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CONQUERING DUCK CONFIT

It’s easy. You just have to face your demons and confront your fears.


When I was a child, absolutely no one would have predicted that I’d become a decent cook, much less that my kitchen would become my sanctuary. For good reason.



It started on a snowy Sunday in Indianapolis back in the 60’s. My parents wanted to sleep in late (don’t judge them; I did plenty of that when I was growing up) so they tasked me with making breakfast for my little sister. I’m guessing she was four or five at the time.


I whipped up some eggs as I’d seen my mother do countless times and got out some bread for toast. Then it happened: a panic attack. I realized I’d need to plug in the toaster and turn on the stove. Heat. I feared heat. What if I burned the house down? That would surely lead to a spanking.


So, I tried to convince Pam that dipping white wonder bread in raw egg was good – really good. This didn’t work because she was skeptical. Why wasn’t I eating it if it was so good? That was likely a pivotal day in her life; that skepticism would serve her well during the years she spent as a news reporter, and I’ll bet it had something to do with the fact that she became a world-class cook; her meals are consistently better than those served in high-end restaurants.


As for me, I’m not bad. I got over my fear of a hot stove when I lived on my own during college. Now and then I still fall short in the kitchen, but not often, and never with duck confit.


Which brings us to our story.


Dropkick the online recipes that tell you it takes days to make. It takes just a couple of hours and very little work.



Let’s first talk about the beans you will serve with your perfect duck confit. I recently discovered zolfino beans and I like them better than the traditional white or cannellini beans often served with duck. Zolfino beans are naturally creamy, like butter. There is much online debate about whether they need to be soaked, and for how long. They do, in my humble opinion. So, the night before you make duck confit, soak your zolfinos in a bowl. If your duck legs are frozen, thaw them in the fridge overnight. Then, do whatever you need to do to get a good night’s sleep: binge-watch romantic movies, read scripture, swallow a melatonin tablet. Because tomorrow night you’ll dream about how great dinner was!


The next morning, drain those beans, put them in a baggie, and refrigerate them. You don’t have to do anything else until about three hours before dinnertime. That’s when you are going to make your duck legs happy.


You’ll laugh when you see how easy this is. I learned this method from a post by Hank Shaw on Simply Recipes.


You’re going to set them on a cutting board or baking sheet. Then you’re going to grab a thick toothpick and prick their skins all over, and then generously sprinkle a high-quality sea salt, such as Maldon, all over them. Walk away. Leave the duck to bond with the sea salt for about 45 minutes while you putz around.


Now it’s go-time. You don’t need fancy baking dishes, just a cheap casserole dish will do. Crowd your duck legs in that dish and add duck fat. I buy a brand called Epic at the grocery. It’s expensive, but there is good news. The fat you use today, and the extra fat your duck legs will render, can be re-used. And re-used. And re-used. That’s right, next time you want to fry up some potatoes, grab your bonus duck fat! Anyway, don’t even bother pre-heating the oven. Slide that dish into the oven and set the heat at 300. Your goal is for the duck skin to turn a crispy brown, while inside the meat will be so moist, it’ll drip down your dinner guests’ chins. (Gross, sorry). Depending on your oven, this will take 90 minutes to two hours.


That’s enough time to make the best beans you’ll ever have. The local farmer who sold me my most recent bag of zolfino beans shared a story that in Italy, the beans are cooked overnight in a chianti style wine flask. I have no such patience or fancy flasks, so a dutch oven pan is perfect for me. These beans need very little seasoning. In fact, don’t ruin them. All they need is salt, pepper, and a glug of olive oil. Then, ignore the part in your recipe that says to cover them with water. What? Use rich vegetable or chicken stock. These will be so decadent. Bring them to a boil, then simmer them, stirring often. I find a big pot takes about an hour to 90 minutes to become perfect. If your duck is done first, that’s fine. Pull the duck out of the oven and let it sit at room temp for as long it takes to get your beans to butter status. This means you get to taste the beans often in that last half hour until they’re nice and soft. But remember, leave some for the guests!


Now it’s time to plate. I like to use white plates or bowls so the colorful beans and crispy duck will stand out like artwork. Ladle a big scoop of beans onto the plate and top with a duck leg. I sometimes will throw a few greens on the side. To do this, just add a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice, and salt to a bowl with mixed greens, toss, and place to the side of the duck. Another thought: duck and mustard like each other. Sometimes, we will blanch some brussels sprouts, pulling apart the really pretty leaves to save to garnish our duck confit plate, then simmer up the sprouts in a little mustard, and serve that alongside the duck and beans.


The beans don’t keep well as leftovers for more than a couple of days. But the duck? They say it’ll last in the fridge for weeks. It never does in my house, because when we come downstairs the following morning, and the kitchen still smells so good, we know we what we must have for lunch! Come to think of it, I might even try it with my morning coffee next time…


Postscript: We’re blessed to be able to shop at the Oregon City Farmers Market, a glorious place to go on Saturdays that features products from local farms and ranches. Campfire Farms frequently has duck legs available. Don’t pass them up if you get the chance to shop there. We’ve also been impressed with Maple Leaf Farms, where you can have a huge variety of duck offerings shipped to your front door, pretty much anywhere in the U.S. So go ahead. Conquer duck confit.



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