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Daniel Duane

slow-cooker duck confit

30 posts in this topic

Can't remember who suggested this to me, but I tried making confit in my All-Clad Slow Cooker last night. Put in the legs and fat before bed, set the cooker to High for 8 hours, woke up to great (although perhaps a smidge too falling-off-the-bone) confit. Great application for this not-so-little appliance.

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Sounds convenient, but be careful about botulism, an infrequent but deadly food-poisoning risk. Current popularization of confits often ignores this point, and many people also get confused because botulism develops in three phases. Spores, impossible to kill with common cooking methods if the food contains any moisture at all; anaerobic growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria (which is inhibited by high acid or certain preservatives, but not the usual ingredients in modern confits), and toxin that the bacteria make; dangerous, leaves no reliable spoilage cues, but can be destroyed by brief cooking at boiling temp.

The problem with confits is that cooking meat or vegetables under fat, then keeping the food at refrigerator or (even worse) room temperature, is a good way to cultivate the bacteria, and people sometimes then eat confits with little or no further cooking.

These Threads from last year go into details. Be sure to read the entire threads because some information, including answers to misconceptions, occurs well into the threads. These are summaries of authoritative information you can look up in medical references or public-health Web sites. Tip: Do not risk your or others' lives based on armchair information or reassurances that many people offer about this subject.

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interesting. thanks! makes me glad I put the slow-cooker on "high," which is about 240 degrees. In theory, that's too high for duck confit, which wants to be down around 190.

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Regarding botulism risks, appliance temperatures don't matter much. That's in the linked threads and is an attractive source of misconceptions. Water content tenaciously* limits localized temps. in or near cooking food to a maximum around 212 F or 100C. To reliably kill C. bot. spores requires the spores themselves experience a few minutes at 250F (that 250 is from memory; please rely on public guidelines at FDA, NIH, or WHO sites, very easy to find by Googling). In commercial preserved foods this is routine (and compulsory) via pressure cooking to raise the boiling point of water. Foods stored under fat after cooking account for some high-profile botulism cases, leading for example to the US restrictions against storing garlic under oil in restaurants.

*Very tenaciously, due not just to the water itself needing to vaporize at 212 F, but also to water's large Lvap (latent heat of vaporization), which draws a lot of energy from surroundings as water transitions to vapor form, yielding a potent natural temperature regulation.

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having read your first suggested thread, actually, I've now learned that 240-degree oil does not mean 240 degree food. thanks again for the education.

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our posts must've crossed each other in cyberspace--I love learning this kind of stuff.

So, help me think about proper procedure going forward, with the current batch: each leg got a tablespoon of herb salt rubbed into it, and an overnight sit in the fridge, to let the salt draw out a little moisture, and to season the meat. Then every leg got rinsed and blotted dry, immersed in fat, and held at around 240 for 8 hours (which, frankly, pushed them a little past ideal tenderness). Now they're refrigerating while the fat cools separately, in the fridge, to allow all the moisture to separate from the fat. My plan was to then discard the moisture (or, rather, save it as a gel for soups), melt the fat, pour it back over the legs, and store in the fridge.

better to freeze? or ... simply important to make sure each leg spends enough time in a 250 oven before serving?

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noticing that Ruhlman's Charcuterie recommends cooking at only 180 degrees, and encourages storing in the fridge for up to 6 months, but does suggest finishing the 5-10 minutes in a 450-degree oven before serving.

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Sounds convenient, but be careful about botulism, an infrequent but deadly food-poisoning risk. Current popularization of confits often ignores this point, and many people also get confused because botulism develops in three phases. Spores, impossible to kill with common cooking methods if the food contains any moisture at all; anaerobic growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria (which is inhibited by high acid or certain preservatives, but not the usual ingredients in modern confits), and toxin that the bacteria make; dangerous, leaves no reliable spoilage cues, but can be destroyed by brief cooking at boiling temp.

The problem with confits is that cooking meat or vegetables under fat, then keeping the food at refrigerator or (even worse) room temperature, is a good way to cultivate the bacteria, and people sometimes then eat confits with little or no further cooking.

These Threads from last year go into details. Be sure to read the entire threads because some information, including answers to misconceptions, occurs well into the threads. These are summaries of authoritative information you can look up in medical references or public-health Web sites. Tip: Do not risk your or others' lives based on armchair information or reassurances that many people offer about this subject.

I am very skeptical that there is any scientific basis for the above (in particular the idea that keeping food at refrigerator temperatures is a botulism risk). Do you think botulism toxin is produced at proper refrigerator temperatures?

