Before Christmas, I was struck by the urge to serve a classic Cassoulet for our holiday dinner. And as a building block for that savory dish, I decided to prepare my own duck legs confit. I duly consulted the internet, my cook books, and my coworker Ira (a former chef and my go-to person for advice on big cooking projects). Ira got all excited about this scheme, and we had several lively conversations about the best places to buy duck legs (he suggested an Asian grocery store, but I went with the upscale grocery near my house), where to buy huge quantities of rendered duck fat (I went with the Asian grocery store on that one), whether to confit an entire duck or just the legs, and several other miscellaneous conversations about unrelated duck recipes. It was a lot of fun.
When I was ready to buy my ingredients, I figured that if I was going to bother confiting duck legs, I might as well do a bunch, and keep the surplus on hand in the freezer for future need. And I could give some away for Christmas presents! In short, I decided to go big. I made twelve.
It turns out that it actually would have been a lot less trouble to start with a more reasonable number of duck legs, like four. For one thing, duck legs and duck fat are not cheap. For another, working with that many legs is just unwieldy. So maybe you can learn from my experience and start with two or four legs—truthfully, I know I will dive headfirst into my next big cooking project without sparing one second’s thought for lessons learned from the duck legs and will probably quadruple that recipe as well, then wonder what I got myself into. It’s just what I do.
But regardless of quantity, making your own duck legs confit is not hard. It does require planning ahead to allow time for curing, cooking, and resting in the refrigerator. But duck legs in the fridge are like money in the bank. There are so many delicious meals that you can make with the tender, succulent meat once it’s waiting for you, nicely preserved in an opulent bath of beautiful, beautiful duck fat.
Here’s the method for making the duck legs. I’ll also share some ideas for how to use them in upcoming blog posts.
Duck Legs Confit
(adapted from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn)
- duck legs
- 8 grams of salt for every pound of meat
- 1 sliced garlic clove per leg
- ½ bay leaf per leg
- approximately 8 oz additional duck fat per leg
Sprinkle duck legs with salt and put them in a nonreactive container (I used baking sheets lined with waxed paper). Sprinkle with thyme, freshly ground pepper, and press garlic slices and broken bay leaves into each leg. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-48 hours.
Rinse the duck under cold water, wiping off seasonings. Pat dry.
Preheat the oven to between 180 and 200F. I suggest checking oven temperature with a thermometer to make sure it is at least 180F.
Place the duck legs in a stockpot or Dutch oven. You want them tightly packed, as they will need to be fully submerged in fat while they cook. Cover with fat, bring to a simmer on stove top, then place in the oven and cook uncovered for between 6 and 10 hours (this will depend to some extent on how many duck legs you are cooking). They are done when fat is clear, and the duck legs are very tender.
Remove from the oven and cool to near room temperature in the pot. Move duck legs to one or more storage containers, pouring fat over legs and making sure they are completely submerged. Refrigerate for up to a week to ten days. Or freeze for longer.
Note that you can use pink salt (curing salt) to extend the shelf life of duck confit for up to six months—see instructions in Charcuterie or another manual for preserving meats.
Elsewhere: Over at Edible Books, our February book selection is going to be The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. Join the conversation!