Apr 072013
 
Duck legs, pre-curing

Duck legs, pre-curing

Yes, it’s true: I am all about the Quack Attack. For my money, there are few animals tastier than the duck. There is something decadently succulent about the dark, flavorful meat that is found throughout this bird, and oh, the fat… the fat can just take everything about your cooking to the next level.

So it’s not surprising that some enterprising cook came up with the idea of cooking a duck in its own fat. I mean, as a society we have acknowledged that combining two products from the same animal can elevate them both to new heights (see: cheeseburger), so to the people who scoff at the idea of confit, well, I just scoff back. Or something. Or I would if I weren’t so totally absorbed in the wonder of the method. (Sorry, I’m too busy appreciating all that is awesome and wonderful in this world to be appropriately snarky back at you. That’s it: that’s my new motto. But I digress.)

Cured duck legs

Cured duck legs

Confit is a French word, which seems to imply that confit is difficult, snooty, impossible to eat without my nose held at a dizzying angle in the air, and altogether too refined for a knuckle-dragger like me to fully appreciate. Or perhaps it’s too baffling and you find yourself asking what one does with it. Fortunately for all of us, confit is exceedingly simple: make a curing paste in a food processor from a couple of pantry staples, throw it in the fridge overnight, rinse it, submerge in fat, and cook for a couple of hours.

Duck leg confit

Duck leg confit

As for what to do with the finished product? It’s a doozy of an answer: anything and everything. So far, I’ve used it in cassoulet (yet another scary-sounding French dish that is actually peasant food), risotto, and just plain eating. But one of the best parts is that it keeps in the fridge for a month (confit literally means “preserved”), so though I confit-ed up a whole duck and only needed the breasts in my risotto, the legs will wait around for me to be inspired once again. What shall I use it for? An exceedingly amazing pot-pie? A savory and decadent (cheese-less) pizza? Tossed with roasted Brussels sprouts? (Woah.) Who knows? A whole lotta inspiration can happen in a month. All I know is that those two beautifully golden legs will be challenging me to up my creativity-ante, and there’s no doubt that they’ll do that if I can resist the temptation to pull them out in the middle of the night and schmear them all over my face as I savor them by the fridge.

Duck leg confit: tender, flavorful, NOM!

Duck leg confit: tender, flavorful, NOM!

Duck Confit
Adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated online
Makes one whole duck or six legs

Yes, it is expensive to buy a quart of duck fat. I recommend building up your supply by saving the fat from stock. If you need to buy extra, don’t fret: you can re-use the fat for multiple confits and any other application that calls for duck fat (like pie crusts, popcorn, cooking potatoes, roasting veg, etc.). I have used the same fat to confit four batches of duck.
If you need help cutting the duck into pieces, there are lots of great YouTube videos that will show you how to do it. Get poultry shears and it will make the process SO. MUCH. EASIER. (Seriously, I just got a pair and I wish I had bought them five years ago.)
1 whole duck (5-ish pounds) or 6 duck legs
1/4 cup table salt
1 large onion, peeled and cut into about 1-inch chunks
6 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
12 flat-leafed parsley stems
1 quart duck fat
If using a whole duck: remove the duck’s backbone and wings (and save them for the stock-pot). Lay the duck flat like an open book (skin up) and remove the legs, keeping them whole. Split the breasts. Trim any any extra undesirable bits from the duck parts (and save them for the stock-pot). Leave the skin on.
In the bowl of a food processor, thoroughly blend together the salt, onion, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, and parsley until you have a runny paste. Rub the duck pieces with the salt-parsley mixture and place in a zipper-top bag or dish for marinating. Pour the remaining salt-parsley mixture in with the duck and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the duck from the fridge and rinse off the pieces under cold water. Dry well with paper towels.
Heat the oven to 300F. Put the duck fat in a saucepan or Dutch oven and heat until the fat is liquified. Place the duck pieces in the fat, ensuring they are completely submerged and cover with a lid. Put the pot in the oven. Cook until the duck offers no resistance when you poke it with a fork, about two hours. Either remove the duck and enjoy it or keep submerged in the fat and refrigerate for up to one month.

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