ETA: Maybe put a better way - is there anything to indicate unsafe behavior in the original post? It strikes me as fear-mongering to say that confit preparations are good ways to cultivate botulism rather than saying "just be careful to eat it within a week if refrigerated or throw it in the freezer".


Edited by bmdaniel (log)

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I've been doing my duck confit for at least eight years in my slow cooker, from Lora Brody's book of slow cooker recipes. I mentioned it on eGullet several times; perhaps that's where you saw it. In short, it works wonderfully. Regarding botulism, I have no special concerns mainly because I do not store the cooked duck as the traditional manner of confit dictates: I do not store the meat under oil, but rather drained and in the refrigerator. I then freeze the oil, immediately. This also reduces the demands on my fridge space. And if some food researcher would like, I'd be happy to donate some of the duck oil to be examined for bacterial spores (by now I have several quarts of the rendered stuff).

Ray

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PLEASE, before commenting skeptically here, read the associated threads (linked above) in entirety. Also, everything I or Lisa Shock mentioned comes from the current professional edition of the Merck Manual (standard physicians' reference book), CRC Handbook of Food Toxicology, or online US FDA and CDC advisories. you can confirm it yourself to the letter, and get more depth, if you're willing to do just a little work.

Even though the details we've cited are widely published (and are even part of modern professional training for cooks), ignorance (or armchair expertise, rules of thumb, rationalizations, etc. etc. etc.) is so widespread that the NY Times unwittingly published a dangerous garlic confit recipe (first of the two linked threads), adding cautions later; many published recipes ignore the issue; and as already cited in the linked threads here, you'll find patently unsafe practices (which would bring down health department enforcement if discovered in US restaurants) on online cooking sites, including this one, including portions of the second linked thread.

To repeat a few details: No source I've seen suggests forsaking confits or other anaerobically stored foods. As I keep repeating, standard published safe practice, also recommended by manufacturers of fresh (non-pressure-sterilized) confits, is to freeze them, or use them within a "few days," and/or raise the temperature throughout the preserved food to boiling (actually 80 C is the minimum) for a few minutes before serving. I've greatly enjoyed fresh confits served that way. C. botulinum spores, like others of the troublesome Claustridia, are ubiquitous. (They're especially common in soil, possibly explaining prominence of botulism sickenings from garlic and mushrooms, but can be found on any food.) C. bot. type E and non-proteolytic types B and F grow and produce toxin at temperatures down to 3.3°C (38°F) [FDA]. 38°F is the traditional nominal temperature of US home refrigerators (they vary up and down from that target). Some online recipes even describe storing confits under fat at room temperature for weeks or months, which could grow any of the C. bot. strains.

Making and carelessly storing garlic confits, compared to meat confits, might be likened roughly to the difference between Russian Roulette with several vs. very many chambers in the gun; that difference is only quantitative, the game's the same. A metaphor for the usual skeptical comments about the botulism issue from uninformed home cooks is that some people playing Russian Roulette no doubt declare they've never been injured, and extrapolate from that experience that the game is safe.

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I've been doing my duck confit for at least eight years in my slow cooker, from Lora Brody's book of slow cooker recipes. I mentioned it on eGullet several times; perhaps that's where you saw it. In short, it works wonderfully. Regarding botulism, I have no special concerns mainly because I do not store the cooked duck as the traditional manner of confit dictates: I do not store the meat under oil, but rather drained and in the refrigerator. I then freeze the oil, immediately. This also reduces the demands on my fridge space. And if some food researcher would like, I'd be happy to donate some of the duck oil to be examined for bacterial spores (by now I have several quarts of the rendered stuff).

Ray

good to hear. what setting/temperature/time?

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To repeat a few details: No source I've seen suggests forsaking confits or other anaerobically stored foods. As I keep repeating, standard published safe practice, also recommended by manufacturers of fresh (non-pressure-sterilized) confits, is to freeze them, or use them within a "few days," and/or raise the temperature throughout the preserved food to boiling (actually 80 C is the minimum) for a few minutes before serving. I've greatly enjoyed fresh confits served that way. C. botulinum spores, like others of the troublesome Claustridia, are ubiquitous. (They're especially common in soil, possibly explaining prominence of botulism sickenings from garlic and mushrooms, but can be found on any food.) C. bot. type E and non-proteolytic types B and F grow and produce toxin at temperatures down to 3.3°C (38°F) [FDA]. 38°F is the traditional nominal temperature of US home refrigerators (they vary up and down from that target). Some online recipes even describe storing confits under fat at room temperature for weeks or months, which could grow any of the C. bot. strains.

