Pros and Confit
People will try to scare you away from making duck confit. BUT DON’T LET THEM! Duck confit is surprisingly simple, and comes from a centuries-old method of preparing food to make it tasty and easy to preserve. Confit is a French word (pronounced cone-FEE) that comes from the verb confire, to preserve. Apparently, a great way to store your food is under a gelatinous chunk of fat. That means if you do make duck confit, you could store it for months in your fridge! *Disclaimer: there is no earthly way you will be able to resist eating your confit for more than a few days.
The French aren’t the only ones who figured this out, but they definitely made it especially tasty, so I guess they get to copyright the name. There are only a couple crucial points to making a great confit: one is having several (2-3) cups of duck fat on hand. The other is having a good pot or pan to do it in: the legs have to fit really snugly in there (while still being in a single layer).
And of course, no less crucial: you cannot decide to make this the day you want to eat it! It is very time consuming! However, it’s all down-time, and very little skills are necessary (hey, I told you–it’s a centuries-old technique! There were no culinary institutes, this stuff is simple!) so with minimal effort, you can be sure you’ll be found extremely impressive by a foodie or anyone else you deign worthy of this dish.
Ready? Then let’s recipe.
DUCK CONFIT. Serves 4
4 duck legs
2-3 tbps Quatre épice (French four spice blend. You can buy this, or you can make it as a blend of: 2 tablespoons ground white pepper, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon ground cloves)*
2-3 cups rendered duck fat (you can purchase this or render it from a duck yourself! and use the leftovers to cook potatoes or almost anything. But there won’t be enough fat from just the legs alone)
3 dried bay leaves
2 tablespoon of salt
optional: 1 tbsp fresh thyme, 3 cloves minced garlic
*Note, you don’t have to season it with quatre épice, that’s just a traditional way of doing it. You can feel free to use a more savory concoction of rosemary and thyme, salt, pepper, garlic and shallots. I sort of used a mix by doing herbs and spices and garlic, and there was a lot of depth to the flavor but it didn’t taste Frankenstein-ish at all.
1) THE DAY BEFORE you want to cook, season the duck legs evenly with your spices, crumbled bay leaves, thyme, salt, garlic and/or whatever you’re using. Then put them in a huge ziploc or wrap them in plastic wrap, making sure they are covered up and evenly seasoned. Refrigerate these overnight. In my case, overnight ended up being 12 hours, but I would aim for at least 24 hours before you plan on cooking and up to 48.
2) The day of cooking: preheat the oven to 200 degrees
3) Rinse the seasoning off the duck legs and pat them dry with paper towels. Or just rub off the seasoning with paper towels.
4) In a pan with a very high lip or in a medium-large saucepan, lay the duck legs flat, skin side down. They should be very snug in there, but a single layer as I said. Turn the heat to medium-high. Your immediate goal is to brown the skin.
5) As the skin starts to brown, start melting your duck fat over the duck. You need to cover the duck completely in fat so that none of it is exposed to air. I literally needed all 3 cups of fat to accomplish this, and maybe could have had some more. The fat will melt and become clear as it heats up.
6) Was that the sound of your oven dinging to acknowledge it had preheated? Good. Cover the legs, and put them in the oven for SIX hours.
7) Yes, six hours.
8) After six hours, the meat should be amazingly tender and falling off the bone. If you poke at it with a fork, you should get some sense of how easy it would be to just pull all that juicy meat right off. I tried to weasel this into five hours but it really didn’t feel right until six.
9) Remove the legs from the fat (if eating immediately). SAVE THE FAT! I had to strain it to get rid of some non-pure fat, but after I put it in the refrigerator I was able to use at least 2 cups of fat that I’d managed pour off. However, if you plan to preserve some legs, transfer them into a small container and pour the fat over them. Put them in the fridge just like this, and when you want to eat them, hack them out of the lard and broil them until the skin crisps.
10) For the ones you’re about to eat, turn the broiler on and wait until it’s good and hot. Put the legs on a cookie sheet directly under the broiler for about 10 minutes, until the skin crisps.
How crispy did you say that skin was?
Max said this was the best duck he’d ever had (I was flattered for a few minutes before my girl-senses kicked in and I said, “What about all those roasted ducks I made you? What about the one glazed with mango chutney?” but he didn’t back down. This. Was. The. Best.)
By the way, Ruhlman contends that you can make this recipe by poaching it in a ton of olive oil if you don’t have the duck fat. I would be curious to see how that turned out, but I think using animal fat is pretty crucial. If you’re the type to store your pork/bacon grease in the fridge, I’d try that, though.