If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that basic commodities can disappear in the blink of an eye and you must learn to source things and be able to take care of yourself. And, unless you’re headed to one of this country’s fine restaurants — so many are closed — you might be better off making your own delicious meals at home. It reminds me of a flight I had several years ago coming home from Israel. I was seated next to a rebbetzin (Orthodox rabbi’s wife) and on her other side, was her husband the rabbi. The rebbetzin and I struck up a fun conversation, when I told her that I roamed the world to write about different restaurants and foods.
She acted as “translator” to her husband as he mostly spoke in Yiddish and also, because in his realm, it was improper to have some involved conversation with an unknown woman. They agreed that it was an interesting thing to go to all these places and write about them. The rebbetzin herself noted that they had recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at a restaurant. But, she pointed out, that she could really control the quality of her meat dishes — as well as feed her large family — by cooking at home. “I really like the way I make things taste!” she beamed proudly.
Most people will never eat the foods of the award-winning chefs like Tom Colicchio, Daniel Boulud or Alain Ducasse. But you can buy the same meats and gourmet products that they do and have them sent to your home! D’Artagnan is a wonderful and welcome alternative to the often poor quality meat offerings at the local grocery store. I was happy to be hosted to experience it!
The name D’Artagnan comes from the narrator of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. Their logo/mascot is a duck wearing a French musketeer’s outfit; I am 100% confident that if they sold merchandise with Monsieur Musketeer D’Artagnan de Canard, it’d sell like hotcakes. What foodie wouldn’t want a Christmas tree ornament, nightshirt or apron with him on it?
Long, long before food producers figured to add certain buzzwords to marketing materials, the folks at D’Artagnan have committed to free-range, natural production and sustainable, humane farming practices, without added hormones or antibiotics.
They also offer heritage breed products, a large variety of cuts, game birds, raw and cooked products.
When it really “counts” — like for holiday dishes — I don’t play around. I order D’Artagnan meats and poultry for Passover, for instance. I know I can rely on them. My last name is German/Austrian/Yiddish for butcher. My grandfather was apprenticed in the trade in Poland. When he came to the US before WWI, he spent time working in meat processing plants in Iowa. Even after he became a businessman, my dad said that he insisted on doing all of the grocery shopping, going to the butcher and back where the cutting was done. Out of respect for who he was, the butchers let my grandfather whip out a pocket knife and make cuts on a steer of what he wanted packaged. I don’t really have that kind of knowledge. I know about marbled cuts, but I can’t even rely on my sense of color — non-factory produced poultry, for example, don’t have the same look as the real deal.
Foodies know that the centuries old dish, duck confit — salt cured, cooked in its own fat — is a main ingredient in cassoulet, along with white beans and sausages. A proper one takes two full days to make. Maybe like sourdough, you’re up for the big project. Or perhaps, you would like some easy ideas for a luxurious repast.
So, I got to try duck leg confit, made from free-range Moulard ducks, garlic and spices.
Sure, restaurant chefs will take time to “build layers of flavors”. That means that each ingredient gets seasoned and prepared in a different way, then, combined. But face it, after a full day of work plus caring for your home and family, it feels easier to order something in again, rather than build layers of flavor.
You don’t have to do that with D’Artagnan’s confit products! It’s a tremendous secret shortcut. It’s already perfectly seasoned, with sweet and rich meat.
This is how they suggest using duck legs confit: “Our fully-cooked duck leg confit can be crisped in a skillet, grilled, or broiled. Add a salad dressed with a tangy vinaigrette for a quick weeknight meal. The meat can also be shredded off the bone for use in a variety of dishes, from soups and salads to pastas, casseroles, and even tacos.”
So, here are the things I made with it!
I kind of riffed on an Alice Waters recipe involving duck confit with leeks and green olives. I eventually stuck some slices of stuffed Queen olives as garnish, but not in the photo, because it was a little busy. I will say this: it’s smart, economically and staying out of the stores, to do a little Gordon Elliot-style Door Knock Dinners with what you can find in your cupboard. With an internet search, you can easily find recipes that combine what you have in a delicious way. Even absent that, you can use your own judgement and palate to mix ingredients. Over the years, I’ve become more confident about things and don’t need to look up, “Can you do this?”, whether that’s with food or a fashion choice.
So, I grabbed half a bag of barley I had and cooked it in duck broth I made and froze at Passover. In a nice cast iron pan, I slowly heated up the duck leg confit. While that was going on, I soaked some sun-dried tomatoes in some warm water to plump them. You could substitute any dried fruit, even high quality raisins. When some of the duck fat was melting in the pan, I added some thinly sliced leeks and crisped them. You could substitute slow-roasted garlic, onions, any root veggies. Then, I shredded the duck leg confit. I mixed the duck, leeks and chopped sun-dried tomatoes. That’s it.
I have a little metal form, but the bottom of any tin can will suffice. On a plate, I tightly packed the barley into the form, then topped with the duck/leek/sun-dried tomatoes mix. It’s so easy and look how fine-dining it is! You could drizzle some balsamic vinegar, I probably would not use the duck confit with a rich cream sauce, like an Alfredo, because that would be too-too.
I saw somewhere about using duck confit in Banh Mi, the traditional Vietnamese sandwich. It is an evolution of their previous colonial French cuisine adapted to the needs of the indigenous peoples.
I also got to try D’Artagnan’s Black Truffle Butter: mellow, rich and very generous with that umami flavor of the black truffles! You could use it as a luxe finishing topping for steak or fish.
I used it as part of my specially upgraded Banh Mi! I had some slices of homemade sourdough bread I have in the freezer. You’ve probably got some, too. I quick pickled some shavings of garden radishes that half-way grew for me, along with organic multi-colored carrots and jicama strips. Along with some cool slices of English cucumbers (which are less watery) and cilantro (it doesn’t taste like soap to me!), the shredded duck leg confit was just so delicious on it! There was a little shredding involved, but that’s not exactly molecular gastronomy or getting a brule’ torch out. You could make little Banh Mi sliders for a house gathering, serve with a cold IPA. You can do this!
They suggested tacos and I stared at a taco stand that usually serves as decor on my cutting counter (why have more space, when you can decorate, right??). So, it had been a very long time since I had my own “Taco Tuesday”, but I was game. Several brands have kits that are fool-proof and cheap. Here’s my secret tip: it sounded better to warm taco shells in the oven and maybe mine’s not calibrated correctly, but I ended up charring a few to the point where the dog wouldn’t even eat them. Do yourself a favor, nuke them a few seconds in the microwave and keep life simple.
I added a few colors of little baby tomatoes cut in half, chopped scallion, some fresh lime juice, little batons of pepper jack cheese, sliced black olives. Now I see what the whole craze is about! You can definitely serve a couple people with one duck confit leg. To me, it’s much tastier than ground beef tacos and with the rich duck, it brings to mind barbacoa.