For Christmas eve dinner, we went to a party nearby with dear friends. This was a change from our original plan, but fortunately the original plan called for eight legs of duck confit so we were well prepared to arrive in style. The only hard thing about making confit is remembering that you need to do it at least the day before, preferably two. Weeks ahead is actually better, since the flavor improves over time, but it’s not crucial. Besides timing, the rest is almost as labor-free as cooking gets.
First off, you rub the lags all over with a mixture of salt, garlic, and herbs. Some people like to purée the salt and herbs together to make green salt which guarantees even distribution, but I sort of like it chunky, rustic style. Fat and muscle alike, rub it all over and layer the legs in a glass baking dish, covered, in the fridge for 12 hours or so. That’s day one, which took about five minutes. The next morning, you rinse them off thoroughly. Pat them dry. Nestle them in a deep pot that fits them with some clearance on top (you don’t want hot fat sloshing over the sides when you take them out of the oven). Pour melted duck fat over them so they are just completely covered, and bring the pot to the gentlest of simmers on the stove before putting it in an oven preheated to 180˚F. Duck fat can be ordered on the internets if you don’t have any on hand. Day two: five more minutes of effort.
Leave them in there, uncovered, for ten hours. That’s it. When you take them out, they will have shrunk and sunk farther down in the pot. Gently remove the legs–they’ll be falling-apart tender–into another container that can hold them all. Carefully strain the fat, either into the container with the legs, or into jars if you’re going to eat the confit that day. Again, five minutes of work. Make sure not to mix the duck liquids at the bottom with your fat; that magical jellied goodness should be put into its own special jar in the fridge and spooned into anything that you want to taste like hot sex.
The legs, covered with fat, will keep in a fridge for months and months. Just bring it to room temp and gently coax them out of the softened fat. Then crisp the skin in a heavy pan until it’s a deep golden hue. Flip them over to heat the other side, and serve. If possible, use the fat and fond in the pan for cooking mushrooms or greens. One leg per person is a lavish feast, but in the case of this party, after crisping and heating them on their stove–filling the house with a divine aroma–I gently shredded all the meat off the bones and arranged it in a serving dish, topped with crunchy shards of skin with scallions and parsley to provide a bright green accent. The party was ostensibly all finger food, since they didn’t want to deal with dishes, so we just ate it with our fingers. It was extremely good; actual French people rolled their eyes in nostalgic transport. There wasn’t a scrap left by the end.
Factoring in the crisping/heating/serving, we’ve added maybe ten more minutes. That’s about 25 minutes of cooking over two or more days for one of the very best foods in the entire world. It should go without saying that humanely raised, local duck will taste much much better than other duck. This same technique also works frighteningly well goose and turkey legs, as well as pork belly. The fat does get saltier over time, so adding fresh fat now and then is a good idea. It makes for an insanely good cooking fat if it’s too salty for confit-making. Duck fat fries, anyone?