I’ll tell you a secret: I have been known to walk around a supermarket for hours without buying anything. I look at packaging design and prices and ingredients and nutritionals and promotions, endlessly. A local supermarket is a must-see for every holiday abroad. I put things in my trolley because I want them. And I have got really good at taking them out again, because I just don’t need them.
When it comes to meat and poultry, I’m ruthless. Unless I’m treating myself to a rare visit to a local butcher, I made a pact with myself a long time ago to buy supermarket meat only from the reduced section. This is for three reasons…
- I believe that society wastes too much food and that supermarkets and the convenience food industry encourage this waste. I worked in food branding for ten years and the bullshit of marketing and pettiness of regulations is depressing. Under the banner of convenience, consumers are shielded from the need to take personal responsibility for the foods we shovel into our faceholes.
- There’s usually nothing wrong with the food in the reduced aisle, it’s just reaching it’s sell by date, which doesn’t mean it’s gone off. I can see with eyes just like you can, and both of us can spot whether it’s spoiled. I check the things that are most likely to be actually inedible – strawberries or tomatoes can mould quickly, lettuce that’s been kept too cold is ruined, fish from the counter since I’m no fish expert – because sometimes staff are rushed or bored or uneducated and don’t use THEIR eyes. But meat, poultry, dairy and harder fruits and veg in the reduced section are usually there because of due process, not common sense.
- I’m cheap. I was taught to budget for meals long ago in a home economics class that I remember well and I try to keep the per person cost as low as possible. I also prefer to buy organic or at least free range animal products, in a small nod to animal welfare, but I can’t really afford it all the time. So I take great delight in finding an really good piece of meat in the reduced aisle.
Lucky for me I inherited a big freezer from our house’s previous occupants, and it’s usually brimming with yellow stickers. However last Saturday I came across a pack of three Gressingham Duck Legs at their sell by date and marked down to half price and realised it was time to confit…
What the hell is confit?
I’ve watched enough Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules and all the rest to know that I should have had a crack at a confit by now. Confit is a French term meaning ‘to preserve’. Being French the ‘t’ is silent so it’s pronounced “kon-FEE”, with the merest hint of an accent if you’re feeling fresh. Confit is about immersing a food in a liquid to make a barrier for bacteria – grease or oil for meats and sugar syrup for fruit – and cooking it long and slow at a low temperature to both cook and sterilize the food. Sealed in the liquid and stored in an airtight container, meat will last for weeks in a cool, dark place and months in a fridge. Over time the muscle and connective tissue will break down further, so a matured confit has a fabulous taste and texture. Even if you’re not preserving, the long, slow cook is a great way to break down muscles and connective tissue of tougher cuts and therefore a very traditional way of cooking duck legs.
Start with a salt cure
The first step in a meat confit is the salt-cure, which is super-easy. I began by pouring a heap of salt (Maldon Salt of course, I’m from Essex you know) and dried thyme over the duck legs and rubbing it into all the nooks and crannies. Then six hours in a tupperware box in the fridge, which is a good overnight task and it wouldn’t matter if they were left for longer.
After the six hours, rinse and rub the cure off the duck legs – you don’t want to keep that much saltiness in the finished dish and the salt has done its job of slowing down the microbes by drawing out the water. Strictly speaking, I didn’t need to salt cure since I wasn’t planning to preserve, however it was good practice to go through the whole process.
Slow cooking for HOURS
The next step is the actual cook. Duck fat is expensive so I finished the bit I had in a jar and made it up to a litre with Sunflower Oil. All went into the slow cooker, along with the rinsed duck legs, before I set it to LOW and put the lid on overnight, for 12 hours.
I woke in the morning to a smell of really bad farts. Aside from my husband gaseous overnight emissions, the smell of hot duck fat in the air isn’t sexy. However, slow cooked duck legs are amazing. The meat just fell off the bone. It was all I could do to stop myself gobbling it all up at 5.30am. Instead I dutifully separated skin, meat, bones and fat.
Crisping the duck skins… duck crackling
Meat and fat went into the fridge for later use, bones went in the bin (seriously, does anyone know what else I could have done with these?) and I had a little play with the skins by dry-frying them in a pan. They produced plenty of fat and I wasn’t paying attention and burned one of the pieces annoyingly. The well-cooked pieces, well, they were the bomb and I was glad I’d taken the time to salt-cure. Little salty pieces of heaven. Stuff the rest of the duck this would do me nicely and they went very well with my morning coffee! And yes I saved a sliver for the hubby, although I gave the best piece to my wonderful mum.
We’ve been ploughing through the duck meat for lunch. It’s delicious in warm, seeded flatbreads with chopped celery and a little plain yoghurt to cut through the oiliness of the duck.
So the final question (apart from what could I have done with the bones) is what shall we do with the litre of fat that’s left? Roast potatoes are calling, but do you have any other suggestions?
Disclaimer: All third party links included in my post are there because I like their work. I have not received any benefits in return for the links and I take no responsibility for what you find there.