Late last night, for maybe thirty minutes, the AHAM kitchen table– one end of it neat and tidy, the other end a chaotic mess of books, unopened mail, wine corks, forgotten fruit– was transformed into a cool, marble-topped cafe table tucked into a corner of a cosy Parisian neighbourhood bistro. I agree it sounds unlikely, but I was there, so you’ll just have to accept it. Plus this paragraph relies on it. Melodious laughter drifted over from nearby tables where impossibly good looking couples amused each other with Gallic witticisms, while the waiters pointedly ignored me and went outside to smoke. I convinced myself the lovely girl at the cigarette counter winked at me, while I sat amongst my scraped dishes, adjusted my fashionably knotted scarf, and was visited by profound thoughts about life, love, and art.
This transformation was brought about not by my regular ingestion of hallucinogens, which my attorney assures me is the only solution to my current condition, but by a simple, charming little duck leg.
Duck confit is one of life’s delights and involves only three essential ingredients. Duck legs, which can be found on the sides of a duck. Salt, which can be bought from the store. And loads and loads of duck fat. This you can buy prepackaged, but making it yourself is much more fun.
The other day I dismantled a whole duck for the first time. This was so enjoyable it deserves a post of its own, and might indeed get one. But before I threw the dismembered frame into the stockpot, I painstakingly removed every skerrick of fat and skin and set the greasy pile aside. I usually have jars of duck fat rattling around in the fridge, but it’s been a stressful year and I suspect I’ve started sleep-eating the stuff with a spoon. Anyway, reserves were running low, and I was starting to panic. I cut this lovely skin into squares, put it in a cast iron pot with a splash of water and warmed it slowly. 90 minutes later I was rewarded with a cup of clear golden fat, and a handful of crispy crunchy cracklings, which are presumably called quacklings. I salted these then ran and hid under the table while I ate them all.
Plan ahead, because duck legs and a handful of salt really need to spend a night together, getting nice and juicy for their upcoming interment. *Most recipes say to leave this salt on when you cook the legs, but I might brush off the excess next time. Had my waiter deigned to visit my table, slight over-saltiness would have been my only comment* Bright and early next afternoon I nustled my salty waddlers in a small dish with some herbs and garlic, and covered them with thick golden molten fat, and bunged them in a low oven for a couple of hours until the meat pulled away from the knuckle.
At this point I realised I had 30 minutes to get out of the house to keep an appointment (a local jazz club had announced they were opening the curtains for an hour and all the musicians were going to stand around and peek in), and a dish of meat floating in lava-like fat, much too hot for the fridge. An ice bath might have been a good idea, but they make my skin turn blue, and I had these duck legs to think about. In French farmhouses I imagine doughy aproned women leave hot food to cool on windowsills, tempting local children close enough to be lassoed and strung up in the root cellar for Sunday night Enfant Bourgignon. Here in New Jersey I have a fire escape that might serve the purpose, but the local squirrel population is brazen, and wouldn’t hesitate to drag away a tray of piping hot duck. So a folding table was set up in our arctic bathroom, beside an open but screened window, allowing the sub-freezing breeze to chill our legs (or cool our heels), while the squirrels lined up outside and drooled. They’ll break in and eat me in my sleep one day, but for now my confit was fridge ready, and I was out the door.
Next day I pried a leg from its congealed confinement, and following the excellent advice of Serious Eats, browned it on the stovetop until the skin went golden and crispy. I balanced it on top of a vinegary, peppery arugula salad, beside a hunk of bread, and poured a glass of something red and light. Crackling skin, melting salty flesh, fatty and juicy, it was absolutely delicious; I polished it off and asked a passing waiter for l’addition. I don’t think he heard me so I went back to my high-minded reveries, until, confident the cigarette girl wasn’t looking, I bolted. Out of the bistro and around the first corner. Out of breath and laughing at my own audacity, I stopped, looked around, and groaned as I recognised my surroundings as New Jersey and not the 15th Arrondissement. Vainly I felt around for my keys, and went back to sit on the stoop. This was a while ago, and it’s cold. If you’re one of my neighbours, can you come and let me in?
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