Does anyone else remember Melanie Dunea’s book ‘My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals’? The premise is simple. Melanie asked 50 notable chefs what they would eat for their last meals. The answers were varied and rich with elaborate depth. Who wouldn’t want to know where Alain Ducasse would like his supper to be? And who would prepare Daniel Boulud’s final meal? What would Anthony Bourdain’s guest list look like? As the clock ticked, what album would Gordon Ramsay be listening to?
If you could pick your last meal – what would it be? For my last meal on Earth, I would select a dish that is both humble and classic. I would choose a duck confit. There is something utterly delicious about obscenely crisp duck skin mixed with succulent duck meat. It is a dish that my wife Lisa and I have shared commemorating many events. Duck confit is the very first solid food my son Beaumont ate.
My Last Meal
I would accompany my duck confit with nothing more than perfectly cooked potatoes, Lisa’s simple green salad, and a perfect red Burgundy. My entire family would be sitting at the table sharing this last moment with Edith Piaf’s ‘J’ai dansé avec l’amour‘ playing soulfully in the background. Yes, I know the obvious choice would have been ‘La Vie en Rose’ but I like her sultry tone in this tune better. It would be a celebratory moment with no tears shed – only joy at a life well savored.
Duck confit is not a dish you decide to make at the spur of a moment. It requires patience and time, but in the end, you are richly rewarded for your efforts. Confiting a duck is a simple but lengthy process. Nothing is gained by following the numerous shortcut recipes you will find online. The depth of flavor comes from following all the time-honored steps. First, you need to cure the duck legs for three days to infuse flavors down deep to the bones. Then, you slow cook the legs in a golden pool of duck fat at a grandmotherly pace. Finally, when you are ready to eat, you crisp the skin slowly to develop a crunchy potato chip like crispness before serving it. My god, I am drooling.
So what would be your last meal? Who would you share it with? What music would be playing?
Crispy Duck Confit
For the Confit
- 4 duck leg quarters
- 1/4 cup coarse sea salt
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- 1 sweet onion unpeeled, sliced
- 1 head garlic unpeeled, coarsely chopped
- 1 quart rendered duck fat or pork lard
For the Potatoes
- 1 pound Yukon Gold
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 head garlic cloves peeled, 2 smashed and the rest thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To make the confit, in a large bowl toss the duck legs with the salt, peppercorns, thyme, onion, and garlic. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 days.
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Rinse the legs and discard the salt mixture. Place the duck in a large Dutch oven and cover with 1 inch of the duck fat. Bake until the meat just barely falls off the bone, about 3 hours.
Remove the duck from the oven and let it cool in the fat. To serve later, freeze in individual portions with a small amount of fat (for the express purpose of having it ready when you need to brown the skin) and serve it at another time.
To crisp the duck legs, spoon a generous dollop of duck fat in a large nonstick skillet over low heat until it melts. Add the duck legs, skin-side down, and cook until the skin starts to crackle and turn brown, about 10 minutes. Low and slow is the preferred method here. Transfer to a plate and keep warm. Set the skillet aside.
To make the potatoes, in a medium saucepan, combine the potatoes, bay leaf, thyme, and the 2 cloves of garlic and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and continue to boil until the potatoes are easily pierced with a small knife, about 10 minutes. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and add them to the skillet you cooked the duck in. Cook over low heat until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until it’s light amber, about 2 minutes. Pour the potatoes and garlic into a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl to remove the duck fat. Reserve the fat for another use. Return the potatoes and garlic to the skillet and stir in the thyme and salt and pepper. Serve the potatoes alongside the duck confit on warmed plates.