Duck Confit is an ancient, French method of preserving food to provide through the winter, also known as confit de canard. Originally, the ducks were slaughtered, and then the tough thighs and legs intact were cured in salt and aromatics, submerged in the ducks’ own fat, eliminating any oxygen contact, and simmered for hours. Then, it was cooled so the fat could solidify, and stored over the winter. As needed, legs were dug out of the fat and prepared for dinner. The only real thing that has changed here is that we don’t (usually) slaughter our own ducks and the fat they are confit-ed in is not (necessarily) their own.
Turned off by cooking something submerged in fat? Technically, duck fat is molecularly closer to olive oil than lard or butter and is therefore, kind of good for you. Do a quick google search of “French Paradox” for a full scientific explanation, and then, order up some foie gras and make your own duck confit! Here’s how:
Procure your duck and fat. You need enough duck to feed you through winter, or a dinner party, or a Tuesday, and enough fat to completely submerge the legs in a pot large enough to hold them all.
Reserve your duck fat for day 2.
Rinse and pat the legs dry with paper towel, and then pack with a mixture of salt and aromatics.
Here’s how we did ours, but remember, 500 years ago, no one had any measuring cups lying around, so trust that if you use mostly (or only) salt, you’ll be just fine.
Mince a few shallots and mix with dried thyme, oregano, lavender, herbs de provence, whatever you have lying around, and pack that firmly into the duck. Then, in a separate bowl mix together three parts kosher salt to one part sugar. Pack that mix into the duck on top of the aromatics and place in a vessel.
What the heck’s a “vessel?” Ok, here’s the only complicated part. Ideally, you want a perforated hotel pan, or a roasting pan with holes in it, with its partner that it fits into and is not perforated. Put the duck into the perforated pan, set atop the regular pan. Or, place a cooling rack (like you use for cookies) inside a deep lasagne pan. The idea is to let the duck rest above its juices that will be drawn out by the curing process.
Cover with plastic, and let rest a day or two in the fridge. You can place another pan on top, with a weight in it to expedite the process. Say a bottle of Côtes du Rhone.
Remove the salt-cured duck legs from the fridge and wash well.
Pat dry, this takes lots of paper towels, and melt your duck fat in a pot.
When your fat is fully melted, bring it to a simmer and add your duck legs, being sure that all are fully submerged. If you don’t have enough duck fat, you can use the bottle of canola oil, and then grapeseed oil as necessary to make sure that all the meaty parts are under some type of fat, as we did ours.
Cook for about three hours, until the duck is fork tender, in this case meaning that when you stick a fork into the duck, it pulls right back out again, without trying to lift out of the fat.
Let it come to room temp, the fat will turn white. Cover and fridge until spring, or until you feel like making duck empanadas with habanero-apricot dipping sauce,* shredded duck on salad with goat cheese, walnuts and dried cranberries, some duck quesadillas, duck omlets, fritatta, cassoulet…
*recipe to follow