An old method of preserving meat is to cook it slowly in fat, then leave it so that when the fat sets, the meat is entirely encased in it. Any type of meat can be cooked and preserved in this way, but the method is particularly suited to poultry, and especially to duck.
To make confit duck, you need a lot of duck or goose fat. An awful lot. And it’s expensive – I used three jars at £2.50 each, but you can re-use the fat a couple of times, and it helps to make the best roast potatoes you’ll ever eat. That alone is worth the investment.
The process has two stages – an initial salt ‘cure’ and a slow cooking stage. First, rub some good quality sea salt over four plump duck legs, grinding a little pepper over as well. Cover the duck legs and leave in the fridge overnight.
The next day, brush off some of the excess salt and arrange the duck legs in a fairly deep oven proof dish. Choose a dish that lets you pack the legs in tightly. Tuck some sprigs of thyme and rosemary in amongst the duck legs, along with some bay leaves and a few smashed up cloves of garlic. Don’t bother peeling the garlic, just flatten it with the side of a heavy knife.
Scoop your duck or goose fat out into a pan and heat it until it’s completely clear. Pour the rendered fat over the duck until it’s completely covered. It’s best to do this with the dish already on the oven rack, in the oven, to minimise the huge possibility that you’ll spill the lot transferring it to the oven.
Cook the duck on a very low heat, maybe 150 degrees Celsius for at least three hours. If the fat doesn’t quite cover the meat, turn the legs very carefully half way through the cooking time.
After three hours, the duck will be cooked and very tender.
During the cooking time, sterilise a large kilner jar. I simply put the jar through the dishwasher then put it in a hot oven for five minutes or so.
Place the duck legs into the jar, and very, very carefully pour the fat in as well. Start off by ladling it in. The fat should cover the duck entirely. It’s a good idea to have an extra jar of fat to hand just in case the cooking fat doesn’t quite stretch far enough. If you don’t need it, a jar of duck or goose fat is an excellent thing to have on standby in the cupboard anyway.
Leave the jar to cool, then keep it in a cool place. The confit duck will last for months in this state.
You can do many things with confit duck. Shredded, in a salad, it’s excellent, but crisped up in a hot oven, it’s sensational. The French clearly know what they’re doing.
I’m saving mine for a wet weekday night when we’ve run out of everything else.