Executive Vice President, the James Beard Foundation; Author, Kitchen Sense (Clarkson Potter, 2006)
"Confit is an old French technique for preserving duck legs in fat. Although most people no longer have to keep duck through the winter without refrigeration, the technique is still used a lot because it makes for delicious eating. The only difficult part is coming across enough luscious duck fat—you can order it from www.hudsonvalleyfoiegras.com or www.dartagnan.com. You can render duck fat yourself, or you can substitute lard. Once you make confit, you can keep it in the fridge for months."
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 large duck legs and thighs (attached), about 3 pounds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon juniper berries
- 15 sprigs fresh thyme
- About 4 cups rendered duck fat or lard
Place the salt in a bowl and blend with the sugar. Holding one duck leg at a time over the bowl, rub a generous amount of the salt-sugar mixture all over the leg, into the skin and flesh. Repeat with the remaining legs. In the bowl or another container, pack the salted legs on top of each other, layering them with the peppercorns, juniper berries, and thyme. Sprinkle with any remaining salt mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
The next day, unpack the duck legs and rub off any salt and spices with paper towels. Pat dry. Melt the fat or lard in a wide heavy-bottomed pot just big enough to hold the legs. Add the duck to the fat; it should be submerged. Simmer the duck very slowly for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat browns, shrinks off the bone, and is very tender when pricked with the point of a knife. The fat should never go much above 220ºF during the cooking time. Remove the pot from the heat and let the duck cool in the fat to room temperature. You can either eat the duck as it or transfer it to a storage container, cover with the strained fat, and chill until ready to use.
To serve the duck, pull a leg piece out of the fat, being careful not to pull out the bone and leave the meat behind. If you can't get the piece out, you can let the fat come to room temperature, heat it in a microwave, or warm it in a water bath in a large pot on the stove. Scrape any excess fat off the meat. Heat a dry frying pan, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat and place the leg in the pan, skin side down, to crisp up and heat through before serving, about 6 minutes. (Alternatively, you can brown and crisp the duck, skin side up, under a broiler for about 8 minutes.)