Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sous Vide Duck Confit Carnitas

Sous Vide Duck Confit Carnitas 2
Being that cassoulet is probably my favorite food, I've made a fair bit of duck confit over the years. I've got big tubs of duck fat in the fridge (which gross Anna out) and a local purveyor that stocks several types of duck legs and sells them fresh. If you aren't lucky enough to live near a fancy butcher who can supply you with fresh duck legs you can always go with the more widely available fresh/frozen whole duck... take a pair and break them down - reserving the breasts for another (delicious!) use... or you can get the legs online. The more difficult aspect is likely getting duck fat... if you got a whole duck then you can render fat from it, or you can... once again... purchase it online. Isn't the internet great? You can also always use olive oil or some other fat if you like, but one of the advantages of the approach I'm outlining here is that you don't need very much and duck fat is fun to have just for frying potatoes or what have you.

My most recent epiphany in regards to duck confit preparation was turning to a "low and slow" technique where you cook the legs for 5-6 hours at 200 degrees F, but I came across recipes calling for even lower and slower. At the time 10-12 hours seemed like a long time to have a pot of fat bubbling in the oven, but now that I have a DIY sous vide setup it sounds like a snap. Indeed, I've already mentioned a key advantage... vacuum sealing the legs in pouches means only needing about two tablespoons of fat for each pair of legs. When you do it the traditional way you need something more on the order of multiple quarts of fat to keep the legs fully submerged.

While you could certainly make sous vide duck confit with a curing step (salted plus any additional seasonings for 24 hours), I didn't feel it was really necessary since these duck legs were destined to become carnitas (i.e. fried in more duck fat). This recipe is from the Sous Vide Supreme website with a few minor modifications:

Sous Vide Duck Confit Carnitas Tacos

Ingredients

  • 4 duck legs
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 4 tablespoons duck fat, plus 2 tablespoons reserved (melted)
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 6 medium tomatillos (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and split in half
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, split in half lengthwise, stem removed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • corn tortillas
  • chopped onion (optional)
  • cilantro (optional)
  • crumbled or shredded cheese, like queso fresco or monterey jack (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat water bath to 167 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Season duck legs with salt, pepper, and chili powder and place in 1 quart bags (2 legs per bag). Pour 2 tablespoons of duck fat into each bag. Evacuate as much are as possible from bag either by submerging in water, using a hand pump, or a vacuum pump before sealing and submerging bags in water bath for the next 8-10 hours.
  3. While that is going on prepare the salsa verde. Place the onion quarters, tomatillos, jalapeños, and garlic in a saucepan and add water to come up to about 1" below top of vegetables. Bring to a boil and them simmer until the vegetables are soft... about 10 minutes. Blend (hand held or standing) until salsa is smooth. Season with salt and then cool and refrigerate until needed.
  4. Remove bags from water bath and allow duck legs to cool enough to handle. Remove skin from duck legs and reserve. Shred duck confit into small pieces.
  5. Add reserved duck fat to small skillet and heat over medium high heat. Add shredded duck confit to skillet and fry until about half of it is crisp and browned, about 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, wrap duck skin in paper towels and put on a plate in microwave. Microwave on high until skin is crisp, 4-5 minutes. When cool cut cracklings into strips.
  7. Next up: heat tortillas. Heat a non-stick small skillet over medium high heat until hot. Dip a tortilla in water and then place in pan for 30 seconds. Flip and heat for another 15 seconds. Wrap in a clean dish towel and repeat with remaining tortillas.
  8. To serve, place tortilla on plate (single or stack of two based on preference) and add 2 or 3 tablespoons of carnitas. Top with salsa verde and cracklings (and onion, cilantro, and cheese if desired).

Note that this technique should work with pork carnitas just as easily (and I may in fact try it this weekend). Just swap out duck fat for lard and cubed boneless pork shoulder for duck and you should be in great shape. From this article on Kenji I'd probably go with 176 degrees F instead of 167.