02 April 2010

Duck Confit with Lemon & Thyme Potatoes

I am a terrible procrastinator. If you have spent time with me then you probably already knew that, but you could also guess from the infrequency of updates to BPH that I don't always rush to do what I should. Actually, considering how long it takes me to do important things like finish grad school applications or schedule dentist appointments, I'd say I'm a terrific procrastinator. I am so good at putting things off that I can even rationalize waking up 45 minutes after my alarm starts buzzing while still half asleep. But I like making lists and checking off To-Dos, so my behavior can be confusing. If productivity is satisfying for me, why wait to do tomorrow what I can accomplish today?

I don't really have an answer. The best I can say is that some projects take longer than others or I just need a little push every now and then. For instance, today I woke up thinking I'd write my personal statement and this recipe. Suddenly it was 2 o'clock in the afternoon and the only productive thing I'd done was chat with a friend from England. Then, as if I wasn't already distracted enough, I hopped in the car to search for some ice cream, swearing that I would come back immediately and get things done. Of course, I had to stop and and read the food magazines, if only to remind me what I was supposed to be doing instead. I know what you're thinking but really, finding the April edition of Saveur was helpful. 

The editors seemed to have tapped directly into my mind for articles and got me thinking about the next recipes I want to tackle. The cover advertises paella (was just thinking about making that this weekend!), fried chicken (one of my all time favorite foods!), gin (drink of choice!), and cardamom (hello, recent rediscovery!). Not to mention that the table of contents photo is a big bowl of spicy Bucatini all'Amatriciana (just ate it yesterday for lunch!). What I'm saying is that maybe some higher delicious food power is at work here because it managed to remind me that I can't write about those foods until I finish what I started with this duck.

Duck confit requires a bit of procrastination, or as I sometimes like to call it, patience. In this centuries-old tradition, an entire season can pass between the first days of salt curing to the final days of storage. Before the convenience of refrigeration the French would preserve duck in salt then poach the meat in its own fat. After slow cooking on low heat, they would store the meat submerged in the fat to last through the winter.

Originally, duck or goose fat was used to cook (as opposed to olive oil) because of its abundance in the southwestern region of France.  I'll be the first to admit that this confit is not 100% authentic because of the olive oil substitute, but unless you have a lot of leftover duck fat from regular go-to meals it is a much less expensive alternative. Even so, the flavors of salt and thyme are deep; the meat is velvety and succulent. The saltiness can be adjusted to taste by shortening the curing process or storing the duck longer to develop more complex flavors. The entire dish is subject to personal preferences and limitations.

Of all the things I manage to distract myself from, figuring out "the future" is probably the most worrisome. Some people call it a quarter-life crisis while others just call me lost. I would probably resent those labels if I didn't already think them myself. For many people my age, this time of transition is excruciating, especially in this economy and amidst the constant flow of new technology. It seems like once I've reached an understanding of what's happening now the tomorrow is already emerging and I have to start over again.

Luckily, I'm realizing that this may just be a process that falls in the "projects that take more time" category. That attitude may lead down a dark path to nowhere or it will help to define a me that now seems completely intangible. Even though uncertainty like that often makes me feel like I am running in a cage wheel, I'd rather procrastinate be patient and know that my life has been deliberate rather than rushed. I want a future that is rich and tasty like my duck. And since everything that needs to be done always is, like this recipe, I'm not too concerned about where I'm headed. Now I just have to bring myself to work on that personal statement. Maybe I'll start right after I get another cup of coffee.     

Duck Confit
Adapted from Michael Ruhlman
Yields 4 to 6 servings

4 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
3 large dry bay leaves, crumbled
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
4 to 6 whole duck legs
4-5 cups olive oil (or duck fat); enough to cover duck legs before cooking

With a mortar and pestle grind together (or pulse in food processor) salt, fresh thyme, dry bay leaves, and herbes de Provence. Mix in whole peppercorns. Set aside.

Arrange duck skin side down in a dish or plastic container. Evenly sprinkle and rub salt mixture over duck pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 4 days depending on taste (a longer salt cure will result in a saltier dish).

After 2 to 4 days remove duck from refrigerator. Preheat oven to 225°F. Rinse duck under cool water to remove salt and seasonings, then pat dry. Place duck legs snugly in a deep baking dish or dutch oven, skin-side up. Pour olive oil into dish, completely covering duck, and transfer to oven. Cook confit for 2 1/2-3 hours - oil should only slightly simmer - or until duck is tender and pulls away from bone. 

Remove confit from oven and cool completely. Gently transfer duck legs to dish or container with lid. Cover duck with cooking oil until completely submerged. Close container and refrigerate overnight or up to one month.

When ready to serve, remove duck legs from oil. Place skin-side down on hot skillet and let skin crisp on medium heat until golden brown. Turn duck over to brown bottom and to warm meat through, about 5 to 7 minutes. Serve crisped duck confit immediately. 

Sauteed Potatoes with Lemon & Thyme
Yields 4 to 6 servings

2-3 pounds small white or Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil (or confit fat)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon 
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peel potatoes and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Pat dry and slice into 1/2 inch rounds.

In a medium sized pan heat olive oil, garlic, 1 tablespoon thyme, lemon juice, and half of the lemon zest until fragrant. Add potatoes and sauté on medium-high heat by shaking pan and occasionally turning slices until golden on all sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle remaining thyme, lemon zest, and salt over potatoes. Reduce heat to low and cover pan with lid. Let potatoes cook until fork tender, turning slices to avoid burning, about 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately or keep warm in oven.    


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