Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Easy Duck Rillettes: a real quacker of a recipe

I like duck very much, but I don't buy or cook it often because it's shriekingly expensive, and also because (look, I know this is heresy, coming from a cook) I have a soft spot for ducks. But there's no denying that duck has a deep savouriness that just cannot be found in a supermarket chicken or turkey. And sometimes my craving for that wonderful unctuous duckiness overcomes any sentimental feelings I may have about little fluffy yellow ducklings.

Easy Duck Rillettes
Succulent Duck Rillettes with my sister's Beetroot & Cranberry Preserve.
Plate by David Walters, my uncle, who made us each a name-stamped
side plate as a Christmas present. 
One of the best ways to appreciate the special deliciousness of duck is try confit duck leg. I always order this when I see it on restaurant menus, even though I know that this sublime dish - slow-seethed in its own fat until it melts into heart-stopping tenderness - will most likely shorten my life by several years.

Just before Christmas, I was pleased to find a fine locally produced duck (from Joostenbergvlakte) at a Chinese supermarket in Ottery for a paltry R80 (my local Spar sells them for around R125), so I seized it and took it home to cook.

A duck, even a good-sized one, doesn't have enough meat on it to give more than three or four people a square meal, so I decided to try to take off the legs (and the breasts, for good measure) and confit them, something I've never tried before. I scoured my cookbooks for an easy home recipe, and finally, after much page-flipping and head-scratching, followed the instructions given by Rick Stein in his recipe for Duck Confit with Braised Red Cabbage (from Rick Stein's French Odyssey; BBC Books, 2006)

The duck legs and breasts, post-confit, turned out beautifully, but were so modestly sized (puny, to be exact) that I decided to strip the flesh from the bones and turn them into rillettes.

'Rillettes' is a French word describing any fatty meat (usually pork and duck) that is slow-cooked to a tender shreddiness and packed, with a few judicious flavourings such as mace, pepper and thyme, into small dishes.  This may sound very Frenchified, but the method of packing meat into dishes is a very old English tradition: read more about this in my post about Potted Pork Belly with Mace and Pepper.

Now, you may be shaking your head and thinking: 'Duck confit? Not for me.'  Well, I concede that confit duck rillettes sounds like the sort of dish that only the ponciest and cheffiest chef would make, but I an assure you that this dish is not poncy at all. It may appear to be expensive too, considering that you don't get much more than two ramekins-full of rillettes from a whole duck, but - if you follow my instructions - you will end up with two fantastic by-products: a  delicious rich duck stock that you can freeze for future use in sauces and stews, and  lots of duck fat, which you can use to make excellent roast potatoes.

Most recipes for confit duck ask you for additional duck or goose fat, but as these aren't readily available in Cape Town, I've tailored this recipe to use the fat that comes out of your duck.

These duck rillettes are best served slightly cold (and by that, I mean that you take them out of the fridge half an hour before you serve them) with hot, crisp triangles of toast. A sharp, fruity preserve perfectly offsets the fattiness of the duck: I served these on Christmas Eve with a bottle of my sister Sophie's Beetroot and Cranberry Preserve (a Nigella recipe that she's promised to email me).

Easy Duck Rillettes
1 large duck, with plenty of fat, thawed
1 cup coarse (Kosher) salt
one large onion, quartered, skin and all
1 stick celery
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
a few large sprigs of fresh thyme
a few peppercorns
a little powdered mace, or finely grated nutmeg
milled black pepper

Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Wipe the duck with a damp cloth and remove the giblets, if there are any (set these aside in the fridge to use in your stock). Cut the legs and the breasts off the duck as follows: place the duck, breast-side up, on a chopping board. With a very sharp knife, held parallel to the breastbone, slice off the breasts, skin and all, on both sides. Use long, sweeping strokes, and don't worry if you need to hack a little - you'd going to shred them after cooking anyway.  Turn the duck over, pull out the legs, and cut them off at the point where the thigh meets the backbone.  Here are some good instructions, with pictures, for cutting up a duck.

