My mother is the kind of person who will look at bowl of Marcona almonds glistening under a heavy coat of oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and say, “I can’t eat those..too greasy.”
I did not inherit the “too greasy” gene from her. I think instead that I may take after my grandfathers. My one grandfather would ask for his pound of beef tongue at the deli counter “extra fatty” – a mythic request given that the “less fatty” beef tongue was already a heart-buster. My other grandfather poured half-and-half in his cereal instead of regular or (gasp!) skim milk. I recall him putting half-and-half in his ginger ale too.
Have you ever had a bowl of Raisin Bran with half-and-half? Quite the gorgeous (and fatty) treat.
Yes, when it shines, when it glistens, when it marbles, when it melts hot and solidifies cold, when some part of its name includes the word “belly” and when every doctor on the planet tells you it will eventually kill you, I want to eat it.
Fatty bacon. Fatty tuna. Fatty prosciutto. Fatty goose. Fatty duck. Fatty salumi.
Yes, I love fat.
When Keith brings over a few chunks of his freshly killed venison, or a bit of the wild turkey who had the misfortune of roaming through his backyard, I’ll stare down at those sorry slabs of my neighbor’s free-roaming, marble-less animal meat and remember that fat is a precious and rare stuff. It’s a true ‘all-natural’ preservative. It makes you full. It makes you warm. It makes the food taste better.
I think I learned my true reverence for the material when I first made duck confit from Judy Rodger’s six-page recipe-cum-treatise on the subject in The Zuni Cookbook. Buying duck legs was no problem – I went into Chinatown and paid just a few dollars a pound to take home bags of the plump dark nether-parts of recently plucked Pekin ducks.
But I had to travel far and wide to find the fat to cook it in (about 5-6 lbs). D’artagnan sells a dainty few ounces for about $5.99! If I wanted to drive an hour, I’d found a guy who’d sell me a few 5lb bags of the raw material, but I’d have to render it myself – a slightly dangerous and highly messy all-day project.
In the end I bought a frozen bucketful from my local market for about five times the price of the duck itself. I used and reused this precious stuff – through rounds of (fatty) graisserons, (fatty) duck, and (fatty) pork and gizzard confit.
I respect fat. I pay a lot for it. I’m thankful to have the good fortune of having it at the ready.
And then I fry something to a shattering crisp.
If you love fat and fatty bits, you should absolutely get the The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and spend the winter ticking off Judy’s fat-centric recipes. I make confit in batches of 12 legs but working with 4 is an easier way to wrap your head around the process. Whipping up 12 legs of confit is truly a daunting task. While confit is the ultimate fast food once it’s done, making it is not for the faint of heart.
A HIGHLY CONDENSED VERSION OF JUDY ROGER’S DUCK CONFIT
Serves: 4 (or 2 people twice)
4 whole duck legs (legs and thighs attached)
1/3 oz (approximately 2 tsp) sea salt per pound of meat
rendered duck fat, at least 2 cups of fat per pound of meat
1. Rinse the legs well and pat dry, trimming off any ragged edges of skin or fat (save these up in the freezer for making duck cracklings later). Salt the legs all over, a little more on the thick parts and less on the bony legs. Leave no bit unsalted. Arrange the legs in a single layer in a wide glass, ceramic, or stainless container, skin side down. Refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours.
2. Rinse the legs well, one at a time, under cold running water. Massage with your fingers; the flesh should feel firm. Dry the rinsed legs on a clean towel and pat dry. Test for saltiness by trimming off a bit of meat and simmering it in duck fat for 5 minutes. If it tastes too salty, rinse and dry each leg again. Place the legs on a very clean plate and rest at room temperature for an hour covered with plastic wrap.
3. Heat the fat until warm but definitely not bubbling, then add the duck legs to the warm fat. Choose the smallest pot that will fit your duck, to reduce the amount of fat you’ll need. If needed, add (yes!) more fat to submerge the legs completely. Heat the fat and legs to just below a simmer (200°F is perfect).
4. Stand by to adjust the heat, maintaining a steady temperature. Cook for a least an hour and maybe up to two. The meat should feel soft, like a roast chicken, but not falling off the bone.
5. When the meat is done, allow to sit undisturbed for 20 to 30 minutes. Using your mad tong-skills, gently lift the legs out and transfer to a glass or ceramic container, trying not to tear the skin or to disturb the liquid on the bottom of the pot beneath the fat. Skim the fat , and ladle it through a fine-mesh strainer over the cooked legs, again taking care not to disturb the gel at the bottom of the pot. Cover the meat completely — depending on the size of your storage container, you may need to melt more fat — and cool to room temperature.
6. Cover the container well, then refrigerate for at least three days to a week before using. I, in a very messy and unexplainable fashion, transfer my confit 2 legs at a time into FoodSaver bags, making sure each leg is totally surrounded in fat. I put the packs in the bottom drawer of my fridge and use throughout the year. In my experience, confit tastes the most gorgeous after at least three months.
LIKE if you love fat!
Take your boots off before you come in here!