Confit de Canard is a classic dish found in many Parisian bistros, and it is a dish which my mother-in-law likes to serve whenever we visit. After one of our trips to France late last year, I felt compelled to recreate this dish at home, primarily because I didn’t want to wait so long before eating it again.
Duck Confit is essentially duck slow-cooked in its own fat until it is meltingly tender, and then seared in a pan until the skin is golden and crispy just before serving. It could perhaps be described as the up-market, heart-stopping version of fried chicken, only so much more grown-up and more revered.
Duck legs (typically the drumstick with the thigh attached and sometimes called marylands) are normally used in this recipe but duck breasts also work quite well. The duck is often salted and seasoned generously for 1-2 days to draw out moisture, before being submerged in duck fat and then cooked at a very low temperature until the meat is deliciously tender. Most recipes call for a temperature around 100°C (212°F) – the fat should barely be simmering, or else you run the risk of deep-frying your duck.
Once cooked, the duck can be stored in a clean container, completely covered with more duck fat, and kept in the fridge for about a month. In fact, the recipe for Duck Confit originated from south-western France and came about as a method of preserving duck for long periods of time.
Unless you live on a farm and are in the habit of rendering down whole ducks for their fat, you will have to buy duck fat which either come in tins or glass jars sold in the refrigerated section. During the cooking process, the duck will render some of its own fat, as well as flavour, into the cooking fat. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep the leftover duck fat to add extra depth of flavour in a later batch of Duck Confit, or to simply use for the best roast potatoes you will ever taste.
To serve the duck, either straight from slow-cooking or after it has been preserved in the fridge, simply heat a large frying pan and cook the duck legs (or breasts) until the skin is nice and crispy, a benchmark of a good Duck Confit. You shouldn’t need to add oil to the pan as there should be plenty from the duck.
As with most classic French dishes, there exists a wealth of recipes for Duck Confit.
In French Food Safari, Michael Smith shares a recipe which doesn’t require overnight salting and can be prepared all in the same day. The duck, however, does require up to 1.5 hours of salting with an aromatic rub of peppercorns, juniper berries, garlic, bay leaf, thyme and lemon zest.
Thomas Keller also employs a dry marinade of salt and fresh herbs (including parsley), but cooks the duck at a much lower temperature of 88°C (190°F) for 10-12 hours. In Bouchon, Keller’s recipe for Duck Confit with Brussel Sprouts and Mustard Sauce is one of my favourite ways of serving Duck Confit.
I was surprised to find that the “Chef of the Century”, Joël Robuchon, had a fairly simple recipe for Duck Confit in his compendium, The Complete Robuchon. His salt rub is flavoured with garlic, fresh thyme, cloves and cracked pepper, but, unusually, he adds water to the duck fat to prevent the meat from colouring too much.
Perhaps the simplest recipe I have tried, and which reminds me most of Duck Confit I have eaten in restaurants, is one by Stéphane Renaud in Ripailles, or French Feasts as it is called in the US. The recipe below is an adaptation of Renaud’s recipe, although his book also gives an illustrated description of how to preserve Duck Confit in sealed glass jars for up to 6 months – a handy recipe if you find yourself with a lot of duck to use up.
If you thought Duck Confit on its own would already exceed your week’s intake of calories, the dish is traditionally served with pommes de terre à la Sarladaise, which are slices of potatoes cooked in duck fat (think coin-sized French fries). If you are going to indulge, you may as well do it properly.
Perhaps a more restrained way of eating Duck Confit is with a simple green salad dressed with a spikey vinaigrette to offset the richness of the duck. My mother-in-law simply serves boiled potatoes alongside.
But potatoes roasted in duck fat are my favourite accompaniment to Duck Confit. Simply parboil some chopped potatoes and roast in a stainless steel pan which has been pre-heated with about 1 cm (1/2 inch) layer of duck fat. Coat the potatoes in the hot duck fat before putting the pan back in the oven for about 45-60 minutes until the potatoes are golden and crispy (the timing will depend a bit on how big your potatoes are).
Go for a brisk walk or a long jog the next day to offset the calories. Bon appétit!
Recipe adapted from Ripailles by Stéphane Renaud
If you are not serving the Duck Confit right away, place the duck into a clean container, preferably made from glass or ceramic. Strain the leftover duck fat into a large bowl or jug, taking care not to catch any of the brown meat juices which should be discarded. Completely cover the duck with the strained duck fat, and leave to cool to room temperature. Cover the container and keep in the fridge for up to 1 month. Joël Robuchon gives further instructions to heat enough lard to cover the (set) duck fat by 1 to 2 cm as a method of keeping the confit for longer. Once the lard has set, press a piece of parchment paper onto the lard, completely cover the container and store in the fridge for 5-6 months.
To prepare Duck Confit after it has been preserved, let the container come to room temperature or until the duck can be easily removed from the duck fat in one piece. You could also gently warm the container in a very low oven which will melt the duck fat, allowing you to easily remove the duck.
Any leftover duck fat should be strained of any brown meat juices and kept in a sterilised glass jar in the fridge.