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Salad 2 Ways: Duck Confit and Arugula with Grapes (Shrimp Optional)

Posted by Amie / April 12, 2010

Duck Confit and Arugula with GrapesHere are two ways to eat salad after inhaling a city's worth of cake and baklava. One will only make you feel psychologically better because you're officially eating salad, but it's really all about the succulent and rich duck falling apart in your mouth. The upside of duck confit is that it's way easier to make than you think. Arugula salad with grapes, on the other hand, is as light as can be, and with or without shrimp, makes for a perfect Spring lunch or dinner.

The easiest way to make confit is to buy it pre-cooked from one of the many respectable butchers in the city, and just stick it in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees to reheat and brown it (or whatever the instructions or butcher say). The "from scratch" way is still easy, though. It just requires a bit more time, a whole lot of re-usable duck fat and a really large casserole dish.

I made this in Toronto for the first time where it's really hard to find duck fat. I just wanted to share the culinary wonders of Quebec with my less fortunate extended family. Call it being neighbourly. Apparently Torontonians are scared of duck fat. Montrealers, on the other hand, inhale it. Confit is on every bistro menu in the city (because it's easy to do well), and you can find duck fat in all the big Montreal markets and probably also some grocery stores. This is a perfect dinner party dish, since you need to plan in advance. If you're not good at forethought, or are craving salad right now, skip to the Arugula Salad with Grapes below.

Duck Confit

Ingredients:
4 duck legs
1 litre duck fat (kind of expensive. You may not need this much, depending on what kind of dish you use, but your legs have to be COMPLETELY covered by the fat in a casserole or very large baking dish. That's why I went to a wholesaler to find it cheap and in bulk, but you can find it really easily at the Atwater or Jean-Talon Markets in $5.00 250mL containers. So, you'll spend $20 and you strain the used fat, freeze it, and use it in small or large quantities for frying potatoes, eggs, onions, and pretty much anything else you wish to cook with oil. If you're really into "from scratch" here's how to render your own duck fat)
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 bay leaves, crushed
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Sprigs of fresh thyme

I should let you know, this isn't my recipe. It's an amalgamation of Canadian Chef Rob Feenie's Gold Medal Plates-winning recipe and an online French recipe that came with helpful pictures. Always cheat with a French man. Sophisticated, experienced, well-dressed (the duck).

1. The night before you want to eat your duck legs, rub them with the kosher salt, black peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic and thyme. Stick them in a sealed dish (or cover in plastic wrap) and leave them in the fridge overnight. Congratulations, your duck is ready to be cooked.

2. The next day, (3 1/2 hours before you want to eat) preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse the seasonings off the duck (or leave them on if you really, really love salt, but consider yourself forewarned) and place them in your huge casserole, deep roasting pan or deep baking dish (I had to put the legs in two separate casserole dishes since I didn't have one large enough for all the legs. This is fine as long as you have more fat to completely cover the legs in both dishes. The legs can overlap in the dish as long as no tips of the duck are escaping the liquid).

3. Melt the duck fat over medium heat in a saucepan and pour it directly over the duck legs.

4. Cover the dish with a lid or with tightly-sealed aluminum foil, and pop it in the oven for 3 hours. If you have ended up in the tough situation where the fat didn't completely cover the legs (like I did), see here for ways to avert disaster.
Duck ConfitNote: This is what the legs will look like if they're not completely covered in fat for the cooking. A lot of the meat closer to the skin that should have been tender got over-cooked and crispy. It was not the end of the world, but wasting tender meat is not ideal. They should only look like this after you've sauté-ed them in a skillet (Step 5-2).

At this point you can store store the legs covered in fat in your fridge or freezer for a quick heat-and-serve dinner later. A good idea would be to make more legs than you need and save the extras for later in the week, month, or year. The fat preserves the duck legs, so it won't go bad like a fresh duck leg sitting in the meat tray would.

