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A Christmas Cassoulet (Day 2)

This portion may also be done on Day 1. You can buy pre-cooked duck confit and use chicken stock (also ready for purchase) if you like. You can also buy the duck, like chicken, already butchered.

But if you want a bit of Christmas Past, here’s how to break it down yourself. There are many methods, this is just one.

Duck carcass

Place the duck on a cutting board, breast side up and facing away from you.

Pick the duck up by the wing. This exposes the joint between the wing and the breast. With a boning or chef’s knife cut through the joint. Repeat for the other wing

Now turn the bird over, and using your hands grip the legs and pull them towards you. Now use your thumbs to feel where the thigh bones insert into the hip. Pull back with your hands and push forward with your thumbs in a slight twisting motion to pop the legs out of the hip socket.

Trimming duck breast

Turn the bird back over with the breast side up and away from you as in the starting position. Raise the breast up with one hand to expose the skin connecting the thigh quarter to the breast. Cut this along the lower ribs extending as far forward as possible. Repeat for the other side.

Flip the bird back over. Pull back on the thigh, noting where the head of the thigh bone is located. Run the knife parallel to the spine, keeping the blade between the thigh bone and spine. This will free the quarter. Repeat for the other side.

remove wishbone

Flip the bird back over so the breast side is up. This time have the breast face you. Feel with your fingers where the wishbone lies by running your fingers along the breast where it borders the cavity opening into the thorax. Make a small slit in the breast that overlies this tract.

Using your fingers, reach in and gently separate the flesh from the bone. Working towards the top where the wishbone joins the sternum, you will feel a little tab-like structure. Pull this towards you and the wishbone will pop free.

Now turn the bird away from you, still keeping breast side up. Run the knife parallel to the bone and cartilage running the length of the breast. It can be located as a slight depression separating each individual breast.

Turn the bird ninety degrees sideways so that keel now runs perpendicular to you. Using your thumb and hand pull the breast away and using the knife, gently separate the breast from where it attaches on the bottom to the rib. Repeat for the other side. If you prefer skinless breasts, just peel the thick skin and fat layer back off the breast meat.

Duck Breast

You should now have 2 wings, 2 thigh quarters, two breasts and 1 carcass. Remember, this approach works for any poultry.

For the confit. Technically, a confit is anything cooked in its own fat. Depending on the bird, you may need to add additional duck so the meat is completely covered while cooking. Place the thigh quarters and breasts skin (and thus fat) side down.

I like to add additional flavors, so I cover any exposed flesh with garlic, onion, carrot, celery, lemon, and a bouquet garni  or sachet (peppercorns, sage, thyme, oregano, parsley all tied off in a cheesecloth bundle).

Place in the oven at 250 degrees F for 3-4 hours until the flesh easily comes away from the bone with a fork.

For the stock. Place the carcass and any additional bits you get like neck bones and organs (do not use the liver!) into a stockpot.

making stock

Add the wings, if desired. Add garlic, onion, carrot, celery, lemon and the same bouquet garni as used above. Add 4 quarts of water plus a little extra. Simmer for 4-6 hours. Strain and reserve the stock.

When making stock in bulk, as in light chicken stock (a kitchen staple) I save several carcasses and use them together in a large stockpot to make several quarts of stock at once and then freeze whatever you do not need immediately. It beats anything you can every buy in the store, delivers restaurant-level flavor and superior nutrition by incorporating the benefits of a  “bone broth” and avoiding sodium-laden and other preservatives and flavorings. That’s practical Culinary Medicine!

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