Duck Confit

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There are a lot of recipes out there for duck confit. It’s a reasonably easy thing to make, for such a rich and luxe product. The one catch is having enough duck fat on hand to make it, and the easy fix? Use rendered pork lard. Another catch is the low and slow cooking time. Not that having the oven on for hours deters me from a recipe, but using the slow cooker for anything is enjoyable for me. I get to forget about it entirely, and work on other things. In preparation for a small party with friends visiting from out of town, I took out a whole duck from the freezer. Usually recipes for duck confit focus on the legs. How could I possibly make duck confit with just two legs? I thought: why not confit the whole thing? And thus, I began.

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1. Break down the duck. You will have two legs, two breasts, two wings, a carcass and some organs. Keep the fat on the breasts.

2. Take the carcass and the wings and roast them in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. Eat the crispy (albeit a bit tough) wings with some sriracha-honey. Then take all the parts (including the bones of the wings) and put them in a pot with cold water. Make a stock. Bonus points: make a phô stock. Use that some other dreary day for a nice ramen or noodle soup.

3. You are left with two breasts, the legs and maybe some organs and any bits of fat you may have trimmed. Put these into a ziplock bag with salt and seasonings. The general rule is 1/3 of an ounce per pound of meat. I used a tablespoon and a half of kosher salt, some bay leaf, black peppercorns, and garlic. Leave in the fridge overnight.

4. The next day turn on your cooker, and melt the the oil in it. The fat has to cover the meat so you need a good amount. That’s where a pint of rendered pork fat in the fridge comes in handy. The rest will come from the duck fat rendering. The setting I used was low.

5. Put all the parts gently into your slow cooker (mind is oval shaped, and worked well here, allowing for a single layer). I prefer not to rinse or pat dry as the salt and herbs are so good in the fat. Now let the cooker do it’s business. Check on it every hour to make sure the meat is submerged in oil, and that it’s not bubbling. Keep the lid cracked. About 3 to 4 hours.

6. When it’s done–check the legs, the skin has rendered and the meat pulls away with the slightest motion–turn off the heater, remove the liner from the element if you can, and let it cool. I like to refrigerate it over night to rest.

To serve, remove the meat and heat it up in a cast iron pan so it becomes crackly and a little sticky. The breast meat was great–why wouldn’t you confit it? It was served with an asparagus and ramp timbale, and some pickled ramps. The next day heat up the fat and pour it through a sieve. Keep it in the fridge to make many other dishes delicious (crispy fried potatoes, anyone?). Any fat or organ meat is the bonus to this dish. The fat may be fried up in a pan and will make you the most stunning bar snack you have ever had. See the image below. The organs are primed to be chopped up and added to a risotto or stew.

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The Morel of the Story

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It’s a glorious May day. It’s cool and breezy. I woke clutching my blankets around my shoulders, as a cold breeze blew in the open window above my bed. With a sick child at home for the past few days, I felt a walk was in order to clear out my brain. And, let’s be honest, to look for morels. I knew it wasn’t likely I would find any today, but who cares? The walk is always welcome. The bonus is the mushrooms.

Today’s walk will probably be the last morel walk of the season. I did find some this year–ten to be exact–and I’m thankful for that! Apparently, it wasn’t the best year for them in these parts, due to the very bizarre spring weather we’ve had. It’s been hot and dry, not what morels enjoy, and frankly, not what I enjoy either. I’ve had my sprinkler on, and all of my shorts are in my dresser. It’s been feeling more like July, these days, and while I like July, it does have it’s place. In July.

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I am not a serious mushroom forager, but I’ve always been fascinated by them. There are tons of mushrooms on my property, and I’ve been slowly recording them. Just yesterday I found a few russula mariae in my wood chip pile. And I’ve recently done my very first spore print. I’m hooked.

But morels are different, so mysterious, so delicious. That’s why it’s called morel hunting. They seem rather like wood sprites or gnomes to me, almost mischievous. They like certain environments: dying elm tress, old apple orchards, limestone and shale. But sometimes they are found in places where you wouldn’t expect them at all. Seeing as how I’m less than a beginner, I will direct you to this post by Bill Bakaitis, who is a well known “mushroom guru” in these parts. (Leslie Land’s website is still a treasure to me. I am thankful it’s still there to mine for information despite her passing a few years ago.) Another good read is this article he wrote on eating morels you find in orchards, important because of the possibility of poisons leached into the soil of apple orchards, and thus the mushrooms that might grow beneath them.