Step 5 Choose Your Own Adventure
5-1. Skinless Confit - After 3 hours the duck should be fall-off-the-bones tender. Poke it and make sure. Remove the ducks from the very hot fat or let the legs cool in the dish until you're ready to eat. Then, either reheat the dish (since the fat will solidify and mummify your duck legs) or remove the legs to a cutting board before they get stuck in the cooling casserole. Rob Feenie says to now skin the duck, but that seems horribly unfair and counter-productive to remove it so late in the game, especially when the alternative is to enjoy its beautifully fat-soaked crispness. The whole point of the dish is to enjoy cooking with fat, but it's a whole lot better for you without the skin. Your choice. If you remove the skin you don't need to stick the meat in a skillet and you can serve it right away on a bed of greens.

5-2. Prettier and Much More Delicious, Fat-Oozing Confit - 10 minutes before serving, remove the duck legs to a skillet set to medium heat. Cover them and cook for 2-4 minutes, until the bottom is golden. Then flip the legs over and brown the other side. The skin should be crispy.

Shake the skillet to remove the excess fat from the ducks (and/or set them on paper towels for a second). Serve the legs whole on a bed of mixed greens or your green salad of choice (the salad doesn't need a dressing since the fat from the duck seeps onto the leaves. Heaven forbid you add more oil. You can sprinkle the salad with balsamic vinegar if you'd like, or make a dressing and just leave out the oil).
Duck Confit1How does it taste?? Crispy outside, incredibly tender inside, crunchy greens. Honestly, even if your salad is just romaine lettuce, the salad will be amazing. To clean up after dinner, strain the cooking fat from the pot and skillet (before it solidifies) through a fine-mesh strainer and stick it in the freezer until you crave confit again. Anything can be confit-ed. Tomatoes are very popular. Lemons. Other kinds of meat. The world is your oyster (do not confit oysters).

I really shouldn't feel like Rob let me down with his recipe. My version of this turned out fine, but it just cooked a little too fast and ended up a bit crisper than planned, since my fat didn't cover the duck legs. Rob's a swell guy, I'm sure, even though he's not French. Not his fault (the French bit), I suppose. Probably he used a different kind of casserole where the fat covered all the meat. In the future I would also try this recipe with a pot on the stove like in the French recipe, and just make sure I have a good thermometre.

I shared this confit with Ontario, and you can let Ontario share with you by enjoying your duck with a bottle of the Niagara wineryHenry of Pelham's Baco Noir. They're not even paying me to advertise...kind of sad. The saltiness of the skin will be cut by the dryness of the wine, and it will let the duck's flavour take centre stage.


Arugula Salad with Grapes

Ingredients
Vinaigrette:
1/3 cup green grapes
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon dijon mustard (dijon will be much better than prepared yellow mustard, but use what you must)
1/4 cup basil, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon diced onion, optional (shallots or sweet red onion work well. Yellow onions will be very pungent, but you're the one who'll have onion breath, so it's up to you to decide. If you make the vinaigrette in advance and let the flavours combine for a few hours in the fridge, it won't taste as strongly of onion)
A pinch of salt

Everything else:
3/4 lb shrimp, peeled (optional)
1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
5 cups arugula (you can make the salad with any green but arugula has a bitterness to it that goes really well with the sweet grapes. Just don't use a crispy lettuce because the salad will seem too watery)
1 cup seedless red grapes, optionally sliced in half
1 cup seedless green grapes, optionally sliced in half
1 tablespoon pine nuts or walnuts

Instructions
1. Blend the vinaigrette ingredients in a blender or food processor.
2. Bring 4 cups of water to boil in a large saucepan (if you're not using shrimp, you'll only need a cup and a half of water brought to a boil). Add the shrimp and cook for 1 minute.
3. Add the celery to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute.
4. Drain the shrimp and celery and rinse them with cold water. Pat them dry and add them to the washed arugula in a large salad bowl (the bowl needs to be big enough to toss the salad without having grapes go everywhere. Use a few bowls if you have to).
5. Add the 2 cups of grapes to the salad bowl (you can slice the grapes in half if you want, but it takes awhile. Teeth work just fine).
6. Place the pine nuts or walnuts in a small frying pan (or in the toaster oven on a tray) over medium heat and cook (or bake at about 400 degrees Fahrenheit) for 5 minutes or so, shaking the frying pan occasionally, until the nuts are fragrant and slightly darkened. Add them to the salad bowl.
7. Toss the salad with the vinaigrette.
8. Eat lots of salad.
9. Feel really good about yourself for eating such a delicious, healthy salad.


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