Tag Archives: charcuterie

Duck Confit

Duck Leg Confit

Before Christmas, I was struck by the urge to serve a classic Cassoulet for our holiday dinner.  And as a building block for that savory dish, I decided to prepare my own duck legs confit.  I duly consulted the internet, my cook books, and my coworker Ira (a former chef and my go-to person for advice on big cooking projects).  Ira got all excited about this scheme, and we had several lively conversations about the best places to buy duck legs (he suggested an Asian grocery store, but I went with the upscale grocery near my house), where to buy huge quantities of rendered duck fat (I went with the Asian grocery store on that one), whether to confit an entire duck or just the legs, and several other miscellaneous conversations about unrelated duck recipes.  It was a lot of fun.

When I was ready to buy my ingredients,  I figured that if I was going to bother confiting duck legs, I might as well do a bunch, and keep the surplus on hand in the freezer for future need.  And I could give some away for Christmas presents!  In short, I decided to go big.  I made twelve.

It turns out that it actually would have been a lot less trouble to start with a more reasonable number of duck legs, like four.  For one thing, duck legs and duck fat are not cheap.  For another, working with that many legs is just unwieldy.  So maybe you can learn from my experience and start with two or four legs—truthfully, I know I will dive headfirst into my next big cooking project without sparing one second’s thought for lessons learned from the duck legs and will probably quadruple that recipe as well, then wonder what I got myself into.  It’s just what I do.

But regardless of quantity, making your own duck legs confit is not hard.  It does require planning ahead to allow time for curing, cooking, and resting in the refrigerator.  But duck legs in the fridge are like money in the bank.  There are so many delicious meals that you can make with the tender, succulent meat once it’s waiting for you, nicely preserved in an opulent bath of beautiful, beautiful duck fat.

Here’s the method for making the duck legs.  I’ll also share some ideas for how to use them in upcoming blog posts.

Duck Legs Confit

(adapted from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn)

  • duck legs
  • 8 grams of salt for every pound of meat
  • pepper
  • thyme
  • 1 sliced garlic clove per leg
  • ½ bay leaf per leg
  • approximately 8 oz additional duck fat per leg

Sprinkle duck legs with salt and put them in a nonreactive container (I used baking sheets lined with waxed paper).  Sprinkle with thyme, freshly ground pepper, and press garlic slices and broken bay leaves into each leg.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-48  hours.

Rinse the duck under cold water, wiping off seasonings.  Pat dry.

Preheat the oven to between 180 and 200F.  I suggest checking oven temperature with a thermometer to make sure it is at least 180F.

Place the duck legs in a stockpot or Dutch oven.  You want them tightly packed, as they will need to be fully submerged in fat while they cook.  Cover with fat, bring to a simmer on stove top, then place in the oven and cook uncovered for between 6 and 10 hours (this will depend to some extent on how many duck legs you are cooking).  They are done when fat is clear, and the duck legs are very tender.

Remove from the oven and cool to near room temperature in the pot.  Move duck legs to one or more storage containers, pouring fat over legs and making sure they are completely submerged.  Refrigerate for up to a week to ten days.  Or freeze for longer.

Note that you can use pink salt (curing salt) to extend the shelf life of duck confit for up to six months—see instructions in Charcuterie or another manual for preserving meats.

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Elsewhere: Over at Edible Books, our February book selection is going to be The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister.  Join the conversation!

Andouille Sausage

How to make Andouille

My master plan for Christmas dinner involves a few preliminary projects—one of which, making sausage, has been checked off the list.  My friend Rob and I have made sausage together before, and he readily agreed to an afternoon making pork sausage with garlic and red wine.  In fact, he upped the ante by suggesting that we also do a batch of Andouille.  I didn’t have to think twice about that.  Holy crap, yes.

We used the Andouille recipe from our trusty guide, Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman.

When making sausage, three sets of hands are even better than two, so Rob’s girlfriend Gillia pitched in too.  Sausage making is a companionable sort of process, with time for conversation to ebb and flow, punctuated by occasional flurries of activity.  While hands stayed busy, there was time to enjoy the sensory experience.

