How to make homemade duck confit with ghee

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Take your pantry to the next level. Supplement the everyday staples of dried pasta, beans and canned tomatoes, to name just three, with delicious foods you prepare and store.

For example, make your own broths and broths and freeze portions for use in a variety of stews and soups. Sure, it’s handy to have chicken broth in a Tetra Pak, but it’s even tastier to have some in the bottom of the freezer you’ve made from scratch.

Today’s recipes are two must-haves from the next-level pantry in my kitchen: roasted duck legs in their own fat (called “confit” in French, which means “preserved”) and clarified butter, of which a particular derivative is called “ghee.”

Duck confit is particularly delicious in winter. Added to a stew (or, indeed, to the big pot of pork and beans in cold weather called cassoulet), its flavors are close to the animal: a formidable fat and gloss for the lips; skin as crispy as kettle fries; and deeply fragrant meat.

If the sun is out, enjoy it shredded and scattered around some lightly clad hearty greens, a French bistro classic. Well wrapped, duck confit keeps well in the freezer for several months.

Ghee is clarified butter that has spent a bit more time on the stove than French clarified butter. Heating the precipitated milk solids until they begin to taste like Sugar Baby candy makes the ghee itself nutty and deeper in flavor.

It still works like clarified butter, of course. That is, its smoke point is very high (up to about 400 degrees) compared to ordinary butter, and it is used with profit for sautéing fish or vegetables on high heat; as a dip (called “pulled butter”) for shrimp, crab or lobster; as a basis for a hollandaise; or as the perfect drizzle for the popcorn.

Duck confit

Duck legs, just roasted, at rest. (Bill St. John, Denver Post Special)

Adapted from cooking.nytimes.com, washingtonpost.com and “Gourmet Today” (2009). Fact 6.

Ingredients

  • 6 duck thighs and thighs, rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher mound or sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bay leaf, crumbled into pieces
  • 10-12 sprigs of dried or fresh thyme

directions

Find a non-responsive tray that will accommodate all of the duck legs in a single layer. Combine salt, pepper and bay leaves and sprinkle half of the mixture on the platter. Place the duck legs, fat side down, on the baking sheet, allowing them to scoop up the seasonings on that side. Turn all thighs, skin side up, and sprinkle with the remaining half of the seasonings. Arrange the thyme sprigs evenly over the thighs, pushing them over the meat.

Cover the tray comfortably with 2-3 layers of plastic wrap, then a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil wrapped around the edges of the tray to keep everything tight. Place the tray, foil side down, in the refrigerator. After 12 hours (or so), invert the test and store it in the refrigerator for another 12 hours. (The legs can season this way for up to 72 hours in total.)

When the duck confit, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Shake the thighs of any sticky seasonings (especially the thyme sprigs) and place each thigh, fat side down, in a large ovenproof skillet, snugging all the thighs together. Heat over medium-high heat until their fat begins to melt, 15-20 minutes. When about 1/4 inch of fat covers the bottom of the pan, flip the duck legs (you may need to scrape under them with a metal spatula to loosen them) and rearrange them all, again comfortably, skin side up.

Cover the pan with heavy foil and place it in the oven. Roast the thighs for 1 hour, turning the pan, then roast for 1 more hour, 2 hours in total. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 45 minutes to 1 hour until the thighs are all a deep golden brown. Remove the thighs from the pan and let drain on a brown paper bag or clean cardboard. (Drain and reserve the duck fat for frying, frying, or other uses such as seasoning roasted and salted potatoes.)

Thighs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or, if frozen, up to 5 to 6 months. To serve them, however, crisp them (from room temperature) in one of two ways: 1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the number of legs to serve, skin side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Roast for 20 minutes until the fat shines on the crispy skin. 2. Cook the thighs to serve in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, covered, starting skin side down for 10 minutes, then skin side up for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.

Ghee

A jar of homemade ghee (extra-cooked clarified butter). (Bill St. John, Denver Post Special)

Ingredient

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) high quality unsalted butter

directions

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and continue cooking until a layer of milk protein begins to float upward as a white foam and fall to the bottom as a sediment. White. Bring to a boil; the milk protein on top will froth and froth. (You can go through them if you want, although in the long run you don’t have to.)

Lower the heat and continue cooking. The top foam will decompose and fall off (unless skimmed off). As the water evaporates from the butter, the boiling will subside and then stop. Being careful not to burn, heat again until the milk proteins at the bottom of the saucepan turn golden brown. The whole process will take 1 hour or a little more.

Filter through cheesecloth or coffee filter into a heat-resistant container. (Caramelized and golden milk solids can be saved to garnish ice cream.) Cool and refrigerate. Ghee will keep for up to 6 months in the refrigerator.

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