The above highlighted text is substantially more valuable and less-fearmongering than your initial post. The only misleading information I have read in this thread to-date is your blanket assertion that refrigerating confits is a "good way" to cultivate botulism toxin. A reminder to be vigilant about refrigerator temps is always useful as well. Trying to scare people away from making confit, less so.

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The above highlighted text is substantially more valuable and less-fearmongering than your initial post. The only misleading information I have read in this thread to-date is your blanket assertion that refrigerating confits is a "good way" to cultivate botulism toxin. A reminder to be vigilant about refrigerator temps is always useful as well. Trying to scare people away from making confit, less so.

I'm glad you find it useful, bmdaniel. However, one good way to've seen the same message earlier, rather than the terse summary of it that you apparently didn't like (publicly questioning its scientific basis, characterizing it as "fear-mongering," and addressing low-temp. botulinum cultivation as if that were a question of personal opinion) is to check the real science yourself as I continually urge, or at least fully read the linked threads which laid out the same details you find useful, making clear among other things that you can, actually, get botulism from refrigerated confits. I suppose that someone who doesn't do this homework might also perceive 2009's "NY Times Publishes Guide for Cultivating Botulism" eGullet thread as "fear-mongering." But the entrenched skepticisms that always greet this topic online, despite potential deadly hazards, may actually argue for erring on the side of a little "fear-mongering" for a change.

It's deeply ironic, because usually when I'm involved in discussion of consumer-related science or technology that I happen to know something about, the situation is opposite: someone pulls some factoid out of context and goes around ignorantly (or with some agenda) claiming the sky is falling -- to eager ears. A current example is fashionable irrational fears over dangers from radio-frequency (RF) emissions from minor sources like wireless power meters (hot topic in San Francisco) among people too lazy to bother to learn that whatever biological effects RF signals cause, these particular sources are neither significant additions to their existing exposure, nor sensible targets if they want to reduce their exposure. (I wonder how many people ranting about that subject do so on hand-held cell phones, which for many people are the dominant source of RF power exposure by a factor circa 10,000.)

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I am sorry to keep harping on this, but as an avid user of sous-vide cooking methods this kind of stuff (e.g. the categorization of low-oxygen cooking as russian roulette) is something I worry about. Obviously, food safety is an important issue and any discussion of these techniques should mention simple care procedures that minimize risk (although I don't for instance see similar posts on the grilled chicken cook-off, even though the incidence of salmonella poisoning is about 70 times higher than botulism).

Having said that, a little perspective on the issue might be helpful. The CDC reports that there are about 20 cases of food-borne botulism reported per-year across the US, with a 3-5% fatality rate (i.e. on average less than one person dies of botulism in the entire US, per year). About 250 people get struck by lightning each year, and about 80 die. About 34,000 people die each year in car crashes.

I greatly encourage people to make duck confit - it is delicious. Make sure you exercise a modicum of care about refrigerating and/or freezing if you intend to store it (just like you should exercise care to properly cook and store meats, clean work surfaces, etc.). Don't worry that you are indulging in Russian Roulette by eating tasty duck.

http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/botulism/

http://wonder.cdc.gov/wonder/prevguid/m0052833/m0052833.asp

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5510a1.htm#tab1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year

ETA: Sorry, made a mistake above (outbreaks vs. cases in Salmonella). Salmonella is actually 840x more prevalent, with 20x as many deaths per year.


Edited by bmdaniel (log)

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I've been doing my duck confit for at least eight years in my slow cooker, from Lora Brody's book of slow cooker recipes. I mentioned it on eGullet several times; perhaps that's where you saw it. In short, it works wonderfully. Regarding botulism, I have no special concerns mainly because I do not store the cooked duck as the traditional manner of confit dictates: I do not store the meat under oil, but rather drained and in the refrigerator. I then freeze the oil, immediately. This also reduces the demands on my fridge space. And if some food researcher would like, I'd be happy to donate some of the duck oil to be examined for bacterial spores (by now I have several quarts of the rendered stuff).

Ray

good to hear. what setting/temperature/time?

I use the "high" setting on my six-quart slow cooker (made in China with the false GE name on it) for about six hours, starting from cold. Since I am self-employed in my home workshop, I usually warm everything up in the microwave to about 130 degrees before plopping the ceramic insert into the cooker, in which case I then cook for about four hours. A lot depends on the quantity one cooks and the doneness desired. In either case I first melt the frozen duck fat in another pot until it gets to about 160 degrees. This practice brings to my mind the opportunity to kill the possible spores by heating the duck fat to HIGHER than the boiling point for about fifteen minutes, if one was very concerned about a remote threat.

