Can caviar taste and Ramen Noodle budget exist together? This was the question that brought me to this recipe.
More specifically, can you put a budget friendly twist on the classic dish, Duck Confit? Duck Confit has a special place in my heart: succulent, tender meat and crispy flavorful skin. But there’s a down side. Besides being cooked in vats of cholesterol packed animal fat, it’s cook in very expensive vats of cholesterol packed animal fat. And since duck fat doesn’t grow on trees, I was committed to finding a more cost efficient alternative. There are two stages to a traditional confit recipe. The first is curing the meat with salt. The second, is slow poaching the meat in fat. As for the curing, for years I’ve used an herb-salt recipe from Thomas Keller’s cookbook, Bouchon. The recipe has always worked for me and I felt no need to change it. Finding an alternative to using duck fat would be the true hurdle.
No duck fat pretty much meant that I’d have to go with a plant-base cooking oil. Which then begs the question of whether or not I could even call it “confit.” The short answer is, “maybe, maybe not.” It depends on how much of a purist you are. Some are adamant that you must, under penalty of being publicly flogged, cook and preserve the meat in it’s own fat…let’s call them, ummm, I don’t know…French. But there are many who use the word more liberally, referring to slow poaching meat in any oil as being a confit. Let’s call these people, “non-French.” (Just joking)
More importantly, the real question in my head was, “Would it even work?” Meaning, if I used olive oil, would it overpower the flavor of the meant?; What happens to the flavor of olive oil after its cooked for hours?; Should I use canola oil? or; Would canola oil be too bland?
While doing a little internet detective work, I discovered that famed chef, Michael Ruhlman, had already tackled this question on his website with a recipe for Olive Oil Poached Duck Confit. I immediately came to the conclusion that if it’s good enough for Ruhlman, it’s good enough for me.
So, an olive oil blend it would be.
And since the objective of the experiment was to make it as budget friendly as possible, I decided to use dark meat chicken quarters in place of duck. Since chicken has a more delicate flavor than duck, I also decided to blend the olive oil with canola oil – which is more neutral.
While nothing compares to actual Duck Confit (cooked in it’s own fat), I have to say, I really liked this dish. The crispy skin. The succulent meat (obviously, less gamey than duck). I recommend serving it with something sweet to help balance out the fat and salt in the chicken.
In this case, I paired the Chicken Confit with a Beluga Lentil Salad (I’m still tinkering with the recipe). It was a good match. The salad (tart, cold, tangy and filled with crunchy veggies) did a great job balancing out the flavors of the chicken.
NOTE: After marinating the chicken with the herd salt rub, don’t for get to thoroughly rinse the chicken to remove as much of the salt as you can before starting the poaching.
OLIVE OIL POACHED-CHICKEN “CONFIT”
Adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller
½ cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped
¼ cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
1 1” wide piece of lemon zest, pith removed
2 teaspoons of black peppercorn
4 Chicken Dark Meat Quarters (leg/thigh) pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil (alternatively, use one part olive oil to one part neutral oil – such as peanut or canola)
Place salt, rosemary, lemon zest, peppercorns, in the bowl of a small food processor (or coffee grinder). Processor ingredients until well combined and the salt is a vibrant green. Set aside.
Rinse chicken legs under cold water and pat dry. Rub the green salt over the legs making sure to rub a little extra around the thick parts and the joints. Place the legs flesh side up in a baking dish, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
After the legs have marinated, preheat oven to 180°F.
Meanwhile, thoroughly rinse legs to remove all of the salt. Pat each dry and set aside.
Place the legs in an ovenproof pan no more than two layers deep. Pour enough of the oil blend (roughly, 2-parts olive oil to 1-part canola) in the pan to completely cover the chicken legs.
Over a medium high flame, heat chicken legs until the oil is warm and bubbles began to rise. Place chicken legs, uncovered, in oven, and cook for 6 hours – until meat is tender and fat is clear.
Remove legs from the oven and allow to completely cool. Refrigerate (still completely submerged) and store covered for up to a few weeks.
Before use, remove legs from heat and sauté skin side down to achieve crisp brown skin and then turn them over once to heat through – about 3-4 minutes total.
Drain legs on rack or paper towels.