In the culinary world, things tend to get out of hand. Chefs often feel the need to add more. More seasonings, more ingredients and, these days, always more pork belly. But often it is best to just simplify because some of the best dishes are also the simplest. Duck confit is the perfect example. Simply prepared, it is one of the most delicious foods I have ever eaten, and the cooking process requires only six ingredients.
Confit is one of the oldest cooking methods. Without refrigeration, people could cook meat in its own fat, then store it in that fat for months, providing food for their families through the difficult winters.
As this technique has become more popular today, I often hear people confused on the details, mistakenly using words like poaching, sous-vide and, worst, frying.
The basic definition of confit is meat cooked and preserved in its own fat, and while that is technically poaching, confit specifically refers to cooking in fat, whereas poaching simply refers to cooking in liquid.
When confiting, I always recommend doing so in large batches because it lasts so long. From there, you can find numerous uses for the meat. It is pictured here as a fabulously simple rillette, but it would also be great in a salad, cassoulet or crêpe. The possibilities are endless.
The process is simple. You put the meat in a pan, cover it with fat and stick it in the oven. The reason home cooks don't spend their nights making duck confit isn't because it's difficult; it's because they don't have reserves of duck fat on hand and don't want to spend the money to buy it. Hence, I give you the cheat: olive oil. Olive oil has been a fat substitute for years, and I proudly say that I use it in my confit. There is no downside, no lost flavor, no difference in texture. It is the perfect substitution.
Duck confit is a simple recipe with very little active time required. The richness of the duck is great for the fall season and brings warmth to any chilly night.
Serves | 8 to 10 |
- 3 Tbsp salt, divided
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 shallot, peeled and sliced
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 duck legs
- 4 duck thighs
- 1 Tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 4 cups extra virgin olive oil
| Preparation | Sprinkle 1 Tbsp salt in the bottom of a sheet pan large enough to hold the duck pieces in a single layer. Evenly scatter half the garlic, shallots and thyme in the container. Arrange duck pieces, skin-side up, over the salt mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining salt, garlic, shallots, thyme and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days.
Preheat the oven to 225°F. Brush the salt and seasonings off the duck, reserving the thyme, garlic and shallots. Rinse duck pieces under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Arrange duck pieces in a single, snug layer in a high-sided baking dish or oven-proof saucepan and add the reserved seasoning. Pour the olive oil over the duck, making sure the pieces are completely covered, and place in the oven.
Cook at a very slow simmer - just an occasional bubble - until the duck is tender and can be easily pulled from the bone, 2 to 3 hours. If the oil bubbles more, adjust the oven temperature. Remove the pan from the oven.
Cool and store the duck in the fat. While submerged in the fat, the duck will remain preserved for 2 to 3 weeks.
FEAST EXTRA RECIPE!
Recipe by Cassandra Vires
Serves | 8 to 10 |
As always, show your creativity. This rillette recipe calls for cranberries and cognac, but create your own flavoring. Curing with salt, shallots and garlic can also be modified for personal preference. Try using cloves, ginger or star anise. All will provide a unique flavor that you created on your own!
- ¼ cup cognac
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- 1 recipe duck confit
- ¼ cup minced onions
- 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 10 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
- ½ tsp black pepper, finely ground
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp reserved olive oil from confit process
- grain mustard, cornichons and French bread for garnish
| Preparation | Place the cognac and cranberries in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let come to room temperature.
Remove the duck from the oil and reserve oil for storage. Gently remove the meat from the bone, shredding it in the process. Take care not to miss any small bones, cartilage or pieces of fat.
In the bowl of an electric food processor fitted with a plastic hook, combine the shredded duck meat, onions, parsley, garlic, butter, pepper, salt and cognac-cranberry mixture. Beat at medium speed for about 1 minute, or until well mixed, taking care not to puree the mixture or let it turn into a paste. The texture should be like finely chopped meat.
Use immediately or place in an airtight container, drizzle some of the reserved fat over the top and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Serve with grain mustard, cornichons and toasted bread.
Cassandra Vires is the executive chef and manager of Ernesto's Winebar in Benton Park. She received her culinary training in Houston, Texas, and has a knack for reimagining classic dishes.