What the Duck?

Duck Leg Confit is one of those French dishes that used to sound exotic to me, that I thought would require several years of study and hours of exacting preparation to make well. Of course, this is the farthest thing from the truth. It’s super-easy to prepare and is delicious, luscious, and rich. Perhaps the only thing difficult is sourcing the six cups of duck fat required to slow-cook the legs. Check with your butcher (or wherever you get fresh duck legs) first, but I’m sure you can get rendered duck fat online if you had to order it.

Crisped duck confit, with potato-parsnip mash & garlicky wilted spinach. Mon dieu!

Confit (pronounced kon-fee) is a French method of cooking and preserving meats that came about centuries ago, well before modern refrigeration, when keeping and safely storing highly perishable and often seasonal products was of the utmost importance, not just for haute cuisine but for survival. The meat, duck in this case, is salted heavily (a preserving method in and of itself) and then poached slowly in its own fats. The resulting meat is then stored in a ceramic container and covered in the congealed fat, which seals and protects the meat for months, provided it is stored in a relatively cool and dry place.

Kept in the fridge this confit will be keep for weeks; however, since I don’t anticipate a major scarcity of duck anytime soon and have no extra room in my fridge, I really have no need to think about long-term duck leg storage. Why then, you might ask, would I bother?

I bother because this slow-cooking process makes the duck meat sooooooo tender and succulent. Because it tastes fantastic and because no other duck preparation has that luscious, fatty mouth-feel that I love so much. And because the duck fat used to poach the legs is remarkable all on its own, particularly to crisp potatoes, fry eggs, and saute greens. I’ve never made popcorn with this duck fat, but I think I might try that tonight.*

Duck legs right out of the oven.

You’ll need:

4 fresh duck legs
1/4 cup good salt — good sea salt, sel de gris, fleur de sel, or kosher salt
6 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife
a small handful of peppercorns
4 or 5 bay leaves, fresh if possible
3 or 4 thyme sprigs
4 to 6 cups of rendered duck fat

Do This:

In a glass or other non-reactive dish place duck, garlic, herbs, and peppercorns. Rub duck legs with all the salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 8 hours, up to a maximum of 36 hours.

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Wipe excess salt off duck and pat dry with paper towels. Place duck, herbs, garlic, and peppercorns in a small pyrex dish just large enough to accommodate the legs. Place pyrex over a sheet pan. Now melt over medium heat the duck fat and gently pour over the duck legs. The fats should fully cover the legs. Put the whole thing in the oven and forget about it.

After six or seven hours (I’ve gone as long as overnight, about eight hours.) remove pan and allow duck and fat to cool to room temperature.

To store place duck legs in an airtight plastic container and pour fat over it to fully immerse the duck. If you wish to use it right away, remove duck legs and drain off excess fats.

Into a hot skillet add a couple of tablespoons of the duck fat, add your legs, and crisp on all sides. Drain off excess fat and finish in a 300 degree oven or until heated all the way through.

I served the crispy duck legs with a parsnip & potato mash and some spinach that I wilted in the duck fat with a bunch of chopped garlic. I also like it with white beans or crispy potatoes. And greens are always a nice addition.

Duck confit can also be pulled off the bones, shredded, and then crisped in a pan. This is delicious over a salad with pears and nuts. Crispy shredded duck confit also makes a great hash topped with a fried or poached egg. So yummers!

* Let’s pretend, for the purposes of this recipe, that you don’t give a fig about cholesterol. 

Use of the word duck: 26 instances
Use of the words fat, fats, or fatty: 16 instances

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