Chef taps into 500 years of french peasant history
By Timothy Fowler | April 11, 2022
Confit: a 500-year-old tradition
What relevance does a 500-year-old traditional meat curing technique have today, when we have refrigeration? Daniel Ducharme, owner, and chef at Riverbank Bistro in St. Albert, has a simple answer: “Deliciousness.”
We are talking about conﬁt — how he makes it and why he has it on the menu.
“Conﬁt is just delicious,” Ducharme says. “The answer to why conﬁt existed centuries ago — the whole curing process was to preserve the meat. You cure it with salt and sugar to draw the moisture out of the meat. Then you poach the conﬁt’s meat in fat and store it covered in fat to preserve it. If you could compare duck conﬁt to anything, it’s almost like bacon in the sense that it’s salty and fatty. The duck skin becomes crisp, and the meat remains moist. That’s the best part.”
Confit for survival
Centuries ago, French farmers salt-cured ducks and geese, covered them in rendered duck fat, and cooked them over a low ﬁre. Back then, families always kept conﬁt inventory that could see them through for more than a year. This meant that the conﬁt the family was eating was regularly a year or two old, safely cured and preserved by salt and a protective layer of duck fat in sanitized clay crockery.
Ducharme prefers King Cole Ducks from Stouffville, Ontario. The cure he uses is his own, made of salt and brown sugar, thyme, peppercorns, garlic, orange zest and bay leaves. He does a short cure overnight. The duck legs rest refrigerated on a rack in a sheet pan, allowing the moisture to weep and release and drip clear of the legs. The slow, moist heat of the poaching fat breaks down all that good stuff and makes the duck legs delectable.
Confit: luxury on a plate
Guests can sample the resulting duck conﬁt benedict on the Sunday brunch menu. Ducharme said, “Once poached, drained, and chilled, we pull the meat off the leg and shred it up with a little bit of orange zest and maple syrup. People like it. I make our hollandaise from scratch, and that’s a special bonus. I make a white wine reduction with spices, tarragon and star anise. It’s a little bit out of the norm. Then I add to that tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. Gluten-free is a big one these days, so I set aside a batch without Worcestershire sauce.”
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This article appears in the April 2022 issue of Edify