Sunday, November 7, 2010

My 1st Confit

Recently my friend mentioned she wanted to learn to make confit, duck confit and I blustered, "I can show you" knowing full well I'd never confited duck much less watched someone else.

For rescue, I turned to my Julia books, the last words (for me) on classic French cooking. I found a recipe covering both sides of two pages with notes directing the cook to an additional recipe taking up both sides of another page. The combined directions detailed a time consuming process that called for, among other things, pounds of melted duck fat, esoteric equipment and herbs (that despite my extensive collection) I had never heard of.

Not easily dissuaded, I also searched the web, my faithful Larousse , a 40 year old NY Times Cookbook written by Craig Claiborne (no mention there of confit) and an even older book written in French (I used WordMonkey to translate).

What follows is an amalgam of ingredients and procedures and pictures of some of the steps. And my reactions to this first attempt at making duck confit? Not bad. Would I do it again? Yes! in exactly the same way. I enjoyed the challenge; it was fun (and it didn't taste half bad).


  • 2 fresh duck legs with thigh attached
  • 4 juniper berries
  • 6 pepper corns
  • 4 whole cloves
  • ¼ tsp dried thyme or 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch allspice
  • 4 TBS Kosher salt
  • 1 TBS sugar
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled, left whole 
  • Optional additional seasonings: pinches of fresh nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, dried ginger
  • Regular olive oil to cover the duck legs by 2”. I used almost all of a 34-ounce bottle

  • Using a mortal and pestle, lightly crush the juniper berries, clove and peppercorns together.

  • Crumble in the bay leaf, dried thyme, all spice, salt and sugar and mix everything together. If you are using fresh thyme, do not add it yet.
  • Select a porcelain or glass dish (with sides) that will hold the legs snugly.
  • Spread half the mix on the bottom of your dish along with 2 sprigs fresh thyme (if you are using fresh).
  • Put the duck legs in the dish, skin side up and spread the remaining mix over the skin side of the duck. Put one sprig of fresh thyme (if you are using fresh) over the top of each leg.  
  • Cover tightly and refrigerate undisturbed for 48 hours.

  • Preheat over to 225°
  • Remove the duck legs from the cure and brush off as much of the mix as you can.
  • Return the ducks to a high sided oven proof container and cover them with the olive oil. The oil should come over the legs by about 2”
  • Float in the two cloves of garlic.
  • Slowly poach the duck, uncovered, for 3 hours or until the duck starts coming off the bone.
  • Do not let the oil bubble. It should cook very slowly and have little or no bubbling.
  • After the duck is cooked, remove it from the oil and put it into a clean glass or porcelain container large enough to hold the legs and all the oil.
  • Remove the garlic cloves and save them for slathering on a crusty piece of bread: cook's treat!
  • Strain the oil and pour it over the duck legs. Be sure the cooked duck is fully submerged in oil. Leave the duck to cool and then cover tightly and refrigerate. It will keep up to 3 months.


Some years ago I attended a cooking demonstration given by someone who (at the time) I considered the last word on all matters food. Her advice---which I took very much to heart----was that we use too much salt consequentially masking the natural deliciousness of our ingredients not to mention doing our health little good. She adamantly maintained that the sign of a very good cook was to learn to develop flavor with little or no salt.

The lady’s advice was forward thinking and many experts soon espoused that position. Wanting to be modern and a good and healthy cook, I eschewed the saltshaker, almost to the extreme. There were other ways to enhance food and I happily sallied forth using lemons, herbs and spices to gild my dishes and wake up the palate.

Now, I did not harbor any ill will toward salt, as I still was a closeted salter of corn on the cob, grilled meat and pasta water. For those foods my health concerns were out the window rationalizing that some things require salt, lots of it, and there simply was no substitute.

Over time the obsessiveness with salt as evil eased. The food world gradually directed that salt was okay again and not only that but now we would have many choices as to what salt to use. Some were for cooking, some for finishing, some for the table, all literally from all over the world. Some were to be used with meat and some with fish or fowl. Salt was to be paired much like wine and suddenly I was looking at exotic salts carrying prices akin to the finest Barolo or a vertical of Silver Oak.

Climbing again on the food trend bandwagon, I set out to acquire a few varieties and study the impact of gray salt, pink salt, sea salt (fine grain, large grain) and Kosher salt on my cooking. I prosthelytized on salt and imposed my opinion on the benefits of using artisanal salts (other than the usual blue box stuff) to anyone who would listen.

But secretly I was growing some serious confusion. All these exotic salts---one website listed forty! Forty? (yikes)---and I still had trouble telling them apart. Aside from larger or smaller grains, few offered any significant differences in taste and I am concluding that hand harvested French sel gris at $7.99 an ounce is just too much.

So here I am, after many years of ups and downs with salt, settled on just three: Kosher salt for general use, rock salt to make a bed for meaty juicy roasts and sea salt when I’m cooking fish. And that, my friends, is it.