The fresh spices, garlic, and the metallic tang of raw meat filled the air.  The colors were vivid when stirred together—brilliant red meat and white onions and fat and deep yellow mustard.  This mixture came out of the grinder a rich pink and white.

Andouille 4

After the Andouille was spiced and ground and tucked away in casings, Rob put the links in his smoker.

Andouille 3

Now I have plenty of fresh pork sausage with garlic and wine, and plenty of Andouille tucked away safely in the freezer, just as the urge to squirrel away food and nest for the winter comes on strong.

And what a lunch the Andouille sausage made the next day.  Hot, fresh, and spicy.

Andouille 2

Next: Fresh homemade Andouille sausage is put to good use in Jambalaya

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Elsewhere: The discussion on Toast by Nigel Slater is still going strong over at Edible Books

The Primary Bind

My friend Rob and I made sausage!  Yes, sausage!  In case you can’t tell, I am tremendously excited about making sausage.  Rob had done this before, and also has all the necessary equipment, which basically amounts to a KitchenAid mixer with a grinder and a sausage stuffing attachment, so he’s a very good guy for a novice sausage maker to know.

Armed with our respective copies of Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman, we settled on the basic sausage recipe with red wine and garlic.  I assembled my ingredients: a pork shoulder and extra fat, casings, red wine, and some impressive bulbs of heirloom garlic.  I packed up all of this, my apron and knives, and headed over to Rob’s place for an afternoon of artisan meat craft.

We set the casings to soak, diced the meat, stirred in spices, and set up the grinder.  The meat was strangely beautiful as it was extruded from the grinder in clean, bright, separate strings, speckled with distinct bits of white fat and red meat.

We rinsed the casings under the tap.  The casings were not nasty at all, by the way, and were in fact rather miraculous–thin, translucent, and strong.   This process was reminiscent of filling water balloons at the kitchen sink as a kid, except that we did not then run outside with a jiggling armload of them and start throwing them at each other.

I stirred the bowl of freshly ground meat vigorously, adding the red wine and watching as the “primary bind” developed—the meat quickly became sticky and uniform, like meatloaf.

We fried up our tiny test patties—and oh, were they good!

Then we fed the meat through the stuffer.  It was very handy to have two people involved at this point.  Rob added meat to the hopper and pressed it through, while I controlled the rate at which the casings filled.

Once all the meat was in casings, we twisted them off into links.

There are cooking projects I have taken on once, only to decide I might just as well save myself some trouble in future and leave it to the experts (e.g., making mozzarella cheese).  This was not one of them.  A pleasant afternoon of chopping and stirring led directly to eating some of the best, freshest sausage I have ever tasted.  And I knew exactly what went into them, and was able to source the ingredients to my own satisfaction.  Now I have plans for more sausages.  Big plans.

The instructions in Charcuterie are detailed and comprehensive.  In fact, on first reading, the book can seem a bit pedantic, warning of the all of the possible mistakes that can result in a poor quality sausage.  However, as we proceeded, I could see how necessary each step was to the outcome.  This is not to say that it was a difficult process; it wasn’t.  In fact, when we realized that the battery was dead in Rob’s kitchen scale, we just did what comes naturally to both of us in the kitchen anyway: we estimated amounts.  And that worked just fine.  But there were incredibly helpful instructions on the importance of keeping the grinding blades clear of sinew and the ingredients cold, and we could see for ourselves how this affected the texture of the finished product.

If you are an experienced sausage maker, the recipe below is all you need, and you can adapt the seasonings to your own whims.  If you have never made sausage before, get Charcuterie and carefully read the instructions at the beginning of the sausage section.  You can successfully make your own sausage with this book beside you.  However, don’t underestimate the power of an experienced friend and another set of hands in the kitchen.

Garlic and Red Wine Pork Sausage

(barely adapted from Charcuterie)

  • 5 lbs fatty pork shoulder, diced
  • Enough extra fat to bring the fat ratio up to 30%, diced
  • 3 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 cup red wine, chilled
  • 10 feet hog casings, soaked in tepid water for at least 30 minutes and rinsed

Toss the meat, salt, pepper, and garlic together in a large bowl until evenly mixed.  Cover and refrigerate until the mixture is thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.  Or place in freezer for 30-60 minutes, until the meat is very cold, but not frozen.

