I have been staring at the images of this dish for three days attempting to come up with a cohesive explanation for why my mind works the way it does. This is how it happened- I hope you enjoy your stroll through the moldy catacombs of my mental avenues. Come, let’s take a journey through the process of recipe development.
With duck, what’s not to love? It’s really all about that layer of fat that cooks down low and slow to impregnate the tender, dark flesh with nuances unrivaled by any other meat.
When twelve Moulard duck legs jump into your lap (or shopping tote) there is really no other choice than to confit them. In order to decide which spices to augment my salt-cure with for the confit, I thought about classic duck preparations. I bet if you closed your eyes and did not read the next thought, you too would come up with this most iconic of all renditions of duck- Duck L’Orange.
I thought about how to incorporate the flavor notes of L’Orange into my duck confit and I decided the very best way to modernize the dish and adapt it for duck legs rather than the entire duck was to revisit another classic- an orange cream soda.
I commenced curing duck legs in complements of orange: dried orange peel, hibiscus, lemon balm, and grapefruit peel. The hibiscus dyed the legs and they came out looking like a fuchsia appaloosa. I tossed them into a sous vide water bath and plotted out the next stages of the dish.
An orange cream soda consists of orange-flavored liquid, a creamy element, and an aspect of froth. Knowing liquid would be the backdrop of my plate yet needing to stick somewhat firmly in the savory camp in order to complement the duck, I opted to create something brothlike: a gelled blood orange consommé.
The beauty of consommé is that while it is punchdrunk with flavor, it is so light in terms of body that it will not overpower the other components of the dish. I opted to add gel because it’s sensationally crowd-pleasing to pour the thick gel on a hot plate at service and watch it change viscosity as it hits the dish.
Not wanting to simply drench my duck legs in consommé (that would render them soggy and altogether un-duck confit-like) I needed a membrane between the duck and the consomme. Enter the traditional Emilia Romagnan’ Christmas fare- Cappelletti in Brodo. “Cappelletti” means little hats, and the pasta really does resemble hats like you might see on a miniature Pope. They swim in “brodo” which is Italian for broth.
Cappelletti are typically filled with a mixture of meats including veal and pork, and the broth is made of bones from the same meat. You could say I’ve modified them substantially by filling them with duck confit and floating them in a pool of gelled blood orange consommé. Hey, I wouldn’t be Salty Seattle if I regurgitated tradition to the letter.
With the duck confit tucked safely inside their little Pope’s hats, and the gelled blood orange consommé consuming lots of refrigerator space, I only had to decide on the elements of cream and froth. The problem with pairing a cream with an acid like the blood oranges is that separation and coagulation occurs (sometimes this is a good problem with lovely results- think paneer, ricotta, etc). So again, I provided a barrier between the cream and the consommé in the form of spherification.
I spherified crème brulée using a relatively simple reverse-spherification process that works like a charm. There is no satisfaction like creating a perfect sphere with the miracle of modern kitchen science, then sizzling the living skin off it with a blowtorch to achieve the “bruléed” effect.
And finally, froth. I worked out several possibilities to creating a “head” for this dish, but ultimately settled on carbonated orange bubbles, since the color is so vibrant. Bubble-making in a culinary application is much like it was the first time you blew bubbles as a child on a hot summer’s day- magical and invigorating. The sensation of spooning bubbles into your mouth just before digging into the more substantial aspects of the dish is like having the carbonation of an orange soda pixilate on your rear palate in anticipation of the smooth liquid sliding down your throat.
Alright, so let’s deconstruct the deconstruction, shall we (now Apetite for Destruction is playing in my head)? This recipe has four elements (five if you count actually making the duck confit). Two are relatively easy with basic cooking knowledge- the gelled blood orange consommé and the orange bubbles. The cappelletti and the spherified crème brulée take a bit more time.
Because cappelletti is up there with the most pleasure-inducing pastas to make and eat, I encourage you to try it, even if it looks intimidating. I smattered this post with a grip of images of the process, and you might find this video helpful too. The spherified crème brulée came out perfectly following this technique, however I added additional sugar to mask the slightly bitter taste of the calcium lactate gluconate.
I see this dish as a marriage between the Slow Food Movement and modern (molecular, whatever you want to call it) gastronomy. As I’ve said before, at the end of the day, both camps set out to do the same thing. That is to create carefully-prepared food with consideration to sustainable-sourcing that ultimately pleases the palate in a thought-provoking way.
Duck Confit Cappelletti with Deconstructed “Orange Cream Soda”
*Read the recipe before you get started- you’ll want to plan ahead as it’s a multi-day affair.
For the duck confit:
*Makes extra confit that you don’t need for the recipe, but you can never have enough duck confit, and if you’re going to the trouble, you might as well make a decent batch.
- 1000 grams Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
- 50 grams orange peel, dried
- 40 g hibiscus flower, dried
- 30 grams lemon balm, dried
- 15 grams grapefruit peel, dried
- 12 moulard duck legs
For the gelled blood orange consommé:
- 1.5 c blood orange juice, strained
- 1.5 c stock (I use duck stock, but chicken will be fine too)
- 2 sheets leaf gelatin
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 egg white, whisked to a loose froth
For the duck confit cappelletti:
- 3 duck confit legs, shredded and minced
- 3.4 c cottage cheese, pureed
- ½ c parmigiano reggiano
- 2 lb pasta dough (I use a half-batch of Thomas Keller’s recipe in The French Laundry Cookbook)
For the orange soda bubbles:
- 4 oz orange juice
- 4 oz sparkling water such as San Pellegrino
- 15 grams soy lecithin powder
For the crème brulée spheres:
- Follow these instructions to a tee- they work very well, although I added an extra spoonful of sugar.
Duc k Confit:
- In the bowl of a food processor, mix the kosher salt with all the spices. Lay a bed of the salt mixture in a dish large enough to hold the duck legs without touching.
- Place the duck legs on top of the bed of salt and cover with the remaining salt.
- Cover and let rest for 24 hours.
- Cook en sous vide at 165°F for 24-36 hours.
- Open bag, immerse legs in duck fat, and chill until needed.
- Immerse the gelatin sheets in the stock for five minutes or until softened.
- Add the orange juice and sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- Whisk in the egg white until incorporated. Remove from heat.
- Pass through a chinois strainer into a shallow glass dish and store covered in the refrigerator until needed.
- Combine the duck legs, cottage cheese, and parmegiano in a medium bowl until well combined.
- Using a 2” square cutter, make square forms of the pasta dough rolled to the second-thinnest setting on a pasta roller. Make only a few at a time, as if the dough dries out it can crack and make cappelletti impossible.
- Spoon a dollop of dough into the center of the square. Fold into a triangle. Squeeze the edges together. Pick up the triangle and rest it around your pinkie finger, matching the long, folded edge with the crease between the top and middle sections of your pinkie.
- Fold the remaining edges around your finger and pinch together. If this is unclear, see the illustrations and watch the video I’ve linked to.
- Allow pasta to dry for 1-4 hours, then boil for three minutes to finish.
- Bring the orange juice and sparkling water to a simmer.
- Remove from heat and pour into the cup of an immersion blender. Add the lecithin and blend with the wand very near to the surface in order to create bubbles.
Heat plates until quite hot. Place several cappelletti on each plate. Add a crème brulee sphere, if using. Spoon gelled consommé over hot plates in order to melt consommé and create a broth around the cappelletti. Serve at once.