Friday, January 14, 2011

Duck Confit

Duck confit is one of those magic dishes that keeps well (as in up to 8-10 weeks), tastes rich and delicious, but is shockingly simple to make. It’s the kind of thing I like to have on hand during cooler months because we can make a nice meal in just minutes – perfect for those days when you just don’t feel like cooking.

Although it’s traditional to use duck fat in preparing confit, here in San Francisco, duck fat costs more than the meat itself. And you really do need a lot of it. Unable to justify that sort of expense, we use lard instead. We’ve had duck prepared with real duck fat and have not detected any noticeable difference.

We generally make 6-8 legs, which carries us through a few meals over the course of a couple of months before its time to make a new batch. Some of our favorite ways to serve the duck confit include:

  • Cassoulet
  • Warm duck salad with mushrooms and Brussels sprouts
  • Duck with lentils, spinach and bacon

Making the confit is a two-day process, but it’s nearly all idle time. I personally like to let it set for a day or two before serving too, though I don't have any specific data to support this preference. Here is our recipe:

Duck Confit

8 duck legs
4 lbs lard
12 fresh bay leaves (or 6 dried bay leaves)
about a dozen juniper berries
1/4 cup parsley
6-8 sprigs of thyme
1 tsp black peppercorns
half cup of coarse salt

Day 1:
Grind half the bay leaves, half the juniper berries, and the parsley, thyme and peppercorns together in a mortar and pestle until you have a paste. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a food processor with a small bowl. Mix in the salt and stir until blended. You should have a lovely green salt.

herbed salt

Rub the salt over both sides of each duck leg – you want about 1 Tbsp of salt per leg and set the duck into a non-reactive pan. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours.

duck confit

Day 2:
Heat the oven to 200 degrees F.

Rinse each duck leg thoroughly and place in a roasting pan. Don’t skimp on this rinse or your end result will be overly salty. You could also use a slow cooker for the cooking, though you might encounter issues with the legs falling apart on you in that more cramped environment.

rinsing duck confit

Tuck the remaining bay leaves and juniper berries among the legs.

preparing duck confit

Spoon maybe 3/4 of the lard over the duck legs and place the pan in the oven. I don’t bother pre-melting the lard or trying to smooth it as it’ll take care of itself in the gentle heat over time.

preparing duck confit

Check the duck after about 45 minutes to determine if you need any more fat or if you need to remove any before the pan overflows.  Cook for 6-7 hours until the duck legs are golden brown. The pictures below show the duck at 1 1/2 hours and again at 3 hours.

baking duck confit

Carefully lift each leg out of the melted fat and place in a sealable container (I use a big rectangular Tupperware). Try to avoid getting any of the floaty bits, spices, or duck juice into the container and these can contribute to causing spoilage. Spoon or pour the lard from the pan over the duck to cover it completely. I scooped the fat using a coffee cup and poured it through a strainer to keep the bits out.

duck confit

Let the duck cool, then refrigerate until you’re ready to use. You’ll likely have extra fat in the roasting pan – separate out the duck stock and then you can reserve the remaining fat for another use – in this batch I refilled my lard bucket about 3/4 full after completely covering the duck legs for storage.

To serve, gently pull as many legs as you want out of the container, scraping any surplus fat back into the container. It can be challenging to pull the meat out without it falling to bits. Heat in a dry skillet over low heat at first to render out excess fat. Pour off the fat, then raise the heat to sear the meat.

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