Bon Appétit (October 2013)
Dinner parties can be a great excuse to make an ambitious dish you've been wanting to try.
But sometimes it's the other way around: Making an amibitious dish can be a wonderful excuse for a dinner party.
That was the case with this Duck Confit with Pickled Raisins. The moment we saw it in this month's Bon Appétit, we knew we'd be making it. We loved the notion of pickled raisins. Paired with duck confit, it sounded like a perfect autumn meal.
But it's undoubtedly ambitious: Duck legs are pricey, and the cook time here is a solid five hours.
We needed an excuse.
What we needed was a dinner party.
Now. About this duck. We called a few grocery stores, but they didn't have any duck legs. We found some at Market Poultry at Eastern Market. But they weren't cheap: The eight duck legs were $75. (Now, that's enough for eight people, and the remainder of the ingredients probably total about 10 bucks. So it is an entree for about $11 a person. But that's still rather steep.)
So, armed -- or maybe legged? -- with our duck, we set out on this recipe. As we mentioned, this is a long-prep recipe. (In fact it's part of a cover story on "Make-Ahead Mains," entrees that you prepare mostly in advance.)
But the lengthy prep isn't just about working ahead. It's so you can render the duck fat and then use the fat to cook the duck. It's a pretty ingenious take on duck confit, which Bon Appétit editor Adam Rapoport explained on a recent episode of "The Splendid Table" with Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
Basically, you cook the duck for two hours, flip it and cook it another two hours or so, then take it out of the fat and finish it at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. We were having everyone over on Thursday night, so on Wednesday evening we cooked the duck for the first four-and-a-half hours and then packed it in the fat and stored it in the fridge. Thursday night all we had to do was the final 30 minutes of cooking.
Okay enough about the duck. Let's talk about these amazing pickled raisins. They are fantastic! We wanted a lot so we doubled the recipe (and used half golden raisins and half regular red raisins, just for variety). The vinegar and mustard seeds add wonderful flavor to the sweet raisins, and steeping them in the brine for an hour makes them nicely plump.
Final verdict? We have to be honest: The duck was good but not mind-blowing. For whatever reason, ours never got that crackly crispy skin that makes duck so great. And the meat itself was a tad overdone. We believe in this confit method, though. We're chalking this up to slight user error. We think we ended up overcooking this because our skin wasn't getting crispy enough. (And we also fudged with the timing a little on Thursday night so we could photograph the duck while it was still daylight. Perhaps we reheated it once too many times.)
Anyway, the maybe-not-quite-stellar duck hardly mattered because of the raisins. They were so juicy and flavorful that they really threatened to steal the show. We will absolutely be making those again (and we're already salivating at the thought of those raisins on a roast pork loin).
Interestingly, on The Splendid Table, Adam Rapoport makes a suggestion that's not in the recipe, but that we think is a good idea. He describes the raisins, saying, "Then we make a little vinegar-sugar-raisin glaze that you just boil on the stove. You throw all of these things in a pot and boil it down until it gets nice and syrupy. You can glaze the duck legs with that." Turning the liquid into more of a concentrated is something we'd try if we made this dish again.
Overall, the meal was a big hit. Trevor and Owen and Sue and Adam compared paint swatches for their new living rooms and swapped restaurant recs for their new neighborhood. We talked congressional predictions and shutdown shenanigans. (Hey, this was a dinner in D.C.) We worked our way through a few bottles of red.
Our point is this: The next time a big, ambitious dish calls out to you from the pages of a food magazine, don't think "This is too complicated" or "I don't have an occasion to make this" or "Who's got the time?"
Instead, start thinking, "Who can I invite over?"
Duck Confit with Spicy Pickled Raisins
Bon Appétit (October 2013) - Recipe by Dawn Perry
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Nutritional Information available at BonAppetit.com
The best part of making duck confit? All the rich fat you’re left with. Use it to roast potatoes—it’s an easy way to upgrade a classic. Whatever you do, don’t throw it away (it freezes well).
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more freshly cracked
2 tablespoons plus 1 tsp. kosher salt
9 sprigs thyme, divided
6 dried chiles de árbol, crushed, or 1 ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, divided
½ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
1 sprig rosemary
1½ cups golden raisins
Using the tip of a knife or the sharp tines of a carving fork, prick duck leg skin all over. Rub with garlic (slices should stick to skin) and season with 1 tsp. ground pepper and 2 Tbsp. salt.
Preheat oven to 250°. Arrange duck, skin side down, in a roasting pan or large Dutch oven and add 8 thyme sprigs, 4 chiles (or 1 tsp. red pepper flakes), and ½ cup water. Cover pan with foil or lid and cook until fat is rendered (don’t be surprised: there will be lots), about 2 hours. Turn duck skin side up and nestle it into rendered fat. Cover pan and continue to cook until meat is very tender and bones easily wiggle when pulled, 2–2½ hours longer.
Meanwhile, bring vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, rosemary sprig, remaining thyme sprig, 2 chiles (or ½ tsp. red pepper flakes), 1 tsp. salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Mix in raisins, remove from heat, and let cool at least 1 hour.
Increase oven temperature to 400°. Remove duck from fat and place, skin side up, on a rimmed baking sheet; reserve fat for another use (it will keep 3 weeks in refrigerator or 3 months in freezer; reheat and strain before using). Season duck with cracked pepper and roast until skin is brown and crisp, 30–35 minutes. Serve duck with pickled raisins.
DO AHEAD: Raisins can be pickled 1 week ahead. Cover and chill; bring to room temperature before serving. Duck can be cooked 1 week ahead. Pack duck in fat in an airtight container and chill.