A few weeks ago I had my first go at making duck confit from scratch using Thomas Keller's recipe from the Ad Hoc at Home book and I was already pretty happy with the results. I showed my foodie uncle a picture of my first duck confit and he immediately requested to try the real thing. So yesterday, I made it again as part of the anniversary dinner party we threw for my parents' 38th anniversary and everyone just loved them. They are really a good way to fool your guests into thinking you're a fancy chef. *smirk*
Duck confits are really quite simple to make - my friends are starting to doubt me when I say something is easy - but trust me, this really doesn't require much technique. Having said that, you must keep in mind that it's NOT a quick-and-easy meal, rather, it's a LONG-and-easy meal, one that is best if you can start at least a week ahead of time, but your time and effort will be greatly rewarded.
Most of the duck confit recipes I've seen have the same four steps more or less - 1) curing the duck legs with salt, 2) slow-cooking them in rendered duck fat at low temperature, 3) preserving them fat, and finally 4) browning them by frying/grilling. The differences are usually in the marinade and the time it takes for each of the steps, especially the slow-cooking part. If you come across a recipe that tells you you only need to put the legs in the oven for 3-4 hours or less, DO NOT USE IT. From my first hand experience, you really need to keep them in the oven for at least 9 hours for them to reach the right tenderness. As for the preserving part, you can't cheat either, as the flavour do tend to mellow a bit over time. The first time I only kept the legs in its fat for a day (because that's all the time I had) and they turned out to be a bit too salty. The second time around I did everything exactly the way it's stated in the recipe and the confit came out perfect. Seriously, there is no shortcut for duck confit.
Adpated from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller
Difficulty: Moderate (for the amount time it takes, otherwise, easy)
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 bay leaves, crushed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Eight whole duck legs
8 cups rendered duck fat, melted
1. Combine the salt, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and peppercorns in a small food processor to make the herb salt and process until a uniform consistency. Set aside.
2. Remove the pinfeathers with a pair of tweezers. Trim the excess skin/fat near the bottom of the legs and around the edges, leaving at least a 1/4 inch overhang of skin. After trimming, each leg should weigh around 8oz (225 grams).
3. Rub about 1 tablespoon of herb salt over each leg and put the legs flesh side up in a single layer in a baking dish. The leg should be snug, but still fit comfortably in the dish. If needed, use another baking dish. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 90C (190F).
5. Rinse the legs under cold water to get rid of the salt and dry thoroughly using paper towel.
6. Arrange the duck legs in a large cast iron pot with a lid, skin side up, no more than 2 deep. Add enough melted duck fat to cover the legs and heat over medium heat until the fat is warm.
7. Cover the pot and transfer to oven and cook for 8 to 10 hours. Check for readiness by piercing the leg with a knife. The meat should be meltingly tender but not falling apart yet. Remove from oven and let the duck cool in its fat.
8. Once cooled, gently transfer the legs to a storage container and strain the only fat over the legs, discarding the juices. Make the legs are completely submerged in fat. Cover and refrigerate for at least a week.
9. On the day you want to serve your duck confit, take the legs out from the refrigerator in advance to soften the fat such that you can lift up the legs without breaking them apart.
10. Preheat the over to 170C (350F).
11. Brown the duck legs skin side down on a frying pan over high heat for one minute, and reduce the heat to moderate and cooke for about 3 minutes.
12. Transfer the legs to the oven on a cooling rack and heat thoroughly for about 10 minutes. Served with a sweet condiment like a marmalade immediately.
1. You can fry the excess fat in a skillet in low heat until all the fat comes out. You will get quite a lot of fat. This duck fat can be strained and used for cooking the legs later.
2. Place a thermometer in the oven while slow-cooking the duck legs. Check from time to time to make sure that the oven maintains the proper temperature.
3. You can keep the cooked legs in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The longer you keep them in fat, the more balanced the flavour is.