fat free opinions on a food centric life

Easy Duck Confit


There was a time when the idea of eating duck wasn’t something I was interested in.  It’s not that I  was avoiding it.  To some extent, duck hadn’t been a part of my life, excluding the mallards allowed to quack freely around a neighbor’s yard when my boys were in diapers and obsessed with poking their chubby baby fingers through the fence, tempting the ducks.  My mother never prepared it because her mother never prepared it.  I don’t think I ever saw it in any of my neighborhood grocery stores.  In fact, I worked in a grocery store for many years, and never remember seeing duck.  Pig heads, sheep heads, cow’s stomach lining, kidneys, and head cheese, yes, but not duck.

On the occasions we dined out, I don’t recall whether duck appear on a menu or not, but if it had, a l’Orange or Peking might have been the choices.  This isn’t surprising considering dining out was more an early Sunday dinner at the Chief’s Club on my dad’s Navy base, but the base was in Spain so the potential for some kind of influence was there.  Even the food magazines I’ve always subscribed to published little information about or recipes for duck, so how could I develop any kind of a real interest in trying something I never had the opportunity to consider?

Call me duck deprived.

A few years ago, duck began to show up more often in my world — or did I just become more aware of it, spending more time on the web with people who love food as much as I do? I saw it nestled up alongside the chickens and turkey breasts in the market meat case more often, or glistening in roasted splendor on magazine pages and websites I enjoy.  It also became an unexpected ingredient in some traditional recipes.  One of our favorite local restaurants put duck quesadillas on their tapas menu, and I was finally able to sample it.  Bear in mind I still had no idea that duck confit existed.

Duck confit?  What exactly is confit?  A confit is produced when food is preserved in fat, salt, or sugar.  The method not only preserves the food, it enhances the flavor.

Remember the Cassoulet I made not too long ago – the one missing the traditional ingredient of duck confit?  At the time, I’d purchased the duck legs just in case I had enough time to prepare and include them in my cassoulet.  I didn’t, so they stayed in the freezer waiting for me to decide what to do with them.  Seeing Chef Jose Andres’ recipe for “Duck Confit Tacos” published in Food & Wine last month urged me to finally thaw those duck legs.  The recipe calls for purchased duck confit as many recipes do, but I almost always think it’s more interesting to make something myself — especially if I’ve not made it before.

I decided that’s what I’d do — make it myself.  And because I’d done quite a bit of research for the cassoulet, I found a great recipe for duck confit without the quantity of duck fat normally used.

I finally understand the wonder of duck confit — sans the taco, unfortunately.  We had no left overs to make them with.

It’s a perfect excuse to make more duck confit.

Easy Duck Confit

4 fresh duck leg quarters

1 T green salt

For the green salt…

1/4 c. kosher salt

1 bay leaf

1 T fresh thyme

1/8 c. flat-leafed parsley

1/2 tsp. black peppercorns

Make the salt first using a food processor or spice grinder.  Put all ingredients in the bowl and pulse until the mixture is thoroughly green, the texture of damp sand, and smells deliciously herby.  Scrap into a sealable container and enjoy using for lots of recipes, because this makes lots more than you’ll need for this recipe.

Sprinkle 1 T of the green salt over all surfaces of the duck legs, wrap in plastic and allow to sit in the fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Over medium heat in an oven proof skillet large enough to fit the legs in a single layer, cook the duck legs skin side down until the fat begins to render.  When about 1/4″ of fat accumulates (about 15-20 minutes), flip the legs over, cover the skillet with a lid or heavy foil and place in the oven.

Roast for 2 hours covered, then remove the lid or foil and continue to roast for 1 additional hour or until the meat is tender and the skin crispy.  Reserve fat for additional purposes.

Enjoy for dinner hot from the oven.

Sprinkle the duck legs with fragrant green salt
Fry them in a skillet to render fat
Flip the legs then roast in the oven
Remove foil after two hours
Roast for one more hour

Notes:

  • I found the recipe for green salt in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home — I had quite a bit left over from the Beef Wellingtons I made for Christmas dinner.  No, I haven’t posted those yet.
  • This recipe was adapted from one published here.
  • The duck legs I used were not overly meaty, so accumulating that 1/4″ of fat was a bit of a challenge.  My skillet was a bit large, too, so after the initial browning on the stove top, I put the duck legs in a casserole.  By the end of the oven cooking time, there was a nice amount of fat to store.
  • Against my better judgement, I placed the duck legs right in the skillet without spraying with oil.  Of course that lovely skin stuck to the skillet.  Yes, I will spray it next time.
  • I didn’t quite make it to the entire 3-hour cooking time.  Although the meat was fall off the bone tender and the skin crispy and delicious, I wondered whether they were too done.  There were dry bits and pieces and knowing absolutely nothing about duck confit, I had nothing to compare mine with.  I’ll have to work on that.
  • I paid $6.99/lb for the duck legs which were fresh, vacuum sealed two to a bag, so under $15.00 for the four.  Not a budget dinner, but not extravagant.  Definitely worth the experience.
  • We enjoyed these with roasted fingerlings, also sprinkled with that fragrant green salt.
  • I’m still wondering about those tacos…and I’ve never heard about anyone making chicken or turkey confit.