When I was in Cleveland for the Memorial Day weekend, in addition to the bridal shower, it was also really great to spend some time with my parents. The weekend festivities were so much fun and all the girl time was great, but relaxing with my mom and dad on Sunday was also a much needed breath of fresh air.
Actually, just being in Ohio in May is a breath of fresh air; around the spring-summer transition, the Midwest is a wide expanse of green carpet, with baby blades of pure green grass, thick foliage on the trees, and colorful flowers growing everywhere. It is a stark contrast to the dry landscape of southern California at this time of year. I can almost feel the trees breathing in and out and increasing my oxygen flow; meanwhile, the blue sky soothes away all my worries and cares while the sun warms my face. All in all, pretty heavenly. Since the dead of summer is reliably humid and at least 90 degrees every day, I think May is one of the best times of the year in Ohio.
Most of the time when I go back to Cleveland, either my mom has some special recipe planned that she wants to make for me (in the last couple of years I have been making recipes for her too!), or we have decided to make one of our classic meals for the holidays or a summer cook out. No matter what, there is always food and eating, and lots of it! More recently, my parents have also become budding foodies themselves, so it was no surprise when my dad told me he had picked up some duck legs at a kosher shop. He was really excited about making this recipe (his very first chef idol was Emeril Lagasse), and I was looking forward to it as well since I had never made duck at home.
When we were making it, everything seemed fine; we went through all the steps for the recipe without a hitch, and I think my dad really enjoyed being the head honcho in the kitchen while I worked as his sous-chef. I gave my mom a wink when I called him "Chef" once, and I think out of the corner of my eye I saw him puff up with pride.
I thought the finished product tasted really great, especially for our first attempt at making duck! Maybe I am just used to tackling complicated recipes in the kitchen, but my dad thought it was too much work and not worth the effort. I guess if I am being critical, this wasn't really up to the caliber of the duck I have eaten in fine dining establishments, but I think it was quality enough for a Sunday dinner for three. The presentation was really lovely, the flavors blended together surprisingly well, and I especially enjoyed the paring with the spinach for extra texture. When you cut each leg, the crunchy breading gave way to the succulent meat, and a bite of the duck with a little spinach and sausage was wonderful. I expected the dish to taste rich, and it did not disappoint.
So here is my question: The recipe was originally called "Pecan Crusted Duck Confit." As I mentioned before, when we made the recipe, I just followed the directions and didn't think too critically about any aspect of the cooking (I was tuckered out from the bachelorette party the night before, can you blame me?). Later on when I really thought about it, I couldn't understand how this recipe was "confit." From what I know, or have read, confit is usually prepared by salting the duck and keeping it chilled for about 24 hours, then cooking it in rendered duck fat in the oven at a low temperature for several hours. The original recipe included none of those elements; how was this presented as confit?
Maybe I am missing something here, so I am hoping that some of my more experienced readers might be able to chime in with some knowledge on the subject. Please leave a comment if you can provide some insight.
Either way, confit or no confit, I really enjoyed this dish. Perhaps I remember it so fondly because I got to sit out on our deck at twilight in the cool air, and eat with my parents. Eating good food is nice, but eating good food with those you love is exceedingly more memorable.
Pecan Crusted Duck with Spinach and Sausage
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse, on The Food Network
1 cup sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onions
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cups spinach, cleaned
3/4 cup thinly sliced red onions
1 cup pecans
1 1/2 cups flour
Emeril Essence (mix of paprika, salt, garlic powder, black and cayenne pepper, onion powder, oregano and thyme; find measurements here)
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
4 duck legs, including thighs, washed, dried, and seasoned with salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large, oven-proof pan, saute the sausage for about 3-4 minutes, until it releases fat and is lightly browned but not cooked through (break up any large pieces). Add the next three ingredients, and saute for an additional 3-4 minutes until onions are translucent. Transfer the sausage-onion mixture to a medium bowl using a slotted spoon (leave excess fat in the pan for cooking the duck). Add the balsamic vinegar to the bowl, mixing well, and follow by whisking in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
To prepare the duck, first make the breading. In a food processor, pulsing the pecans, 1/2 cup of the flour, and a few pinches of Emeril Essence to form a fine crumb. Place breading in a small bowl. Transfer the remaining flour to a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. The egg wash should be in a small bowl as well. For breading the duck legs, first dredge them in the flour, shake off any excess, then in the egg wash, and then in the pecan mixture. Each leg should be coated completely with the pecan crust.
In the same oven-proof pan you used before, re-heat the remaining fat over medium-high heat. If you don't have much left, add a few tablespoons of olive oil. When hot, add the duck legs to the pan, and fry them for about 3-4 minutes per side. Then transfer the pan to the oven, and cook for 10-13 minutes. I didn't estimate that our legs were overly large, but they took a longer to cook through than the original recipe suggested. Adjust your cooking time depending on the size of your duck legs, but don't overcook or they will be dry and rubbery.
Meanwhile, saute the red onions in a large skillet until just tender, about 3 minutes. Then add the spinach and toss together with the onions until the leaves are wilted; add the sausage vinaigrette to the pan and mix everything together well. To serve, place a portion of the spinach and sausage on a plate in the center, and top each with one duck leg.