For something that is so delicious, making confit de canard is remarkably easy. The rich fatty duck legs are first cured in salt and then cooked very slowly in rendered fat, so that some of the moisture and natural juices from the meat are extracted and replaced by the fat. The legs preserved in this way can then be stored in your refrigerator in the fat, where they literally will keep for months. Confit de canard is one of my absolute favourite things to eat, and because I’m somewhat (okay, very) obsessive about always having a fully stocked kitchen from which I can produce food for impromptu guests at short notice, I love having confit de canard on hand.
I especially adore confit de canard in winter (case in point: I have eaten duck confit twice in the past 36 hours), and I love its versatility. The duck leg pictured above is sitting on a bed of Jerusalem artichoke purée and served with Brussels sprouts cooked simply with butter, chives, and a little lemon. But in addition to classic bistro preparations, I add duck confit to salads, terrines, and hors d’oeuvres. To give credit where it’s due, I learned my confit technique from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook (one of my absolute faves) and I agree with his minimalism. Some people add cloves, shallots, and/or garlic to their curing mix. I just use fresh herbs and a little black pepper. That said, you should do what suits your fancy. It would be interesting (and doubtless tasty), for example, to confit duck legs that have been cured with juniper berries, or Szechuan peppercorns and star anise, or with caraway and toasted mustard seeds. If you use other seasonings, methods, or preparations, I would love to hear about them.
You will need:
At least 8 duck legs
500-1000 grams duck fat
Plenty of coarse salt
A generous amount of fresh herbs and seasonings of your choice
A heavy casserole pot with a tightly fitting lid large enough to hold all of your duck legs snugly – the more snugly you pack them, the less duck fat you’ll need to use
Additional trays or pans large enough to fit all of your duck legs in a single layer
Wash and dry your duck legs well. Next, prepare your curing mixture. Chef Keller is quite fastidious about weighing the meat and apportioning the salt accordingly. My approach is a bit more freewheeling and it hasn’t affected the quality of my confit. You should assume you will need approximately one tablespoon of salt per duck leg. Combine the salt in a bowl with a generous handful of finely minced green herbs and (if you like) about half a teaspoon or so of fresh cracked pepper. It’s better to have too much than too little – you can always throw away what you don’t need.
Next, rub the salt mixture lovingly and thoroughly all over the duck legs. Again, you want to use a tablespoonful per leg. Place the legs skin side down in a dish large enough to hold them in a single layer, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Preheat your oven to 90 degrees Celsius (194 degrees Fahrenheit). This temperature is important; you don’t want it hotter than this. If you’ve got doubts about the accuracy of your oven, check the temperature with an oven thermometer.
Render your duck fat by melting it slowly on your stovetop, if necessary allowing it to cool afterwards. You want the duck fat to be liquid and warm, but not hot. Next, rinse the duck legs well under cold running water, dry them, and pack them tightly in your casserole pot. Pour the duck fat over the legs until the legs are completely covered. (The ones on top may float slightly. Don’t despair. They will still confit.)
Cover the casserole pan, put in your oven, and cook slowly for 9-10 hours, or until the duck legs are completely tender when pierced. Careful – if you go too long the meat will fall off the bones. I usually put my confit in before I go to sleep, and then it is ready in the morning. (I did shift these legs around after I took them out in order to show the texture of the legs when done.)
Once your duck legs are ready, carefully lift them out and place in a storage container and refrigerate. You will then want to chill the fat in your refrigerator for several hours, so that the fat congeals and separates from the meat juices. Carefully spoon off the congealed fat from the meat juices. Although the juices will be salty, they have a really intense ducky flavour, so if you wish you can freeze the juices and save for another use. For example, I sometimes add a spoonful or two to season jus and gravy. Your last step is to again render your beautifully separated fat and pour over the duck legs in your fridge. Remember, stored in pure fat the duck legs will keep for months.
When ready to serve, gently lift as many duck legs as you will need from the fat. For beautiful crispy skin, heat in a frying pan skin side down over medium heat (you don’t need any additional fat) until golden brown (about 15 minutes). Flip, then finish skin side up in a moderately hot oven (190-200 degrees Celsius, or 375-400 degrees Fahrenheit) for another 5-10 minutes.