Ray

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... this kind of stuff (e.g. the categorization of low-oxygen cooking as russian roulette) is something I worry about ... a little perspective on the issue might be helpful. ... Don't worry that you are indulging in Russian Roulette by eating tasty duck.

Perspective is exactly my point, and I'll continue to offer it as long as people post either demonstrably dangerous misinformation (there's quite a history of that in online food sites including eG) or unintended meanings that they read into my words. I myself am an avid eater of confits and sous-vide dishes, longer than most in the US, and have never once characterized confits or low-oxygen cooking per se as Russian roulette -- a gratuitous misrepresentation above. The official information I cite, or try imperfectly to summarize, in these postings (all of which you can confirm for yourself) is limited, specific, non-controversial, and promotes peace of mind among cooks. Improperly prepared confits or anaerobic foods are certainly Russian roulette, according to public food-safety advisories not subject to opinion or wishful interpretation. You don't, indeed, need to worry about any of this as long as you follow safe practices; unsafe practices remain unsafe quite irrespective of opinion or rhetoric.

When I was a child, botulism incidence was higher, and its mortality rate was about one in three. The mortality rate gradually improved with medical progress, and botulism's incidence fell precisely because of public information about safe cooking practices. Many home cooks actually embrace that information as valuable, not misinterpreting it as some kind of discouragement of confits or sous-vide.

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To put things into perspective, there are roughly 30 cases of food-borne botulism reported in the US every year with about a 10% fatality rate. This means you're more than 20 times more likely to die from being struck by lightning than from a bad batch of confit. If you're really paranoid, store your confit in an air tight container so you can detect offgassing and don't feed confit to babies.


PS: I am a guy.

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For accurate information on food safety, rely on simple, abundant authoritative public-health guidance such as WHO Fact Sheet 270.

Not on offhand food-forum advice, however well intended, which regularly garbles not just basic facts, but their interpretation and "context." For instance, you have easy complete control over whether to risk botulism (more so than with lightning strikes); following a few easy rules reduces risk to zero. Botulism poisoning's natural (i.e. untreated or not promptly treated) mortality rate runs around 40-50%, far higher than other foodborne diseases, which is why it's generally considered the most important type of food poisoning to prevent. Infant botulism infection is a completely different issue: infant immune systems can experience direct infection from C. bot.; but in this forum we're talking about infection of food, dangerous to all ages, not from the bacteria but the toxin they create. And if anyone becomes "paranoid" over this subject, they've missed the message -- the empowering value of knowing easy safe practices routine (by law) among commercial food preparers. Nutshell version of standard advisories: Refrigerate home-cooked (or fresh commercial) confits and consume within a few days, or freeze them. To assure safety (and also crisp up that duck, delicious served this way), heat through before serving (in an oven, for instance -- the heating also happens automatically in derived dishes like cassoulets). WHO fact sheet linked above gives reliable temperature-time combinations.

The big problem isn't overcaution or people becoming "paranoid." It's idiotic published recipes omitting vital easy safety details. Clouding the simple picture with armchair advice really doesn't help.

To put things into perspective ... you're more than 20 times more likely to die from being struck by lightning than from a bad batch of confit. If you're really paranoid, store your confit in an air tight container so you can detect offgassing and don't feed confit to babies.

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For accurate information on food safety, rely on simple, abundant authoritative public-health guidance such as WHO Fact Sheet 270.

Not on offhand food-forum advice, however well intended, which regularly garbles not just basic facts, but their interpretation and "context." For instance, you have easy complete control over whether to risk botulism (more so than with lightning strikes); following a few easy rules reduces risk to zero. Botulism poisoning's natural (i.e. untreated or not promptly treated) mortality rate runs around 40-50%, far higher than other foodborne diseases, which is why it's generally considered the most important type of food poisoning to prevent. Infant botulism infection is a completely different issue: infant immune systems can experience direct infection from C. bot.; but in this forum we're talking about infection of food, dangerous to all ages, not from the bacteria but the toxin they create. And if anyone becomes "paranoid" over this subject, they've missed the message -- the empowering value of knowing easy safe practices routine (by law) among commercial food preparers. Nutshell version of standard advisories: Refrigerate home-cooked (or fresh commercial) confits and consume within a few days, or freeze them. To assure safety (and also crisp up that duck, delicious served this way), heat through before serving (in an oven, for instance -- the heating also happens automatically in derived dishes like cassoulets). WHO fact sheet linked above gives reliable temperature-time combinations.