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My walk today seemed the perfect location: a dying orchard on a southern facing slope near railroad tracks. Limestone outcroppings every so often. The only thing I didn’t see was a dying elm, but I’m sure there was one somewhere there. (How do you identify a dead elm? I am still figuring out live elm. There are so few around here, and I rarely see them.) As I walked through fields of tall grass and skirted the outrageous amounts of poison ivy, I thought how foraging morels was not for the faint of heart. I walked an outline around the edges of the area, not willing to enter the true thicket of prickers and poison ivy. I really hate poison ivy. Not to mention ticks. As I dipped into canopies of leafed out elderly trees, I kept on finding places that felt a little magical, lined with ground ivy and violets. I knew the morels were out there, and it was perfectly fine that they kept on hiding.

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What’s nicest about morel hunting–well, after the finding of them, that is–is that you really have to slow down and look. And when you are slowing down to look you do see a good many things. Most of which are not morels, but that’s beside the point. You see the shiny leaves of the pin oak, and the soft undersides of the silver maple, and the white wrinkly bark of the poplars. You see the soft long grass waving in the wind, the red and shiny new leaves of the poison ivy that sends out runners everywhere. The details seem to pop out everywhere, and there you are, really looking. It’s great meditation. Indeed, if I found the morels (because I know they are out there) I might not have enjoyed such a nice calm breathing practice.

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Out of the ten morels I found, I ate only five. It felt greedy to take all ten of them. I sliced them up and sautéed them in duck fat. Once I had them on toast and the other time with scrambled eggs. Both were perfect. They are so delicious, that I think doing much else with them would be overkill. But I am willing to keep on trying. If only they would comply.

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Spring Ramblings

IMG_1218 My goal here is to post once weekly, but sometimes things get away from me. As soon as I skip one week, writing the next week is even harder. It’s just a personal goal, mind you, but I do think it’s a good one so as to keep in writing shape. Some days I have several ideas for posts, and then when I sit down to write poof! it’s all gone. Does writing frustrate you like that? Sometimes I think it’s one of the hardest things in the world. I want so badly to write!! But then when I do it’s excruciatingly painful. Then I wonder: am I a writer?? Can I even call myself a writer, for goodness sakes? When all I do is want to write, instead of actually writing. Do you relate? I think you might. I went to lunch with a friend yesterday, and I confessed this worry: am I really a writer? She said I was certainly not the only writer who had that concern. I was thankful for that. And look! All that worrying and here I just wrote a whole paragraph. Huh. So, I’ll just call this one in, and tell you what I’ve been up to in the kitchen. Maybe next week I’ll really have something to say! Like: see those violets above? I spent a ten-minute idyll picking them, and suddenly I had the fantasy that I would candy them. I just used sugar and water, no egg whites–really just simple syrup–and it was time consuming and they didn’t really come out very pretty. A word to the wise? Candying flowers is not easy. IMG_1189 And this right here? Ramps herbes salées, inspiration from Joel and Dana at Well Preserved. I’m not sure you can call what I made herbes salées actually, seeing as how I just blended salt and ramps together. Regardless, it’s amazing. I’ve added it to many dishes, and it makes everything better. Add it to greek yogurt for a great dip, then thin that out with vinegar and oil to make a slaw dressing. You cannot go wrong. IMG_1208 The above is self-explanatory, but below is a slaw of romaine and cabbage with grated asparagus and carrots. I dressed it with the ramps herbes salées dressing. And that’s my new summer drink right there: seltzer with a splash of rosé, a dash of St. Germain, and a rangpur lime twist. I just can’t drink like I used to! IMG_1231 It’s been very, very hot here and abnormally dry for spring, so the garden, while thriving is moving slowly. The asparagus is very slow. But nonetheless, it’s still very exciting! Here’s to more rain! And–see you next week! IMG_1213