By Nigel Spence
With some friends staying over for a couple days I was challenged with feeding them breakfast and lunch while maintaining my busy schedule at the restaurant. They furthered this challenge by mentioning the fact that they were curious about duck meat since it wasn’t a protein readily available to them where they live and they had heard that I recently had duck on my menu which sparked their interest.
Duck is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of breakfast and lunch or quick and easy, but I accepted the challenge anyway because although duck may seem unapproachable, it is in fact quite easy to prepare using the right technique. I decided that my simplified version of duck confit would fit the occasion.
While in culinary school, it is almost a guarantee that at some point you will be required to make some sort of confit.
Confit is an old school French technique of preservation usually reserved for meat such as duck or goose, but has since been experimented with by bored cooks like myself on just about anything from mushrooms to macka bush. It is first salt cured or brined, then poached ever so slowly in its own rendered fat until super tender; then cooled and stored in the poaching vessel or other container covered with the rendered fat. The curing process is meant to preserve the meat. The low and slow cooking or poaching in its fat is meant to get the meat fork tender and render away some of the fat within the meat which would be too rich for the palate if this step was omitted. What you end up with is a vat full of rendered duck fat and meat that if done correctly would then be able to be stored away for months or years without refrigeration as was necessary way back in the days when Tom was a bwoy (as my mom used to say).
So what is the point of all this you may ask?
I too was quite skeptical about all the fuss and painstaking steps that went into these broken down bird parts. After all, refrigeration issues were all taken care of with the generation before I first held a knife so why spend so much time making a bird feel so special when I could be spending the time with my true love, a good bottle of dark rum.
Then I tasted it.
Turns out that the unintended consequence of this ancient laborious production was a succulent animal protein that was fit for trading gold. It was nothing short of dyam delicious (as my dad would say).
A proper duck confit can truly transform the ordinary into something overly magnificent. The richness and depth of flavor this technique produces has the ability to elevate virtually anything it is paired with on the plate and makes every minute of the process completely worth it!
The best part about the finished product is its ease of use and versatility since it is already fully cooked and jam- packed with flavor.
Nothing is wasted. The meat can be shredded for multiple uses such as salads, stuffing, garnishes, etc. Sauté vegetables in the rendered fat and your guests will kiss your feet. Use the duck fat instead of butter in scrambled eggs and you will forever be making breakfast for EVERYONE! Your guests will gormandize the confit of duck leg you quickly seared in the pan to reheat and crisp up just enough to accompany creamy mashed potatoes which turned dinner into spontaneous, mouthwatering brilliance.
The Jamaican Mongrel dog will protect you to the end if those perfectly cured scraps of leg bones from dinner were tossed in with his tired old turned corn meal to elevate it to a “tun up” cornmeal dinner.
The possibilities are endless.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that most of us simply don’t have the time, patience or understanding spouse to allow for this level of production in a home kitchen.
Here comes the Jamaican to turn it all upside down on its head and create a solution that is more in keeping with our busy island lifestyle. The results may not win over my French culinary instructor who always had a few choice words when I would re-write his recipes and omit what I considered “too much grandeur”, but it certainly will get your end users to conjure up some choice words of their own after tasting it.
With this technique, I omit the curing part of traditional confit, so it would require that you own some version of a refrigerated device to keep things cool unless you plan to nyam it off in one sitting. I like to stick with the duck leg and thigh only for simplicity sake. No major meat fabrication required except for a quick snip of excess skin and fat off the very end of the thigh. It is best to have the duck leg and thigh still in one piece, because as separate pieces they would be pretty skimpy on the meat, so they are generally found intact at most butcher shops. Simply season both the skin side and the flesh liberally with any spice combination, my favorite being a spicy jerk rub. Arrange them tightly in a deep baking dish skin side up and roast in a 350 degree oven for approximately two hours until fork tender. During this process the duck will render a significant amount of fat, so be sure the baking dish is deep enough to collect all the fat without spilling over the sides. The skin should have developed a pleasing golden hue with a few dark spots.
DO NOT DISCARD THE DUCK FAT. THAT IS YOUR LIQUID GOLD.
After the duck is done roasting, remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely IN THE FAT, then cover and refrigerate. THAT’S IT!
