What to do with Four Ducks

I developed a taste for duck confit as a culinary student, when I learned how to pack it in salt, weight it with bricks and let it cure overnight.  Authentic confit requires that the salted duck be poached in duck fat, which is ridiculously expensive, so I bought whole ducks in order to render the fat for poaching.  This requires a quantity of duck, and anyway, it is hardly worthwhile to make duck confit with just one duck.  

Here's a way to add duck, including confit, to your diet.  It's a nice change from chicken, and after the initial time investment, creates multiple easy peasy meals (the confit in particular).  You'll need freezer space as well as a cool, dark place to store the confit.   I do not have a root cellar or well house, so I use the refrigerator.  At the end of this process you will have eight entree-size portions of confit, eight duck breasts for searing, enough jerked duck to make a couple of meals, duck stock, leftover fat for frying potatoes and/or the next batch of confit, duck liver and duck cracklings.

Step 1:  Buy 4 ducks.  I go to the International District, where I find the same brand of duck available at high-end grocery stores, but at a much better price.

Step 2:  Fabricate the ducks, or have a butcher do it.  This means trim the excess fat and cut each duck into 5 pieces:  Two leg/thigh pieces, two breasts, and the rest.  If you buy fresh duck you might want to have this done for you by the butcher.  I usually find more excess fat to remove after the duck has been cut up.

Step 3:  Render the fat by putting the trimmed skin in a cold skillet and gently cooking it, turning occasionally, until the skin is light golden.  Strain the fat and set it aside for now at room temperature; use the skin as salad/soup garnishes or dog treats.

Step 4:  While the fat is rendering, wrap the breasts individually and freeze them.  Use them for seared duck breasts, and serve with an acidic sauce (to counter the richness of the duck).  Freeze the liver for duck pate, or make pet food from it.

Step 6:  Make duck stock, by taking the leftover, fat-removed parts (including the neck and gizard but not the liver).  It can be made just like chicken stock.  Strain the stock; remove the bits of duck meat from the bones; store both in the freezer for use in soups and stews.  I like to make duck and sausage gumbo.  There are also some good ideas for using duck bits and stock at www.chefpaul.com (search "duck").  

Step 7 (ta da):  Make the confit.  I am so over submerging the duck in salt and weighting it with bricks. It's messy, uses a lot of salt, and results in overly salty, overly cured product.  There are directions for diy confit online, but I like the ones in Frank Stitt's Southern Table and Judy Roger's Zuni Cafe.  Both of them salt the duck generously and allow it to sit overnight in the refrigerator, suspended above the bottom of the holding vessel so the water drains.  Otherwise you are brining your duck, not making confit.  I like to add aromatics to the salt, such as thyme or juniper.  When the duck has done its thing in the salt, wipe it off, submerge it in the duck fat (you may need to top off with cooking oil), and poach it in a 225-degree oven for about 3 hours (the time will depend on your oven and how much duck you are cooking, so you may need to test for done-ness).   Store the cooked duck confit in its fat.  My favorite way to serve it is to wipe away as much fat as I can from the pieces and place them a cast iron skillet along with some small potatoes vegetables.  Toss until the potatoes and vegetables are lightly coated in fat and put the whole shebang in a 350-degree oven until potatoes and vegetables are cooked and the duck skin is crispy.


Bonus:  When the confit is all eaten, carefully pour off the fat (and save it in the freezer for next time).  At the bottom you will find amazing duck gelee.  Use it for cooking, as you would stock, although it may need to be diluted   For example, it is fabulous as the liquid in chicken gumbo. 

Step 8:  Save leftover fat in the freezer.  It can be reheated and reused.