The big problem isn't overcaution or people becoming "paranoid." It's idiotic published recipes omitting vital easy safety details. Clouding the simple picture with armchair advice really doesn't help.

Untreated, Botulism has a mortality rate of 40 - 50% but, from your own cite, proper treatment reduces that to 5 - 10%. Still, even taking the most dire numbers you can throw out, you are about as likely to die of botulism from duck confit as you are driving to the store to buy the duck (assuming your store is 1.25 miles away)*.

* median of 110 cases of botulism per year with 25% being food related. 50% mortality rate means roughly 13 deaths from food related botulism per year, assume 350M population of the US means you have a 3.7 per 100M chance of dying of botulism. Driving Fatalities are ~ 1.5 per 100M miles, thus, it's the equivalent of driving 2.5 miles. cites on request


Edited by Shalmanese (log)

PS: I am a guy.

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I'm a simple guy. I like to eat food that is smartly prepared and tastes amazing. Any chance we could agree that botulism is bad and share some safe and awesome recipes/techniques for making duck confit in a slow cooker (or otherwise)?

-mark


---------------------------------------------------------

"If you don't want to use butter, add cream."

Julia Child

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Thanks Mark, I share your interests in both confits and safe cooking. I'm just amazed that people who, I'd guess, don't eat raw pork, and wash up after handling raw poultry, somehow balk at corresponding precautions to easily prevent botulism. Wrongly and unnecessarily labeling them "Trying to scare people away from making confit;" assembling elaborate statistical rationalizations for missing the point. (If you happen to encounter C. bot., spores, then your risk is either high or zero, depending whether you follow common-sense precautions. I wish lightning strikes and traffic hazards were as easy to control.)

MaxH: "be careful about botulism, an infrequent but deadly food-poisoning risk. Current popularization of confits often ignores this point"

bmdaniel: "I am very skeptical that there is any scientific basis for the above (in particular the idea that keeping food at refrigerator temperatures is a botulism risk)" [Note: Point came from WHO and FDA food-safety information, as I'd explained. It's the reason those advisories, and regulated food-preparation practices, instruct to use refrigerated fresh confits within a few days. That interval is too short for the bacteria, even if present, to grow dangerously. -- MaxH]

Shalmanese: "you're more than 20 times more likely to die from being struck by lightning than from a bad batch of confit" ... "you are about as likely to die of botulism from duck confit as you are driving to the store"

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So we can keep this topic on topic, can I suggest that folks who want to discuss the safety issues related to making confit take their concerns and information over to the topic: Confit Safety: is botulism a concern?.

I'd like to hear more about using a slow cooker to make confit, if anyone else has tried. I'm looking through Paula Wolfert's "The Cooking of South-West France" (published 1983) and notice that she says that "the gentle heat of a Crock-Pot is ideal for making confit." So Daniel, you're in good company! She advises a temperature of 190 F and also leaving the crock pot partially (not fully) covered.



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So we can keep this topic on topic, can I suggest that folks who want to discuss the safety issues related to making confit take their concerns and information over to the topic: Confit Safety: is botulism a concern?.

I'd like to hear more about using a slow cooker to make confit, if anyone else has tried. I'm looking through Paula Wolfert's "The Cooking of South-West France" (published 1983) and notice that she says that "the gentle heat of a Crock-Pot is ideal for making confit." So Daniel, you're in good company! She advises a temperature of 190 F and also leaving the crock pot partially (not fully) covered.

I will take this opportunity to again mention Lora Brody's book on slow-cooker cooking. The closest relationship I ever had with her was asking a question at a cooking show in Hartford, CT, so everyone can rest assured there are no ulterior motives in my (again) recommending her book. Duck confit is in there, as is also onion and garlic cooking (really confits). I refuse to quote the recipes because I don't believe in giving away what one should purchase, unless there are no alternatives.

Ray

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So we can keep this topic on topic, can I suggest that folks who want to discuss the safety issues related to making confit take their concerns and information over to the topic: Confit Safety: is botulism a concern?.

That's very reasonable. But please note that despite its name, that particular thread is not eG's main discussion on this subject. Two earlier 2009 threads discussed confit safety in much more depth: NY Times Publishes Guide for Cultivating Botulism, and Garlic in Olive Oil. I cited both in post #2 above. The later "Confit Safety" thread restarted the subject briefly but failed to mention the earlier threads or take note of their content. It also repeated, unchallenged, the same safety error that had earlier brought criticism on the NY Times. If anyone wants to discuss further, I'd be happy to continue in the NY Times thread.

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