Duck confit is a classic, and centuries old, preparation for duck (or goose) leg quarters. It is both a dish and a technique that originated in the Gascony area of France and involves the initial step of salt/sugar curing the leg quarter/s then low and slow cooking submerged in its own fat.
It’s been a number of years since I’ve prepared this dish so I referenced a recipe from Mitchell Davis of the James Beard Foundation (see links to the original recipe below).
Note: For instructions on how to break down a whole duck check out the “Extra!” section at the bottom of this post.
For the original recipe from the James Beard Foundation, click on the following link: DUCK CONFIT Mitchell Davis Executive Vice President, the James Beard Foundation; Author, Kitchen Sense (Clarkson Potter, 2006)
Note: The original recipe called for four duck leg quarters, however, I am using only two so have adjusted the quantities of the original ingredients accordingly.
If you want to learn more about the science behind “confit” I recommend reading “Science of Confit Cooking“.
Duck confit cure:
2 duck leg quarters with skin on
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 tbsp sugar (organic raw cane sugar here)
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp juniper berries (ok I may have added a little more than 1 tsp; love the flavor)
7 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf (my addition and optional)
3 cups of rendered duck fat or lardThe James Beard recipe suggests using lard if you do not have duck fat, which may be ordered online (link in the original recipe).
The cooked duck confit is shown below being served with iceberg lettuce wedges, pearl tomatoes, and chunky gorgonzola blue cheese dressing. You can, of course, serve the confit with any salad of your choice. Another great salad choice would be a classic Caesar salad.
2 confited duck leg quartersMay be served whole or with the meat pulled off the bone
1 head of iceberg lettuce cut into wedges (optional)
6 pearl tomatoes (optional)
1 cup chunky gorgonzola blue cheese dressing (optional):1/4 cup gorgonzola blue cheese crumbles
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup safflower oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp minced parsley
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Note: This can be made a day or two ahead. Place all the ingredients into a small mixing bowl and whisk until fully emulsified, season to taste, cover and store in the fridge until ready to use.
Duck confit cure:
Duck leg quarters at the start of the 12 to 24 hour curing period….Mix the salt and sugar together, rub all over both sides of the leg quarters, place half of the remaining salt/sugar mix on the bottom of a square baking dish, add half of the peppercorns, juniper berries, and sprigs of thyme. Place the leg quarters, skin side up, into the baking dish, cover with the remaining salt/sugar cure, peppercorns, berries, and thyme. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours.
Duck leg quarters at the end of the 12 to 24 hour curing period…. You will notice that salt/sugar cure has done its magic and resulted in the considerable amount of liquid at the bottom of the baking dish. Remove the now cured leg quarters, remove any of the cure mixture still on the leg quarters, pat dry, set aside to get to room temp in preparation for low and slow cooking.
FOOD SAFETY TIP!Make sure to wash everything used in preparing raw poultry such as kitchen tools, cutting boards, containers, surfaces, and especially your hands in hot soapy water afterward to prevent cross-contamination.
Also, I use a yellow cutting board just for poultry as an added precaution against cross-contamination.
The cured and cleaned duck leg quarters are ready to begin the low and slow cooking process….Place the duck fat or lard into a medium saucepan on low-medium heat, when the fat has melted, place the leg quarters into the pan skin side up. Cook for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Per Mitchell Davis’ recipe DO NOT let the temp of the fat go above 220F at any point throughout the cooking time.
The duck confit has finished cooking…. It may be eaten at this point or placed into a storage container for later use (as shown in this photo). Let cool to room temp before storing in the fridge.
Duck fat that has been in the fridge will congeal so do not be concerned if you see this when you take it out of the fridge.
When you’re ready to prepare the duck confit for the meal, and if you had placed the confit in the fridge, bring the container with the confit to room temp, or at least warm enough to be able to easily remove the leg quarter from the fat. Duck confit is usually served whole after being reheated and browned, but the meat can also be pulled off, chopped (or not), reheated and browned in a frying pan or skillet as well, and served that way.
Breaking down a duck:
You will need a cutting board, a stiff boning knife, a tray for the individual parts, and a bowl to hold the trimmed fat and skin.
Make a cut into the skin between the leg quarter and the breast. Make sure to cut closer to the leg quarter than breast as you will want to keep the skin that covers the breasts complete and intact.
Pull the leg quarter away from the carcass and toward the back. Cut the leg quarter at the joint connecting the thigh and the body of the duck. Make sure to include the “oyster” from the backbone.
Repeat on the other leg quarter. The leg quarters are ready for your favorite recipe like duck confit.
Remove the wings.
Trim the flap of skin extending from the tip of the breastbone.
Make a cut as close to and parallel to the breastbone. While carefully pulling the breast meat away from the breastbone begin cutting the meat away from the breastbone.
Carefully remove the tenders and trim any excess skin, fat, and silver skin from the breasts.
The breasts are now ready to be used in your favorite recipe. Check out my upcoming recipe for pan-seared, coconut milk marinated duck breasts with a spicy lemon and scallion sauce.
Trim off the skin and any fat from the carcass. Combine the trim from the carcass with the other trim to render the fat that can be saved and used in dishes like duck confit.
Cut up the trimmed carcass into smaller pieces; save to make stock.
Your whole duck from Grove Ladder Farm broken down into its major parts, including the carcass for making stock, and trimmed fat and skin to render for duck fat.