Trim every bit of visible cream-coloured fat off the legs and breasts, leaving the skin (and the fat under it) on, and set the pieces of fat aside. Sprinkle a little of the coarse salt in the bottom of a shallow dish that's just big enough to hold the two breasts and two legs in one tightly packed layer. Place the breasts and legs on the salt layer, skin-side up, and cover with the remaining salt, pressing it lightly into the skin. Put a saucer and a small weight on top and place in the fridge for six hours (but no longer, says Rick Stein, or the duck will be too salty).

In the meantime, roast the duck carcass to render its fat.  Arrange the onion, celery, carrot, one of the cloves of garlic and the sprigs of thyme in a bed on the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the duck carcass on top, and to the pan add the pieces of duck fat you trimmed from the legs and breast. Cover the pan tightly with tin foil and bake at 160ºC for an hour and ten minutes. Now remove the tin foil and roast, uncovered, for another twenty minutes. Remove from the oven. Tilt the pan and, using a deep spoon or soup ladle, scoop the clear fat into a bowl: you should have between one and one-and-a-half cups of fat. Reserve a few tablespoons of the pan juices. (Don't throw out the duck carcass and vegetables: cover them with water, add all the usual stock ingredients, plus the reserved giblets, and simmer for an hour and a half. Strain, then refrigerate or freeze.)

Easy Duck Rillettes
Wipe the salt off the duck legs and breasts and rinse them quickly under cold running water to remove all the salt. Pat them dry and put them back into the dish. Pour the warm duck fat over them, pressing down so that they are completely submerged. Tuck another sprig of thyme, the remaining clove of garlic and the peppercorns inbetween the pieces.

Cover the dish with foil and bake at 160ºC for an hour and a half. Remove from the oven and chill for 24 hours. Remove the duck legs and breasts from their fat. If the fat has started to solidify in the fridge, heat the dish gently in the microwave (or over a low flame) until it is just liquid.  Remove the duck pieces, and strain the fat in to a clean bowl. Keep the fat in a jar, in the fridge, for making roast potatoes.

Tear the skin off the duck pieces and discard. Pull the meat off the bones and place it in a heap on a chopping board. Using a sharp knife, chop it into small pieces (or shred it, if you like). Season with milled black pepper, a little mace or nutmeg and, if you like, some fresh thyme leaves.  How highly, and with what, you flavour your rillettes is up to you: I think a whisper of mace and a bit of pepper is enough. You shouldn't need to add any salt.  Pack the duck into two ramekin dishes, and moisten with a few teaspoons of the pan juices you set aside earlier. Now spoon a little warm duck fat over each dish, so that the duck is just submerged. Press a sprig of thyme onto the top of the dish (I added some pretty fresh-sage flowers), cover with clingfilm and refrigerate.

Makes 2 ramekins; serves 4-6 as a snack. 
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Linda Harding said...

Wow, that sounds fascinating - and so clever of you to use the fat from the duck itself. I have seen the recipes calling for additional fat and it sends the grocery bill (nevermind the petrol to find a deli that stocks duck fat) sky high! This looks fab.

Adele said...

I am a massive duck fan, and I'm lucky that it's fairly accesible around here, including duck fat and duck eggs. However, my husband doesn't like it - too rich. In fact, he doesn't like free-range chicken because he thinks it tastes too rich! I once thought I'll sneak in some duck fat on the roast potatoes, but he was on to me. I'll try and make this as a side dish at some stage, it looks fabulous.

Medifast Coupons said...

This is quite and elegant recipe. The presentation is perfect,as is the photograph. The timber was a perfect choice. Well done!

My Carolina Kitchen said...

Duck confit is sublime and there's nothing better that duck fat. We love duck, but it's pricey here too and also hard to find.

Very elegant recipe and I really like the richness of the duck sitting on the rugged timber. A genius of an idea.

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

I am a sucker for both confit duck and rilettes - the first time I tasted both of them was revelatory. It does seem pricey, but a little rillette goes a long way and it is so utterly decadent...

Ishay said...

I remember commenting on your beautiful sage flowers when you tweeted a pic of this dish over the festive season and actually finding some in the garden. Attached to the sage! Love your work Janey.
And as for breaking your own rules- I had to have a laugh. We have a lot in common there- I vowed never to tag a pic of myself in my own Facebook album (I mean, honestly!) but was forced to inorder to update the images that appear on the top of new facebook.
Husb loves duck (as do I)...this should make him very happy!