Grind the mixtue through a small die into a bowl set in ice.

Stir with a wooden spoon for one minutes.  Add the wine, and continue to stir for another minute, or until the liquid is incorporated and the meat looks sticky.

Fry a bite-sized portion of the sausage and taste it (refrigerate the remaining meat mixture while you do this and then set up your stuffing equipment).  Adjust the seasoning if necessary and stir again to incorporate the additional seasoning.

Stuff the sausage into hog casings and twist into 6-inch links.

Cook the sausage to an internal temperature of 150 F.

Yields about twenty 6-inch links.

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Picnic

Coppa.   Basquese.  Prosciutto Culatello.  Fleur de Sel caramels.  And a wedge of fudgy cake.  It’s nearly poetry, isn’t it?  Yes, and it’s also the contents of a bag I received as a gift recently.  A fragrant, intoxicating, magical gift.  I pulled out the butcher-paper wrapped packages of charcuterie and pressed them to my nose, inhaling deeply as my friend Rob explained that he had picked up this treasure trove at a nearby store called Picnic, and there were little signs with information about the provenance of the food items, so he thought the meat would be within my comfort zone for ethical farming practices.  I could have cried just a little right then, cradling the meat in my arms as the utter sweetness and thoughtfulness of the whole thing sunk in.

I was filled with a primitive urge to tear the packages open with my teeth and bolt the contents like a hungry wolf after the kill, scattering shreds of waxed paper.  I resisted however.  I wanted to wait, get some bread and cheese for sandwiches, to do this right.

Later, when I arrived at Michael’s place with the goods, he also took a deep sniff and smiled.  “This takes me back,” was all he said, but I knew what he meant.  Last summer, we spent two weeks travelling through Spain.  When we first arrived in Barcelona, punch-drunk from jet lag, we sat down at an outdoor café in a sunny square and ordered a plate of assorted meats and manchego cheese.  And then we ate salty, delicate, melt-in-your-mouth cured pork at least once a day for the rest of that trip.

We had thin-sliced, salty jamon in outdoor restaurants.  We ate a memorable  racion of heaped-up meats, cheese, and a few rough-torn hunks of bread served on a wooden platter at a street festival in Pamplona. And bocadillos (baguette sandwiches) stuffed with different combinations of meats, purchased from vendors or made ourselves, for picnics or on trains or just to fortify ourselves until the restaurants opened up for dinner at 9:00 pm.  The smell of that bag stirred a deep sense-memory that included red wine, sunshine, street performers, the hot ancient Roman stones of Toledo, the dust and sweat and adrenaline of Pamplona, the gritty salt tang of the Costa del Sol, and the Rock of Gibraltar appearing on the horizon.

We opened the packages to reveal the meats, sliced tissue paper-thin and stacked on waxed paper.  Deep marbled red, purple, and translucent pink, we peeled the meats from their papers like leaves of a precious papyrus manuscript.  Once the cheese and bread were sliced, we couldn’t bear to turn that meat into sandwiches.  We laid it all out on plates, to sample at will until our fingers and lips were sheened with fat.  We were full beyond belief, fat and happy but still nibbling, unable to stop.  The flavors of the meats exploded in the mouth, the fat so delicate that it melted without chewing.  And when we couldn’t eat anymore, we ate the cake.

I had to see for myself, so I took a little field trip the other day.  Picnic is a wonderful store–a den of delights, with walls of wine, tables stacked with truffles and condiments, and a cold case of meats and cheeses.  I ordered the Charcuterie Plate to go, and enjoyed myself browsing while the meat was cut to order.  Picnic isn’t a store for when one is in a hurry, but rather for a a place for peaceful anticipatory contemplation as one’s order is lovingly assembled. 

Salame feline, sopressata, basquese, a chunk of pate.  Also included were some mustard, cornichons, pickled onion, and several slices of baguette.  A feast.  And like all of the finest feasts it was simple, elemental, and best shared with loved ones.

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