Duck confit is a labour of loveBy Ben Zagorski
October 24, 2012
Ben Zagorski, owner of the Star Inn in Waltham St Lawrence, is putting expert advice to good use
It was a while back when I first starting thinking seriously about taking on the challenge of having my own food business that I thought it’d be prudent to seek advice from everywhere possible.
Being a complete novice I decided send a few emails out and to my surprise the first reply came from a certain bespectacled restaurateur from Bray who gave me three simple, but vital, pieces of advice.
Firstly he told me to never lose my enthusiasm, secondly to remain true to classical cooking and finally to source the best possible ingredients.
So it may come as little surprise that one of our autumn dishes is confit of duck leg.
It combines my enthusiasm for seasonal produce along with an age-old classic French cooking and preserving method.
The “confit” technique is certainly a labour of love, but the results are well worth it.
For our duck we first place the joint flesh side down in a mixture of salt, herbs and spices then refrigerate for 36 hours.
This draws the moisture from the meat, aiding preservation whilst at the same time adding extra flavour and seasoning from the curing mix.
Traditionally you’d then completely submerse the duck joint in duck fat and simmer in the oven for several hours before allowing it to cool and for the fat to set around the meat.
Stored this way the duck joint can be kept quite safely for several weeks, even months.
The technique we use is essentially the same, just brought up to date using a vacuum packer and a waterbath.
This newer method ensures an almost perfectly consistent temperature throughout cooking and with it being vacuum packed it uses less duck fat, making it a pretty much the perfect menu option.
We cook our duck legs “sous vide” for 12 hours at a constant 73ºC, giving a total preparation time of two full days before it gets to the dinner plate.
They are then served with a seasoned potato cake, buttered carrots flavoured with a small pinch of cumin and a French style demi-glace sauce.
As Mr B quite rightly advises it’s all about finding the right ingredients when forming a quality menu and one of our goals has always been to source the best produce as locally as possible.
By getting all our meat from P&D Jennings in Hurst, our fresh veg from DWE Legg in Winnersh and by using Frost’s fish in Reading, we’ve managed to source virtually everything from within a 10-mile radius of Waltham St Lawrence.
I think it’s fair to say that our business may never be as fat as Mr B’s duck, but I’d like to think we are waddling down the right path.