Take your pantry to the next level. Supplement the everyday storage staples of dried pasta, beans and canned tomatoes, to name merely three, with some delicious foods that you prepare and put away.
For example, make your own stocks and broths and freeze portions of them for use in a slew of stews and soups. Sure, it’s handy to have some chicken stock in a Tetra Pak around, but it’s even tastier to have some squirreled away in the back of the freezer that you’ve fashioned from scratch.
Today’s recipes are two next-level pantry staples in my kitchen: duck legs that have been roasted in their own fat (called “confit’ by the French, meaning “conserved”) and clarified butter, a particular spin-off of which is called “ghee.”
Duck confit is particularly delicious in wintertime. Added to a stew (or, indeed, to the great cold-weather pork-and-bean pot called cassoulet), its flavors are close to animalistic: terrific, lip-glossing fat; skin as crisp as kettle fries; and deeply flavored meat.
If the sun is out, enjoy it shredded and scattered around some lightly dressed hearty greens, a French bistro classic. If tightly wrapped, duck confit stores well in the freezer for several months.
Ghee is clarified butter that has spent a bit more time on the stovetop than mainline French-style clarified butter. Heating the precipitated milk solids until they begin to taste like Sugar Baby candy makes the ghee itself nutty and deeper in flavor.
It still functions as clarified butter, of course. That is, its smoke point is highly elevated (to around 400 degrees) from plain butter and it is profitably used to sauté fish or vegetables at high heat; as a dip (called “drawn butter”) for shrimp, crab or lobster; as a base for a hollandaise; or as the perfect drizzle for popcorn.
Confit of Duck
Adapted from cooking.nytimes.com, washingtonpost.com and “Gourmet Today” (2009). Makes 6.
- 6 duck legs and thighs, rinsed and patted dry
- 1 mounded teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large bay leaf, crumbled into bits
- 10-12 sprigs dried or fresh thyme
Find a non-reactive tray that will accommodate all the duck legs in one layer. Mix together the salt, pepper and bay leaf bits and sprinkle half the mixture onto the tray. Lay the duck legs, fat side down, onto the tray, allowing them to pick up the seasonings on that side. Flip all the legs over, skin side up and sprinkle with the remaining half of the seasonings, Arrange the thyme sprigs evenly over the legs, pushing them down onto the meat.
Cover the tray snuggly with 2-3 layers of plastic wrap and then a layer of heavy-duty foil wrapped around the edges of the tray to keep everything tight. Place the tray, foil side down, in the refrigerator. After 12 hours (or thereabouts), flip the try over and keep in the refrigerator for an additional 12 hours. (The legs may season themselves thusly for up to 72 hours total.)
When ready to confit the duck, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Shake the legs of any clinging seasonings (especially the thyme sprigs) and place each leg, fat side down, in a large oven-proof skillet, fitting all the legs snuggly together. Heat over medium-high heat until their fat begins to render, 15-20 minutes. When about 1/4 inch of fat covers the bottom of the skillet, flip the duck legs over (you may need to scrape under them with a metal spatula to loosen them) and rearrange them all, again snuggly, skin side up.
Cover the skillet with heavy-duty foil and place it in the oven. Roast the legs for 1 hour, rotating the skillet, then roast for 1 more hour, 2 hours total. Remove the foil and roast for an additional 45 minutes-1 hour until the legs are all a deep golden brown. Remove the legs from the skillet and let drain over a brown paper bag or clean cardboard. (Strain and reserve the duck fat for frying, deep-frying or other uses such as flavoring roasted, salted potatoes.)
The legs may keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or, if frozen, for up to 5-6 months. To serve them, however, crisp them (from room temperature) in one of two ways: 1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the number of legs to be served, skin side up, on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or foil. Roast for 20 minutes until the fat glistens on the crisping skin. 2. Cook the legs to be served in a large non-stick skillet set over medium heat, covered, beginning skin side down for 10 minutes, then skin side up for an additional 10-15 minutes.
- 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted, high-quality butter
In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and continue cooking until a layer of milk proteins begins to both float to the top as white foam and fall to the bottom as white sediment. Bring to a boil; the milk proteins on top will froth and foam. (You may skim these if you wish, although in the long run, it is not necessary.)
Lower the heat and continue to cook. The top froth will decompose and fall (unless skimmed). As the water evaporates out of the butter, the boiling will calm and then cease. Being attentive against burning, heat further until the milk proteins on the bottom of the pot turn golden brown. The whole process will take 1 hour or a bit more.
Strain through cheesecloth or a coffee filter into a heatproof container. (The caramelized, browned milk solids may be saved to top ice cream.) Let cool and refrigerate. Ghee will keep up to 6 months, refrigerated.
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