Duck Confit or Confit de Canard is another dish that regularly makes an appearance on our festive table, at some point between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. It can be served in a number of ways, puy lentils and potatoes cooked in the same duck fat are traditional accompaniments and of course it’s a much loved ingredient in cassoulet. We love it with some mashed potatoes and some side vegetables. The duck itself is strongly flavoured and on the salty side so we really don’t need much more in terms of flavourings.
Confit is a term to describe the art of cooking in fat, water or sugar at a low temperature, with the idea of preserving it. This is one of the oldest methods of preservation; kept in a dark cool place, the confit can last for months and even years. First we cure the duck legs in some salt overnight, then we slowly cook it in duck fat. While it can be eaten at this stage, it’ll be immeasurably better if stored for a few weeks or even months.
Duck Confit is a fairly easy recipe to carry off, but it’s also a pretty misunderstood one. Salting the legs is the first step in the recipe and quite often I find recipes calling for an inordinate amount of salt, resulting in meat that is far too salty in the end. I was taught to use just enough salt to coat the legs liberally, and this salt would have practically dissolved overnight.
I’ve mentioned in the past, that France and Italy were like second (and third?) homes for me in the 90s and it was during this time that I picked up many recipes, handwritten on papers, napkins, novels – you name it – complete with tips from the various cooks and chefs. Of course, having an Italian flatmate whose mum visited frequently, helped a lot too!
I learnt to make duck confit in a little village in South West France, not too far away from the Spanish border, the area is known for its duck confit, although you can find the dish all over France. There are two schools of thought when making this confit; one vehemently prohibits any addition to the fat, whether herbs or spices, while the other quite loves the extra flavourings. I’m definitely in the second camp, a little rosemary, thyme and bay goes a long way in enhancing the final experience, in my opinion.
I shall leave that up to you though, a little experimenting is called for, n’est-ce pas? It’s an extremely handy recipe to have sitting in your fridge, ready to be served up in a jiffy when you have guests. If you store the duck legs in a sterilized jar and keep it in the fridge, it will last 3 months. If you give it a water bath, 6 months easily.
Start the day before the duck legs are meant to be cooked.
All flavourings should be added after the salting stage, as we want the fat to be flavoured with them and also, you’ll just end up having to rinse all the herbs and spices you’re using!
Rosemary – go easy as it’s such a strong herb, you don’t want the rosemary being the overriding flavour.
The container you use to store the confit needs to be large enough and if you are certain that you will consume it within a month, then a simple thoroughly clean one will do. Any longer, then make sure that the container has been properly sterilized.
Confit de Canard or Duck Confit
A classy alternative to turkey for the festive season.
- 4 duck legs
- 2 large handfuls sea salt
- about 1kg duck fat, it has to be enough to completely cover the legs after cooking
- 4 cloves garlic, bruised, in skin
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 1 small rosemary sprig
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- Rub the salt all over the duck legs, covering every bit of the meat.
- Place on a baking tray or large plate, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 140˚C/275˚F.
- Heat the duck fat up on low heat in a large, ovenproof dish.
- Add all the other ingredients to the fat and swirl the fat once or twice as it's melting.
- Rinse the duck legs thoroughly. Then soak in cold water for a minute, drain and rinse again. I find that this extra step ensures the end result isn't too salty.
- Pat the legs dry and submerge them into the hot fat.
- Bring the duck fat up to simmering point and transfer the whole lot into the oven and cook, uncovered, for 2 and a half hours, at which point, the meat will be tender and almost falling away.
- Cool everything to about room temperature, an hour should do.
- Lift the legs out with a clean pair of tongs and place them in your clean or sterilized jar as mentioned in Handy Hints.
- Now, strain the oil into the container and ensure that the legs are completely covered with the fat. Store in a cool, dark place or in your fridge, as I like to do. Throw away all the flavourings.