June 9, 2011

two words: duck fat

Funny story: when Julia came to visit me in Paris 4 years ago, she was vegetarian. Righteously vegetarian. She made do with salads of lettuce and warm goat cheese, baguettes with cheese and butter, and of course crepes of all kinds. We must have made ratatouille at home, too, since I was heavy into ratatouille at the time. Anyway, she held her ground, right until the day we met up for lunch at a little resto down the street from Sciences Po. I ordered a plate of confit de canard, and I believe she ordered another salad. Now I don't remember whether I offered her a bite, or whether her salad was disappointing, or whether she saw how much I was smiling while I was eating it and asked for a bite, but at some point -- she took a bite. Vegetarian, meet rich, sumptuous, fatty duck leg. She loved it. She loved it so much that she ate it 2 or 3 more times before she went home. Duck confit: tempter of vegetarians.

If you're not familiar with duck confit, it is a method of preserving duck, and it hails from Gasogne in the southwest of France. The process of making duck confit is fairly involved: the legs are salted and seasoned, cured, and then simmered for hours and hours while submerged in their own fat. After being cooked, they are generally vacuum packed or jarred, again submerged in their own fat. In this way, the legs can be stored for months. I've never made my own duck confit, largely because finding that much duck fat in the U.S. would be a pricey endeavor, though I've thought about it many times.

Fortunately, you can find duck confit fairly easily, even in the U.S. We used to buy it from Central Market in Houston, and I've also seen it at gourmet grocery stores all over the Bay Area. Also, Costco. The vendor at our nearby market here in Paris sells a leg for 4.50 euro each, along with enough duck fat to cover. The main difference between duck confit I've bought in the U.S. versus the duck confit I've bought in France is the amount of extra duck fat covering the duck. Duck confit in America includes a skimpy, sad amount of fat, maybe 2-3 tablespoons. In France, well, look at what you get:

duck fat! duck confit!
[photos of our duck confit extravaganza dinner taken by John]

Not the most appetizing photo, I concede, but I had to show you how much fat they give you. (!) And just you wait. Because eventually you will get this: 

All you need for a tasty dinner for 2 is a couple of duck legs, duck fat for cooking, waxy potatoes (here I use Charlotte potatoes, but in the U.S. I might look for fingerling potatoes or small Yukon Golds), and a nice bitter salad or steamed green beans. The duck is easy enough to make: add the duck and a good amount of its fat to a skillet, heat through over low-medium, until the duck is cooked through and the exterior skin is fully crisped. 25 minutes, tops. I can't even describe how good duck tastes when prepared this way.

As for the potatoes, Mark generally takes charge, as he is the only one patient enough to cook them properly. His version of pommes de terres sarladaises is spot on. The potatoes are perfumed throughout with duck fat, the crusts are beautifully golden and crisp, and the interiors remain soft and sweet. He finishes them with a generous amount of salt, chopped parsley, and garlic. They are incredible. His secret: pre-boiling the whole potatoes, then slicing them into thick rounds before frying them in hot duck fat. That's it.

Note: In Paris, the best place we have eaten confit de canard is Josephine Chez Dumonet, located at 117 rue de Cherche-Midi, in the 6th arrondissement. This restaurant is gorgeous, with a classic Parisian atmosphere (it has been around since 1898!). The portions are enormous, but we left room for the Grand Marnier Souffle and were happy we did. Expensive. I tried to forget how much our bill was for lunch, but I believe it was 60 or 70 euros per person for a shared starter, wine, and dessert (this is painful for me, but that's actually not too terrible for Paris).


Rachel said...

I'm sure the duck is delicious but right now my stomach is crying out for those potatoes. Say one doesn't have access to duck fat (sob) -- what fat would you recommend for frying? And is the garlic raw or cooked?

Josie said...

Oh me oh my. I'm planning our trip to France this year and Josephine Chez Dumonet was on my list, but we will be 4, so 70 euros x 4 = yeesh! Small, self-serving request: please post about any other mid-price restaurants you try and like!!! Also, I'm really enjoying your Paris posts!

Kim said...

Rachel - the garlic is cooked, but to avoid burning Mark adds it in during the last minute of cooking. also, if you don't have access to duck fat, my preference is schmaltz / rendered chicken fat. after that ... olive oil for cooking (i.e. not a fancy extra virgin).

Josie - The amount will depend on the wine you choose and how you order. I think Chez Dumonet allows you to order half-portions of certain items, at a lower price. I wouldn't necessarily rule it out. I'll try to mention other restaurants we try, though there are lots of better Paris restaurant website/blogs than this one :)