You now have a blank canvas of delicious ducky goodness to use in any way you please. Simply pull on a leg from the fat then re-warm whole with the fat from the baking dish, or shred, sauté, bake, grill or roast. You can also just use the fat on its own (it’s loaded with flavor from the duck itself and the jerk seasoning) to cook other proteins or vegetables or eggs.
I have used this for scrambled eggs, duck sliders, bbq duck legs, ackee and shredded duck meat, duck shepherds pie, duck soup using the bones to make a broth and adding shredded meat with scallions and ginger, escoveitch duck, saltfish and duck with green banana and breadfruit and the list goes on and on.
My guests were partial to the many types of omelets and duck quesadillas that were presented over their two-day stay.
A full recipe for the whole process and for the quesadilla follows:
JERK DUCK CONFIT
12 PIECES DUCK LEG & THIGH
1/2 CUP DRY JERK RUB (RECIPE FOLLOWS)
SNIP THE EXCESS FAT FROM THE VERY END OF THE THIGH PORTION.
SEASON LIBERALLY WITH DRY JERK RUB ON BOTH SIDES OF THE DUCK MEAT.
ARRANGE PIECES SKIN SIDE UP TIGHTLY IN ONE LAYER IN DEEP BAKING DISH.
BAKE IN A 350 DEGREE OVEN FOR APPROXIMATELY 2 HOURS UNTIL DUCK IS FORK TENDER AND GOLDEN BROWN. DEPENDING ON THE CALIBRATION OF YOUR OVEN THIS MAY TAKE A FEW MINUTES MORE OR LESS. REMOVE FROM OVEN AND ALLOW TO COOL COMPLETELY, THEN COVER TIGHTLY AND REFRIGERATE OVERNIGHT.
THAT’S IT–YOUR LAZY VERSION OF DUCK CONFIT IS NOW READY FOR WHATEVER YOU DECIDE TO DO WITH IT.
DRY JERK RUB RECIPE
1 Cup garlic powder
3 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2/3 Cup onion powder
2/3 Cup dried thyme
1/3 Cup sugar
3/4 Cup salt
2/3 Cup ground allspice
1/3 Cup black pepper
1 Teaspoon ground cloves
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
3 Tablespoons ground nutmeg
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
Combine all ingredients; store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
JERK DUCK LEG CONFIT QUESADILLA
1 CUP SHREDDED DUCK CONFIT MEAT
1/4 CUP SCALLIONS
1/2 CUP MUSHROOMS, SAUTÉED
1 TEASPOON MINCED FRESH GINGER
2 TEASPOONS SUGAR
1 TABLESPOON WHITE VINEGAR
1 TABLESPOON DUCK FAT
1/2 CUP SHREDDED CHEESE (I LIKE MONTERY JACK)
2 TEN INCH FLOUR TORTILLA WRAPS
2 TABLESPOONS CHIPOTLE HUMMUS (STORE BOUGHT)
In a sauté pan over medium heat add 1/2 tablespoon duck fat, duck meat, sugar and ginger. Sauté for 3 minutes until all are warmed through and incorporated. Remove from heat and add vinegar, cheese, mushrooms and scallions.
SPREAD HUMMUS OVER ONE SIDE OF TORTILLA. SPREAD THE DUCK MIXTURE EVENLY OVER ONE SIDE OF THE TORTILLA. FOLD IN HALF TO CREATE A HALF MOON SHAPE.
ADD THE OTHER TABLESPOON DUCK FAT TO A SKILLET THAT’S LARGE ENOUGH TO HOLD THE HALF MOON SHAPED TORTILLA AND HEAT THROUGH SLOWLY OVER LOW-MEDIUM HEAT, THEN FLIP OVER CAREFULLY USING A WIDE SPATULA AND CONTINUE TO HEAT THROUGH ON THE OTHER SIDE UNTIL THE CHEESE IS MELTED. REMOVE FROM HEAT TO LARGE PLATE AND CUT IN TRIANGULAR SHAPES AND SERVE IMMEDIATELY. THIS RECIPE SHOULD MAKE 2 FULLY LOADED QUESADILLAS OR 3 NOT SO LOADED THINNER ONES.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.