Depending on where you grew up, you would answer the question- “what is your favorite comfort food?” differently. In the heartland of the good old US of A you might say a burger and fries. In the land of well-placed neck scarves, the Eiffel tower and baguettes with Bordeaux, you may exclaim- duck confit, oui oui oui! If you were reared with a side of English to go along with your heaping mouthful of French and you went to grammar school with Celine Dion in Quebec, surely you’d mumble- Poutine!- between glorious bites of gravy-and-cheese curd-topped fries.
I will never deny my guests their gustatory pleasures, so I’ve concocted a burger that will appeal to everyone on those common occasions when an American, a Frenchman and a Quebecois come to dinner. That’s right; I’ve found a way to pack duck confit, poutine and a quintessential burger into one compactly orgasmic sammie. Furthermore, it is my entry into the culinary hall of fame.
Did you know there was such a thing? If you didn’t know it’s probably because you haven’t yet been stalked by the likes of Jeffrey Steingarten and Anthony Bourdain, who anoint your ajna chakra with a streak of sea urchin smegma if they deem you worthy to join the club. I didn’t know it existed until last week when my new homies Tony and Jeffie showed up at the door with a centrifuge full of sea urchins. They said they were driving around looking for new members to induct into the culinary hall of fame and they smelled my duck confit poutine burgers, so they stopped.
They searched my kitchen for the requisite immersion circulators, blowtorches and infrared grills, then put me through a grueling battery of questions including- “what is the square root of prosciutto?” and “how much huitlacoche can you fit into a can of PBR?”. Once they were satisfied I’d cut the sprouted, artisan, small-batch Dijon mustard, they asked to sample my duck confit poutine burgers. At the first bite, Jeffie snatched the remaining burgers off the tray before I could present one to Sir Tony. Jeffie ran around the house cramming burgers into his mouth with all the veracity of a hotdog-eating contest winner, all the while unfurling articles of his clothing and tossing them in his wake so as to thwart our attempts at capture.
Anthony finally tackled him, but it was a messy affair since we learned Jeffie uses raw Civet milk butter as lotion and he was as slippery as a greased pig. I had to pry the last burger out of his maw so that Sir Tony could try it. The moment Tony put it to his lips, he dropped down on one knee and proposed marriage. They then anointed me with the sea urchin smegma- apparently part of the ritual involves them subsequently licking it off- and welcomed me to the club. The moral of the story is this: make these ridiculously off-the-hook burgers and Jeffrey Steingarten and Anthony Bourdain will show up for dinner.
But if you make them and they don’t show- and instead you have an American, a Frenchman and a Quebecois to dinner- your night will unfold in the following way:
The American will remove his shoes at the door to reveal white tube socks. He will then shed his jacket to expose a fanny pack. The Frenchman will refuse to acknowledge you’ve even hinted that he remove his loafers and instead walk into your dining room with a lit cigarette requesting a refresher on the aperitif he’s been sipping on the scooter ride to your house. The Quebecois will enter with yellow pea soup dried on his lip crevice and bellow a salutation in curious French that neither the Frenchman nor the American (who had French immersion lessons on an exchange during college) can comprehend. He will demand that you show him all of the Amazon.com packages he’s had shipped to your house so that he can confirm they arrived without incident. You will realize it’s going to be “one of those kind of parties,” and immediately begin chugging Nebbiolo and frying duck patties to medium rare.
Your guests will all be drunk by the time they tuck their bottoms into the dining chairs, because the Quebecois will have poured everyone generous glasses of Unibroue craft beer. You will forego appetizers in order to get some substance into their bellies so that they do not murder one another before the meal is finished.
You wisely tell the Frenchman that you’re serving duck confit, the American that burgers are on the menu, and the Quebecois that he will be feasting on poutine. At first they are all confused by the multi-layered, unfamiliar form factor, but they commence eating. Everyone voraciously inhales their first burgers, whereupon the Frenchman explains to everyone that this meal is the perfect example of why French cuisine is the highest standard of culinary measure. The American scratches his head under his ten gallon hat and thinks the Frenchman is crazy; after all this is a bonafide burger, and one of the best he’s ever eaten, at that. The Quebecois, who loves a lively discussion, wants to enter his thoughts into the fray, but he’s too busy filling up on the finest poutine he’s had outside the province.
