French Onion Soup with Figs, Gruyere, and Duck Confit
Yields 12 8-ounce servings
From Chef Sean Fowler of Mandolin in Raleigh, North Carolina
6 medium yellow onions, peeled and julienned
2 ounces butter
2 ounces vegetable oil
1 gallon duck or beef stock
Bouquet garni (4 bay leaves, 20 peppercorns, 1 bunch of thyme)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 loaf sourdough sandwich bread
12 ounces shredded gruyere or comté cheese
4 legs and thighs of confit duck meat, pulled off of the bone and roughly chopped (recipe follows)
1½ cup small diced dried figs
Chopped parsley for garnish
4 duck hind quarters (legs and thighs attached with skin on)
½ cup salt
¼ cup sugar
½ cup chopped parsley
4 bay leaves
1½ quart duck fat or lard
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bunch thyme
5 cloves garlic, smashed
Chef Sean Fowler combines French and Southern classics with modern twists at Mandolin in Raleigh, North Carolina as with his recipe for French Onion Soup with Figs, Gruyere and Duck Confit. Chef Fowler fortifies the usual beef stock with the sweetness of chopped figs and succulent duck confit meat. This Onion Soup is far from ordinary and while it takes a few extra steps to complete, it is well worth the effort.
Sear onions in sauteuse or rondeau with vegetable oil over high heat. Evenly distribute onions around pan, and let sit undisturbed 2 to 5 minutes until golden around edges. Stir onions thoroughly, and evenly distribute, and let sit again 2 to 5 minutes until edges begin to get golden brown. One final time, stir again, redistribute onions evenly around pan, and let sit untouched until brown at edges. Do not agitate onions too much so that they have opportunity to get good caramelization.
After third stir, reduce heat to low, add butter, and season with salt and black pepper. Allow onions to sweat over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.
Slowly cook onions over low heat until deep brown and most of liquid is absorbed, approximately 1 to 4 hours. The longer and slower, the better the flavor.
Tie bouquet garni herbs in cheesecloth to make pouch. Add stock and bouquet garni to pot. Simmer over low heat for about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Remove bouquet garni from soup.
Carve 12 pieces of sourdough bread to fit bowls, and toast.
Distribute soup into bowls. Place one piece of toast on top of each bowl of soup. Garnish with duck, figs, and healthy portion of cheese. Place bowls on sheet pans.
Bake in oven for about 5 minutes, until cheese is browned. Remove soups from oven and let cool for at least 5 minutes, garnish with parsley, and serve. Be careful- bowls and soup will be very hot.
To make cure, place salt, sugar, parsley, and bay leaves in food processor. Pulse until thoroughly combined.
Sprinkle cure over duck quarters in non-reactive container. Make sure duck is thoroughly covered on all sides. Pour any excess cure on top of duck, and place plastic wrap on top of duck and weigh down with another container of same size and some cans or other weight. Place in refrigerator for 2 hours.
Remove duck from refrigerator, and flip pieces over, re-apply plastic and weights.
Cure for an additional 2 hours. Remove duck from cure and thoroughly rinse to remove cure. Pat dry and place in metal pan with peppercorns, thyme, and garlic.
Preheat oven to 190 degrees.
Render fat in separate pan. Pour warm fat over duck, make sure duck is fully submerged, and wrap pan in foil. Place pan in oven for 6-8 hours, or until meat is pulling away from foot joint.
When done, remove duck from fat, cover and refrigerate. Use within two weeks. Fat can be strained, cooled, separated from duck juices, and reserved for later use. Alternatively, duck legs can be preserved by rendering fat, straining and removing duck juices. Then pour fat back over duck legs, cover and refrigerate for up to a month.