One of the wonderful things that we discovered after we’d moved to Belgium is duck confit. In French, it’s called cuisses de canard confit. Cuisses de canard means duck thighs. Confit is a word that doesn’t translate well into English. Prepared? Pickled? Preserved? Not exactly the same thing, but in that family of ideas.
Here’s how they’re made: duck thighs are packed in a mixture of salt and herbs for a day or so to draw out the moisture, and then they’re cooked gently in goose fat (or duck fat) for a few hours. This produces a meat that has a very special texture and a wonderful flavor. Cooled and packed in the goose or duck fat, they keep about six months. Making them, though, is a complicated process, so we just buy them.
Finding them at the supermarket, though, is not without its problems. The first time I went looking for them in my supermarket, I went to the aisle I thought was the appropriate one, and found a (very nice looking) young man stocking the shelves.
In my very best French, I asked him if he had ‘cuisses de canard’, duck thighs. You can see what’s coming, can’t you? No, actually, it was worse than that. In French, the word canard means ‘duck’. It’s pronounced KAH-nahr. Being a native English speaker, I tend to be a little sloppy with my vowels. What I actually asked him was if he had cuisses de KUH-nahr. Not really hard to understand, given my (ahem) slight accent.
The problem is that there’s another word that’s close to that one–connard. Pronounced KOH-nahr. It’s a word that Sister Mary Francis didn’t teach us in French I. Or even French IV. It’s extremely rude.
So when I asked this young man if he had cuisses de KUH-nahr, he looked down at his own thighs and said, “I hope not, Madame.” Oh, man. What could I do? I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Confit, Monsieur. Confit.” At which point he laughed and showed me where they were. Since then I’ve been veryvery careful with my vowels when discussing cuisses de canard confit. I’d advise you to do the same thing.
Normally I find cuisses de canard in cans or glass jars. However, the ones I bought most recently came vacuum packed in plastic. To prepare them, you put them in a pan in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes. The idea is just to melt all the goose fat around them so that you can get the gorgeous meat.
When they’ve cooled, you still have to remove the skin and the gristle and the bones. You’re left with shreds of duck meat that is deeply flavorful, with a texture sort of like prosciutto. It can be used in many ways. One of my favorite is in a salad of greens with a blue cheese vinaigrette. This is a really nice dish for this time of the year–the meat is hearty and the salad is light.
2-3 cuisses de canard
approx 3 Tablespoons mild vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mild mustard
3-6 Tablespoons Olive oil
approx 50 g / 2 oz blue cheese
Lettuce–your favorite mixture
- Pre-heat the oven to 160 C / 350 F
- Free the duck thighs from their packaging (can, jar, plastic). Put them in an oven-safe pan in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the fat that they’re packed in is melted.
- Remove the pan from the oven and take the duck thighs out of the fat. Drain on paper towels, and leave till cool enough to handle.
- Put the vinegar in a large salad bowl. Add the mustard. I use Dijon mustard for this. It really doesn’t matter too much, because the mustard is mostly only there to make the oil and vinegar emulsify. Whisk the mustard and the vinegar together till combined well.
- Add olive oil slowly, whisking constantly to form an emulsion. You want this to be a runny vinaigrette, so you’ll use about the same amount of oil as you had vinegar, maybe a little more.
- Crumble the blue cheese into the vinaigrette, and let sit while you wait for the duck to cool.
- When the duck is cooled, remove the fatty skin and bones and gristle from the meat. Shred it into pieces as large or small as you want and set aside.
- Wash and dry the lettuce, tear it into the salad bowl. Toss gently until the dressing is thoroughly mixed with the greens.
- Put on your prettiest plates and top with the duck confit.
- Practice your French pronunciation: KAH-nahr. KAH-nahr. OK, now you can eat.
Serves 4 if they like it and 10 if they don’t.
- Traditionally, after the duck thighs are removed from the fat, they’re fried (skin side down) to make a crispy skin and served like that. That’s a wonderful way to eat this, but for me it’s a little too fatty. I like to take the skin off and just eat the meat.
- After you’ve used the meat, the fat that it’s packed in is wonderful for cooking. Traditionally, it’s the fat that’s used to cook potatoes or to fry anything that needs flavor added. It keeps for a long time in the fridge.
- If you can’t find cuisses de canard confit in your area, here’s a recipe for making them at home. Here’s a video from Gourmet Test Kitchens that shows it too. I encourage you to look for them, though. It can be fun. Just be sure to specify that you want them confit. And watch your vowels…