Another day, another decade – Ravioli of duck confit

Well, I certainly didn’t intend to be out of commission for quite this long. Between Jason’s spring break, Christine traveling for work, and my job kicking into a burst of high gear, the pattern has been to realise Tuesday at lunch that I hadn’t written a post yet, and subsequently have no time to devote. Much of that time has been eating out or utility eating – eating just to get it out of the way – and not interesting (or always healthy, either). Boy, do I have some updates for you.

My 30th birthday was Saturday, the 5th. As I joked the week before, I figured I was leaving the Roaring Twenties and headed for the Great Depression. Little did I know that my wife, superstar that she is, had organized some surprises for me for the weekend. My best friend from college flew in from Seattle. My brother flew in from Seattle. And my parents drove down from Kentucky. Three times in 36 hours I was floored by these surprises – I’m touched that everybody came in for it. We threw a big part on Saturday night, with more out of town guests (my college roommate came in from Austin, another close friend of ours came in from Austin) and a slew of people in town came out to celebrate in real style, which I’m still recovering from. A big huge Thank You! to everybody for being a part of it.

One gift out of many worth mentioning here that I wanted to highlight was a copy of Michael Ruhlman’s The Elements Of Cooking. I’m about ten pages into it, but that and a quick through has told me that this belongs in any intermediate and above cook’s kitchen. It’s an analog of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, but aimed at cooks instead of writers. Run, don’t walk, and pick a copy of this up – it will improve your cooking.

So, in the spirit of big celebrations, I have more of a story than a recipe this week. I decided back in December that I wanted to try my hand at duck confit. Confit is a preserving technique where meat is salt-cured then slowly cooked in fat until tender, then chilled in the cooking fat. (For a much better definition, see the aforementioned The Elements Of Cooking – I think I’m going to be referring to that a lot on this blog.) The actual confit process is amazingly straightforward and doesn’t require many steps, but does require spacing out those steps over a few days. I left the duck legs to cure in the cooking fat until February or March, I think, and decided to tackle making dinner with them one night when I had the house to myself.

Using duck confit is easy – heat it enough to get the legs out of the encasing fat, heat through on a skillet (it’s already cooked), and go to town. Which I did – making fresh pasta dough from scratch, caramelized onions, and the duck confit to make a homemade ravioli. Really, once the duck is done, the rest is assembly – cook sliced onion in a pot with 1 Tbsp butter per onion until it browns, make pasta dough as below, stuff, cook (I toasted in a skillet, should have boiled briefly first then toasted). Highlights:

  • Pasta dough – 100g flour (about half a pound) and 1 egg per portion. Don’t forget to let it rest in the fridge before trying to roll it out.
  • I will never roll out pasta dough for ravioli by hand again. Much of my time in the kitchen that night was spent doing pushups on a rolling pin trying to get the pasta dough thin enough. It didn’t work, in the end – the ravioli were still too chewy. Next time, I’m borrowing a pasta machine.
  • Warm duck confit is nearly impossible not to devour while cooking.
  • Warm duck confit shredded with caramelized onions is even harder to resist while cooking.
  • Charge the camera batteries. I have many pictures of this process, which I may edit in at a later date. The picture I’m missing is of the final dish of toasted ravioli with buttered leeks and a red wine sauce – the camera battery died and I had no idea where to find another camera or battery.
  • It’s just as well that the camera was out. The ravioli came out too thick and doughy, and the red wine sauce broke while I was scrambling to find a working camera, reducing a deep red delicious sauce to a bitter mix of red wine bits in butter. I pulled out a few tricks to try and save it, or prepare another in record time – and summarily decided that I need to work more on my sauces.

Try making a confit one weekend – it’s actually easy to do, and the results are well worth the time and effort.