Duck confit is one of my favourite special dinners. Locally I am lucky enough to eat at Les Faux Bourgeois once in a while – so tempting since it is mere blocks from my home in Vancouver. When I’ve been to France I’ve brought home cans of confit de canard to enjoy with friends. When I was in the Périgord region of France a few years ago I bought some ready-made confit de canard and cooked it up in an outdoor kitchen , along with Potatoes Sarlardaise, and lovely fresh summer vegetables.
Confit de canard is a method of preserving duck in its own fat. After the curing process which makes the meat tender and flavourful, the duck is cooked so that the skin becomes crispy.
When I made this at home recently I prepared four duck legs, figuring that if I’m going to do this multi-step process I might as well make a larger batch. In retrospect I realize that I could have made even more, as they keep well in the freezer. I understand that the confit process and the storage in duck fat is a way of preserving the meat, but I prefer to use it within a week or freeze any legs that are not used in that timeframe, just to be on the safe side.
Now that I’ve made this recipe a number of times I’m not exactly sure what all of my sources were, so I can’t attribute this recipe to anyone in particular. Some recipes call for using thyme instead of bay leaves, which is also delicious. I draw the line at adding juniper berries, because I find the flavour to be unpleasant.
This is a somewhat decadent meal, and best served with a full-bodied red wine, potatoes, a lovely salad or side vegetable, and possibly even a baguette. In the photo it is served with roasted potatoes and a green salad dressed in a light vinaigrette with a little bit of goat cheese crumbled on top – heavenly!
What you need:
- duck legs
- plenty of salt (I used Maldon)
- whole peppercorns
- bay leaves, fresh or dried, enough to have 2-4 per leg
- garlic cloves, sliced thinly, enough for half a clove per leg
- duck fat, enough to cover the legs (olive oil is a substitute if you absolutely can’t get the duck fat)
What you do:
- Remove the duck legs from their packaging and lay them on paper towels. Blot the legs dry.
- Cut excess skin and fat off the bottom of the legs; reserve it to render the fat. Keep the skin on the top of the leg – when you cook them later the skin will become deliciously crispy.
- Sprinkle salt in the bottom of a flat dish, then toss in a few peppercorns and bay leaves. Place the legs, skin side up, on top of the salt. Sprinkle more salt over the legs, then place bay leaves, sliced garlic and peppercorns on top of the legs. Cover and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 110°C (225°F).
- Remove the garlic, pepper corns and bay leaves from the duck legs and brush off as much salt as you can.
- Place the legs in a single layer in a high-sided oven-proof dish.
- On low heat melt the duck fat. Pour the fat over the duck legs. If they are not quite submerged in fat, add some olive oil to top them up. Cover with foil and place in the oven. Cook for three hours, until the meat is almost falling off the bone.
- Allow the legs and fat to come to room temperature to refrigerate until used. The legs can be refrigerated in the fat until they are to be used.
- To prepare the legs for your astonishingly awesome dinner, remove the legs from the fridge and allow them to come to room temperature so that the fat softens.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Remove the legs from the fat, scraping off excess fat and saving it for later use (such as roasting potatoes or making another batch of confit de canard).
- Heat a cast-iron or other oven-proof frying pan on high heat, adding some of the duck fat. Place the legs skin side down in the pan, then place them in the oven for about 15 minutes. By this time they should be easy to turn over, and you can put them back in the oven for about three more minutes.
- Bon appetit!