My son, Nick Wolfert, a film industry assistant director, adores duck confit. Though a fine cook in his own right, he never makes confit himself. He prefers to wait until he comes home for the holidays, at which time he expects to find a crock of the stuff waiting to be crisped up by his loving mom.
This year, when I forgot to put up confit, he was so forlorn I offered to enlarge his horizons by teaching him how to slow-cook a duck in the oven that would have the familiar meltingly tender texture of confit, a crisp skin, and also a sauce. Nick was skeptical.
“Confit is like wine and women,” he said teasingly. “It gets better with age”
Still, I thought he would like this “quick” slow version nearly as much. The method I use, Spanish in origin, goes against most of the principles of duck oven cookery that appear in cookbooks. I halve the duck instead of cooking it whole. I don't put it on a rack. I never turn it. I don't remove the fat during cooking. Rather, I nestle the duck in a bed of chopped vegetables, and these, along with the fat rendered during cooking, keep the flesh succulent and flavorful. I only remove the duck fat at the end while the bird rests, garnering about two cups, perfect for sautéing potatoes, starting a stew, or preparing a small batch of real confit.
I explained to Nick that this dish would fit perfectly with his lifestyle. He could prepare the duck Saturday morning, clean up his kitchen, separate the fat from the pan juices, begin the base for a delicious sauce, and then go about his errands. That night, all he'd have to do is reheat the duck and crisp the skin just before serving.
He could finish his sauce with sautéed onions, caramelized root vegetables, glazed dried fruits, spiced lentils, or herb-flavored olives. The olive sauce, I explained, would provide an extra dimension of flavor, as good in its own way as the slowly developed flavor one gets from a well-preserved confit put up for one to three months. The base for the sauce should be made well in advance; then the sauce is quickly finished while the duck reheats.
“It would be a great dish to serve to a prospective girlfriend,” I added.
Steps 1 through 5 can be done early in the day or the day before.
The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert. Copyright © 2003 by Paula Wolfert. Photographs copyright © by Christopher Hirsheimer. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.