Confiting, or cooking and preserving in fat, is a classic method of preserving meat, from before the days of refrigeration. The process gives meat the most fabulous texture and flavor. Confit duck legs are particularly worth the wait – cooked long and slow in duck fat flavored with aromatic herbs until meltingly tender, preserved in that fat, then roasted quickly until crisp and golden. Duck legs are also great value compared to breasts. Harmful bacteria can’t thrive in dense fat, so historically, confit didn’t have to be chilled to stay fresh. That said, please refrigerate your duck confit because we no longer live in medieval France.
The legs and thighs are the fattiest portions of the bird and therefore the ones you want to use. Allowing the legs to sit overnight or longer with herbs imparts more flavor into the meat and fat. Since the meat will be hanging out in the fat for a nice long time as it slowly cooks, it’s worth it to seek out high-quality fresh herbs. Now is not the time to reach in the back of the spice drawer for that dusty jar of rosemary or pine needles, you’re not sure which one. That’s right, we can see into your kitchen.
Once your confit is finished, it’ll keep for up to six months (refrigerated — again, don’t challenge nature’s generosity) and the leftover duck fat can be re-used for frying potatoes, eggs, plantains or my personal favorite–caramelized onions.
Duck Leg Confit
4 duck leg portions with thighs attached, excess fat trimmed and reserved
1 tablespoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 garlic cloves
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon table salt
4 cups olive oil or duck fat
1. Lay the leg portions on a platter, skin side down. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the kosher salt and black pepper. Place the garlic cloves, bay leaves, and sprigs of thyme on each of 2 leg portions. Lay the remaining 2 leg portions, flesh to flesh, on top. put the reserved fat from the ducks in the bottom of a glass or plastic container. Top with the sandwiched leg portions. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
3. Remove the duck from the refrigerator. Remove the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and duck fat and reserve. Rinse the duck with cool water, rubbing off some of the salt and pepper. Pat dry with paper towels.
4. Put the reserved garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and duck fat in the bottom of an enameled cast-iron pot. Sprinkle evenly with the peppercorns and salt. Lay the duck on top, skin side down. Add the olive oil/duck fat. Cover and bake for 2.5 to 3 hours, or until the meat pulls away from the bone.
5. Remove the duck from the fat. Strain the fat and reserve.
6. To serve immediately, sear duck legs skin-side down in a hot pan until the skin is golden and crispy (about 3-4 minutes) or to save for later: pick the meat from the bones and place it in a stoneware container. Cover the meat with some of the strained fat, making a 1/4-inch layer. The duck confit can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month.