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If Confit -- or Any Other Ingredient -- is Your Conundrum Peterson's Primer Has the Solution
"Cooking" by James Peterson (Ten Speed, $45).
Year after year, one of the questions food editors report getting asked most is, "What is duck confit?"
Before you submit your query, know that no one need to have looked any further than inside the book "Cooking" by James Peterson for everything they ever wanted to know about confit — or about 1,000 other things. While lots of cookbooks claim to be comprehensive, this one is my favorite for the one that really is.
Peterson, a longtime cooking teacher and award-winning cookbook author who began his career as a young restaurant chef in Paris, has put his entire learn-to-cook master class in a cookbook. There are more than 600 recipes, thousands of tips and 1,500 photographs (which the author took himself). Many of the extremely helpful photos illustrate recipes and cooking techniques step by step.
The confit is a great example. It's cooking duck thighs in its own fat, which Peterson describes as, "not nearly as scary as it sounds because they end up absorbing very little fat (and) is the most time-consuming approach, but it may also be the way to get the most flavor out of the thighs (compared at 3 hours — or possibly longer if you preferably marinate overnight — to braising for 1 to 2 hours or slow-roasting for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours)."
His series of nine photographs shows everything from trimming the excess fat off the duck thighs if you are using mullards, to chopping garlic, thyme and bay and making a paste, to pureeing the fat, to the cooking. Then, when you get to many recipes, like the delicious and simple, mushroom and duck confit salad, more photos show that process.
If the entire 500-plus-page book is devoured, get ready to have become expert on everything from soups, salads, shellfish, fish, poultry, meat, vegetables, sauces, pasta, breads and every imaginable type of dessert.
Recipes are challenging to test what you have learned but straightforward and well explained. Your practice is undoubtedly something your family or dinner guests will appreciate, as in roasted rack of veal, roast saddle of veal, roast veal round, veal pot roast, creamy veal stew, Osso Buco, veal piccata and veal chops.
And expect nothing less than honesty from the talented and witty Peterson along the way, as in this line from his salad chapter: "I recommend assembling your own greens, instead of relying on the now-ubiquitous mesclun mixes that often taste like a collection of weeds."
MUSHROOM AND DUCK SALAD
1 bunch arugula, large stems removed
1 small head radicchio, leaves pulled apart and large leaves torn in half
1 Belgian endive, stem end trimmed and leaves cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide slices
1 pound assorted mushrooms
2 (preferably confit, although braised or slow-roasted is fine, too) Pekin duck thighs or 1 mullard duck thigh
3 tablespoons duck fat
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Yields 4 first-course or light main-course servings.
Wash and dry the salad greens and put them in a salad bowl large enough to leave plenty of room for tossing.
Wash and dry the mushrooms.
Pull off and discard the skin from the confit or duck. Pull away the meat from the bones in shreds and reserve.
In a large skillet, heat the duck fat over high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté for about 7 minutes, or until fragrant and brown. Season with salt and pepper, scatter the duck over the mushrooms and carefully pour in the vinegar and oil. Carefully stir or toss over high heat for about 30 seconds and then pour the contents of the skillet over the salad greens. Toss immediately and serve.
12 Pekin duck thighs or 6 mullard duck thighs
Salt (see recipe instructions)
Pepper (see recipe instructions)
5 cloves garlic, minced and then crushed with the flat side of the knife
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped, or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves, chopped
2 quarts duck fat trimmings or rendered duck fat
Yields 12 Pekin duck thighs or 6 mullard duck thighs.
Trim off excess fat if you're using mullard thighs. Season Pekin or mullard thighs liberally with salt and pepper.
Chop garlic, thyme and bay leaves into a paste on a cutting board and rub the mixture on the thighs, especially on the flesh side. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate the thighs overnight. (If you are in a rush, you can skip the overnight marinating.)
If you are using fat trimmings, puree them in a food processor for about 1 minute, and then put them in a heavy pot with high sides that's large enough to hold the thighs and the fat. Put the duck fat over medium heat on the stovetop for about 10 minutes or until it starts to render, and then, using a utensil, nestle the duck thighs, skin side down, in the pot. If you are using already rendered fat, put the fat in the pot and add the thighs. If the fat doesn't completely cover the thighs, don't worry. They will shrink and render fat of their own.
Simmer the duck, uncovered, over low to medium heat — a bubble should rise in the pot every second or so — for 3 hours, or until the liquid fat is clear and the thighs are easily penetrated with a knife.
If you want to keep the confit for more than a few days, transfer it while it is still hot to sterile jars and ladle over the hot duck fat, making sure that no meat is sticking up above the fat. Seal the jars and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Note: "Duck fat and confit can be used in small amounts to flavor vegetables, such as green beans, dried beans, cabbage, mushrooms or spinach. Boil green beans, drain, and then reheat in a tablespoon or two of duck fat with some shredded confit. You can wilt spinach or saute mushrooms in duck fat and add a little confit." writes Peterson. Our gourmet cook relative even once added duck fat, instead of chicken fat, to the delicious matzo ball soup in her religious holiday meal, in which she served the duck confit as one of the main courses.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook." She also writes the Creators News Service "After-Work Gourmet" column. To find out more about Lisa Messinger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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