  • Grated nutmeg
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tb canola oil
To cook the duck legs: crush the dried thyme and crumbled bay leaves in 1 C kosher salt until it is evenly mixed. Add black peppercorns. Sprinkle the salt mixture over the entirety of the duck legs. Place in the refrigerator and let cure for 24 - 36 hours.  I pack the cure as evenly as I can and vacuum seal them to facilitate the curing process. If you do not have or wish to use a vacuum sealer, just be certain to cover the legs entirely with salt mixture and refrigerate.
Duck legs and salt mixture
Densely cover the duck legs with salt mixture
Seal the curing legs in a seal-a-meal type bag
Once cured, remove the duck legs from the refrigerator and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Pat completely dry with paper towels. Place duck leg, 1 Tb duck fat/leg in a large zipper lock or vacuum seal bag. Seal using the water immersion technique or a vacuum sealer on the moist setting.  Place the bag in the 180-degree water bath and set timer for 12 hours. Cover the water bath with plastic wrap or sous vide balls to minimize evaporation and retain heat. Add water intermittently to keep duck submerged.

Duck legs sealed with duck fat
When timer goes off, remove the bag from the water bath. If serving immediately, remove the duck from the bag. Heat a nonstick skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the duck legs, skin side down, and cook until well browned, about 5 minutes.  If you are not serving immediately, leave the ducks sealed in the bag. Refrigerate up to two weeks or freeze. The goal of duck leg confit is to have meat that falls easily off the bone. In fact, one sign that the duck is done is that the meat has pulled away on its own and revealed the leg bone.

To cook duck breast sous vide: With the fatty skin-side up and using a sharp knife, cut ¼ - ½ -inch crosshatch pattern in the skin of 4 duck breasts being careful not to pierce the meat. Do this while the duck is cold, since its difficult to make precise cuts at room temperature. Season the flesh (meaty) side with salt & pepper, grated orange zest, grated nutmeg, and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar. Lay a sprig of thyme running lengthwise down the center of each breast and cover with one bay leaf. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least one hour, or up to 12 hours.
Scored fatty side of duck breast
Duck breasts with seasoning
Next, seal duck breasts in vacuum or large zipper lock bags. Place in 135-degree water bath for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. (2 hours is ideal as noted above)

Remove bags and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Heat non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat. Add 1-2 Tb canola oil. Set a metal bowl or other container near the stove. With a paper towel, blot any moisture from the duck breasts. Season both sides of each breast with a pinch of salt. Add the duck to the pan, skin-side-down. Move the duck breasts every few minutes to help them brown evenly.  As the fat is rendered, carefully tilt pan remove the excess with a metal spoon (leaving about <1/8-inch) from the frying pan: Be careful to remove pan from the flame while doing so to avoid flare-up. Transfer fat to metal bowl. Flip and cook second side about 30 seconds.
Browning the duck and collecting the rendered fat
OMG...amazing, tender, flavorful duck breast!

Duck legs confit are quite special. See posting on Salad for dinner with Duck Confit

Other ideas for duck confit:
On a salad with arugula or spinach
Cook with white beans and sausage or pork belly
It is THE KEY ingredient in cassoulet from Toulouse
Or, on their own with a side of potatoes roasted in duck fat.

Duck breasts are also wonderful on their own. Or, you could make a quick orange sauce for Canard a l’Orange or follow one of my previous posts for duck breast.

So many possibilities, it is hard to resist.  I know it may appear daunting at first but none of it is difficult but does require time and planning.  Why not try it soon? It is worth the time and effort to achieve amazing and reproducible results at home.


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