The French can cook. They gave us crêpes, soufflés, foie gras, quiche and, in the spirit of
low cholesterol, confit. To prepare confit — game birds usually get the honor — a chef slowly cooks an animal in its own rendered fat, then cools it down to be sealed and stored in that same fat. At the end of this 17th century-style fat shaming, you’re left with — in the case of a duck confit salad — “a delicious Trojan Horse of meat, cheese and duck fat masquerading as a salad”, according to Brooklyn-based Chef Peter Droste. Droste, in his improvisational style, offered us his recipe for the duck confit salad he serves up as part of his underground dinner club, Calva. For the uninitiated, he included an oven-cooked alternative to his sous vide style of preparing the duck.
Duck Confit Salad
Serves 6-12 (salad vs. entree portions)
Some greens (arugula is best)
White vinegar (you can use sherry or champagne vinegar for a nice touch)
1 cucumber, European
Allspice, black pepper, salt, etc.
A sharp knife
Immersion circulator and vacuum sealer, OR a nice, deep 4-quart pan
Silpat & sheet pan
Mandoline, OR sick knife skills
Some mixing bowls
A sauté pan
Chances are your duck is frozen. This is fine; duck retains most of its flavor despite being frozen. 1. Thaw, then break down the duck into pieces. Stella Culinary’s Youtube channel has an excellent duck cutting video I would recommend. 2. Render down the fat by putting all the loose skin into the sauté pan and cooking it on low heat for about an hour or so.
Sous Vide Method:
3. Freeze the rendered fat and put it into bags with your duck pieces. 4. Season your duck with thyme, allspice, peppercorns, etc. as you see fit. 5. Seal and drop into 179.6°F water for 6 hours or so. (Disclaimer: Don’t kill anyone. It’s easier than you might think to kill people by vacuum sealing. Do all the research required for this method — it’s not beginner-level. There are countless resources online and in print for this. If you’re concerned, just move right along to the MacGyver method.)
MacGyver Confit Method:
(Note: You can make the cheese crackers at the same time with this!) 3. Put the duck pieces, skin side down, into the big pan. 4. Give it some salt, some pepper, all your seasoning, and cover as completely as possible with the duck fat. 5. Cook on 250°F for 1 hour or so (or until the fat is bubbling) and then at 200°F for another 6 hours. This is great to do overnight, as it will make your house smell like duck confit. (This is a very good thing, especially in colder months.)
Finishing (either method):
6. Let your confit cool, pull your seasoning out, toss the skin, and separate the fat for later. Loosely shred the meat and put it in a container for later. 7. Make some Gruyere crackers: finely grate the cheese, put it on a silpat in a circular shape (to the best of your abilities), and bake for 250°F until it’s done (usually about 20 minutes). Don’t let them get too crispy, as gruyere tends to get a carbonic flavor very quickly. 8. Finely slice the cucumber: if you’re going for the pretty little salad house that we’ve built in the pictures, you need a real Goldilocks slice thickness — too thick, and they won’t stay together; too thin, and they won’t stay upright. You’ll figure it out. 9. Toss the salad: make the dressing with 3 oz duck fat, 1.5 oz white vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Shake it up to emulsify and toss your greens with enough dressing to get a nice, light coat. 10. Place the salad in your cucumber house, add a generous lump of confit, and top with your delicious cheese cracker. Congratulations! You have just made a delicious Trojan Horse of meat, cheese, and duck fat masquerading as a salad.
Confit, as long as it’s covered completely with fat, will stay good in the fridge for months, but I’ve never kept any around that long to find out.
Duck fat is one of the most delicious lipids I have come across. It’s fantastic for cooking nearly anything. Have fun with it.
The cucumber house is a pain, but I find sandwiching the overlapping slices between two lightly oiled cutting rings is the best method for putting them together in a small amount of time.
If you refrigerate all the juices that came out of your duck bags/pan, you will notice a small amount of duck stock at the bottom. This is a highly gelatinous aspic that can be used to make lesser dishes taste otherworldly. I have been known to spread it on bread.