The moral of the tale is this: there is something for everyone in these burgers. Find me a carnivore who doesn’t like them and I’ll do a headstand while hula hooping and drinking wine. Yes, they may be two-day burgers (because you have to confit the duck legs and start the buns a day in advance) but it’s mostly inactive time and it’s more than worth it.
Duck Confit Poutine Burgers
Start the duck confit the morning before the night you wish to serve them, i.e. 32 hours in advance. This will give you enough time to confit the duck legs, roast the bones and simmer the stock, and make the buns.
- 1 whole duck
- 2 c kosher salt
- 4 bay leaves, ripped
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- ½ c vermouth
- Water, as needed to make duck stock
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp flour
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 potatoes ( I use Okinawan purple sweet potatoes) julienned on a mandoline
- 1 c cheese curds
- 1 recipe burger buns- I use this one by Heston Blumenthal. It’s the best.
- Fabricate (dismantle) the duck in such a way that you separate the legs and thighs for duck confit, remove and reserve the duck breasts and any remaining flesh, and cleave the carcass bones/organs/neck into 2” pieces. Remove all fat from the duck breasts as well as all remaining fat you can get off the bird, but leave the fat on the legs that you will confit.
- Either confit the duck legs using a traditional method, or do this quick confit if you own a vacuum sealing device and have access to a controlled-temperature water bath such as a Sous Vide Supreme. In a foodsafe bag, combine the kosher salt, bay leaves, parsley, thyme and garlic. Agitate to blend well. Add the duck legs and seal the bag. Allow salt to penetrate duck legs for eight hours (the process is sped up considerably from traditional confit because by removing air, you compress the salt into the duck). Remove legs and rinse off salt. Place in a clean foodsafe bag, seal, and place in a water bath set to 170°F for 10-14 hours (overnight) or until meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. Quick chill in an ice bath, remove the meat from the bones, and reserve.
- Meanwhile, place all the fat you were able to remove from the breasts and carcass in a high-sided saucepan and render it over medium heat on the stovetop. Depending on your duck, you should get a cup or two. Strain out any remaining skin and reserve the duck fat to fry the julienned potatoes.
- Meanwhile, roast the duck bones and organs on 400°F in a 9x13” stovetop-safe (like Le Creuset) roasting pan for 45 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and deglaze with ¼ c vermouth. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, and repeat with remaining ¼ c vermouth. Add onions, celery and carrots then fill roasting pan to ½” from top with water. Heat on stovetop until water just simmers, then lower heat to lowest setting so that water is not boiling. Allow to reduce for roughly twelve hours (periodically skimming impurities off the top), until 3 c liquid remains. Strain and chill the liquid. The fat should form a crust at the top, which you can skim off and use in place of the butter called for to make the roux in a later step.
- If you have a meat grinder, run the duck breast/carcass meat through it as well as the duck confit. If you don’t have a grinder you can do this step my carefully mincing the meat with a knife. Mix well with your hands and add the egg yolk and garlic powder. You can lightly salt and pepper the meat mixture, but you’ll want to use a light hand since the duck confit already provides quite a bit of salt. Form the ground meat into 12 slider-sized patties (assuming two per person). I like to use a round cutter the same size as the buns I plan to use to shape the patties, that way they come out even.
- To finish the burgers you will need to simultaneously finish the sauce, fry the burgers and fry the potatoes. You will want to have your mise en place ready and your game face on since this is a lot to manage. You can start the gravy first since it is the least time-critical.
- For the gravy: melt the butter (or duck fat skimmed off the stock) in a saucepan. Add flour and stir frequently for two minutes to fully integrate the fat and flour as the base of your roux. Add the stock, whisking as you do. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally as the gravy thickens. Correct seasonings with salt and pepper. If this gravy is too thin for your liking, you can make a beurre manie by mixing softened butter with an equal part of flour and whisking it into the gravy.
- For the fries: Heat rendered duck fat in saucepan to 375°F. Add potatoes (in small batches) and fry, constantly agitating, for roughly two minutes or until crispy on the exterior and soft in the interior. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and reserve.
- For the burgers: Fry patties in a nonstick skillet in a little oil for about two minutes per side or until internal temperature reaches 140°, which is medium rare.
- To compose the burgers, place patty on bun base. Top with fries and cheese curds. Smother in gravy and squish together with top bun.