For the longest time, I've had a food crush on duck confit. It was duck, and I love duck, and it was French, so it sounds all sexy. I knew it had to be delicious, even before tasting it. Sometimes, when you have high expectations, the real deal can let you down. But not duck confit. When I ordered it for the first time, every bite was as delicious as I thought it would be. It was love at first bite.
One of my most prized ingredients is my container of duck fat. I had been saving the fat from my previous roast ducks in hopes of collecting enough to make confit. While I love ordering confit de canard, I wanted to try to making it home, even if it was just once. My main concern was the cooking temperature. Duck legs (the breast will also work) are immersed in fat and slowly poached ideally at 180 - 190 deg F, no higher than 200 deg F, any higher and the meat will be stringy. The problem is that many home ovens can't go lower than 200 deg F, not to mention my home oven is a little unreliable. Then I had the great idea to use my slow cooker since the "low" setting should hold contents at around 170 - 180 deg F.
Instead of buying duck legs, I started with a whole duck since it was cheaper and I like having the giblets and bones. Aside from confiting the duck legs and breast, I made a duck soup with the wing tips, neck, and carcass, braised the wings, gizzard, and heart, and made a pate/rillette out of the liver. After cooking, I covered the confit in fat to ripen in the fridge for a week. Confit was first used as a preservation technique and the meat can be stored submerged in fat for many months, but I wasn't interested in keeping it for that long, I wanted to eat it. Finally, after waiting a week, it was finally ready to be eaten. I crisped up the skin in a cast iron skillet and then pan fried some Yukon Golds in more duck fat to accompany the confit. Potatoes cooked in olive oil is eh, cooked in butter is good, but cooked in duck fat is absolute perfection; the two are just meant to be together. The fat from the confit can be reused many times for confit until it gets too salty but then you can use a little bit to cook with (potatoes, fried rice, vegetables, etc.). I don't think I could ever bear to throw away duck fat.
Duck Confit/Confit de Canard
Adapted from Bouchon
4 whole duck legs (I used 2 duck legs and 2 breasts)
Enough fat to cover the legs, 4+ cups
4 Tbsp kosher salt
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp thyme leaves
2 Tbsp packed parsley leaves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
Add the ingredients for the green salt in a small food processor or spice grinder. Process until well combined and bright green.
Trim off any excess fat or skin on the duck legs, rinse, and pat dry. Rub the duck with green salt, using about 1 tablespoon per leg or breast. Place the duck in a baking dish in one layer flesh side up. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours to cure.
After the cure, rinse the legs (or breast) and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 190 deg F. Place in an ovenproof pot with lid and cover the duck with rendered fat. Place the pot in the oven and cook for 10 hours. Alternatively, place the duck in a slow cooker insert and set the slow cooker to high for 1 hour then turn it down to low for 9 more hours. (A note about slow cookers: some newer slow cookers will heat contents past 180 def F even on the low setting, so be sure to check the temperature of the contents once in a while to make sure it's not above 200 deg F.) The duck is done with it is very tender and the meat will pull away from the bone on the drumstick and shrink towards the thigh. The fat should be clear, meaning that the meat is no longer releasing any juices.
Remove the pot from the oven or take out the insert from the slow cooker and cool the duck slowly to room temperature. When the duck has cooled, gently lift the legs out of the fat and transfer to a container, place them skin side down in the container. Cover the duck completely with fat and store in the fridge for a week. It can be stored for months but you must be extremely careful about not getting any meat juices in the container, as that will cause the meat to spoil.
Save the meat juices. It's intensely flavorful and gelatinous so it will add great body to sauces. It can also be mixed with shredded confit meat and fat to make a rillette. To separate the fat from the juices at the bottom, chill the fat and when it is firm enough, you can remove the fat with a spoon, taking care not to disturb the gelled meat juices at the bottom (the aspic).
Bring the container of duck confit to room temperature to soften the fat. Preheat the oven to 375 deg F.
Gently lift the legs out of the fat, scrape off any excess fat. Heat a nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add the duck skin side down and cook until the skin is golden brown and crisp, about 5 - 6 minutes. Transfer the legs to a baking pan, skin side up, and bake for an additional 8 minute to heat them through.
Serve with the traditional side dish of pomme salardaise (potatoes pan fried in duck fat) or a green salad.
This spread is a combination pate and rillette because it has both a duck liver that came with my duck and shredded confited duck breast. There's really no recipe for this since it was just something I threw together, a duck liver, some shredded duck confit, some aspic (gelatin meat juices) from the confit, and duck fat all mixed together. It was delicious spread on baguette slices with a strong Dijon mustard (like Maille) and cornichons. Soak the duck liver in some milk for a few hours before cooking (to draw out the blood), then cook it in some duck fat until it is just pink on the inside. Puree the liver with duck fat and aspic, then mix in shredded confit meat. Pour a thin layer of melted duck fat on top to seal.
How to Render Fat
Cut the skin and large pieces of fat into small 1/2 inch pieces. Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer then turn down to the lowest heat to slowly melt the fat. Cook until all the water is evaporated and the fat is clear and golden. Don't boil the fat or it will overheat and begin to break down and will be unusable. Strain the fat and reserve the pieces of skin and fat to make cracklings if you wish (bake in the oven at 250 deg F until they are crisp).