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(Another) Duck Confit Question

I know absolutely nothing about duck confit, yet, it seems like I'm seeing references to it all over the place. Can you educate me, please? Is duck confit a meal, or is it an ingredient? If it's a meal, what do you usually serve with it? If it's an ingredient, how is it used? Do you buy duck parts in the market, or do you buy a whole duck and cut it up? The only duck parts I've seen in the market are imported duck breasts (D'Argnatan); I don't think I've ever seen duck legs alone. What do I need to know about duck confit? Thanks!

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  1. Duck confit is duck -- usually legs but also wings, necks and gizzards -- that is rubbed with salt and flavourings, allowed to cure overnight, slowly poached in fat (usually duck fat), packed in jars, covered with more fat and allowed to mature in a cool, dry place for a while -- ideally at least a few weeks or, even better, for several months.

    While any duck can be preserved this way, the traditional and best species is the moulard, a voiceless muscovy-pekin cross raised mainly for foie gras production. Confiting was originally a way of preserving the non-foie parts of the animal before the days of refrigeration. Muscovy ducks produce good, if stringier and less succulent results, and they require longer poaching. I'm still waiting to encounter a pekin (aka Long Island or Brome Lake) duck confit that isn't insipid, beside the point. Moulards are almost always sold broken down into parts (getting at the foie requires it), so I usually buy trays of legs from a local butcher. In the States, the legs can also be ordered online. Three places suggested by Paula Wolfert (whose book *The Cooking of Southwest France* provides definitive answers to all your questions and has recipes for making duck confit using traditional and sous vide methods and for many delicious side dishes) are:
    www.dartagnan.com
    www.frenchselections.com
    www.preferredmeats.com

    For fat I use a mixture of purchased fat and fat recovered from roasted ducks, seared duck breasts and reheated duck confit. As long as you keep the fat from overheating, you can reuse it for confit or other dishes.

    By the way, other birds (goose, guinea hen, quail, etc.) and animals (pork, rabbit, etc.) are also sometimes given the confit treatment.

    Once matured, duck confit can be served as a main course. Traditional sides include lentils, beans, mushrooms (especially cepes) and/or any number of potato dishes in which the spuds are usually cooked in duck fat. These days you often see it served on a green salad. Duck confit is also sometimes added to soups or stews, used as a stuffing (for pasta, vegetables or even meat) or served as a garnish (e.g. a starter I once had involving seared foie gras with garnishes of cured breast and shredded confit). Confit gizzards are wonderful heated in a skillet and served as a first course on a bitter green salad dressed with a walnut oil vinaigrette and doused with the cooking residues deglazed with a little red wine.

    Speaking of wine, when it comes to accompanying duck confit, structured reds from the French southwest -- Madiran, Cahors, Gaillac, Fronton, Côtes de Castillon, etc. -- are your best bet. Some extraregional wines (California Petite Sirah, Uruguayan Tannat, French Côtes du Rhône, Argentinian Malbec, etc.) can work but, IMHO, they never work as well.

    15 Replies
    1. re: carswell

      Thanks for the primer. The entire concept of duck confit, from preparation to consumption, is so unfamiliar to me, I feel like I'm just emerging from a dark cave into a whole new culinary domain. I'm thinking that before I begin what seems to be a formidable undertaking, I'm going to seek out a restaurant (probably in NYC) where I can sample duck confit. And in the meantime, I'll read what Paula Wolfert has to say on the topic. I'm just shaking my head over this one. I'll admit that there are many foreign cuisines that remain totally unfamiliar to me, but I would have guessed that my dabbling in French cooking would have left me more informed, if not experienced.

      1. re: CindyJ

        You can confit lots of things like carswell mentioned. There's even tomato confit. The cooking method is called confit.

        1. re: CindyJ

          "...a whole new culinary domain."

          In this case, it's more like a whole OLD domain. Confit (a French word related to confiture, which means jam) is a very old method of preserving food by cooking it in, and then keeping it covered with, a thick layer of fat to keep out air, which can cause spoilage.

          It's very easy to make at home, the main difficulty being the need to obtain a large enough quantity of duck or goose fat to get you started. I like to roast a goose once a year or so, it renders a huge quantity of fat which I then use for confits and general sauteing for months afterward (you haven't lived 'til you've tasted potatoes fried in goose fat!).

          One caution - as carswell says, you start the process by curing the meat overnight in salt and herbs, but be careful to rinse off the salt thoroughly before putting the legs in fat to cook, or the result can be unpleasantly salty. I speak from experience!

          Typically, confit de canard is seared in a hot pan before serving to crisp up the skin.

          1. re: BobB

            Should be added that before you cover the finished meat with the fat, it needs to be strained, and carefully separated from any watery residue - it's kinda like clarifying butter. ALL of the moisture in the meat should be completely replaced by fat. If not, the meat will spoil. One way to check on this after the fact is to dig down through the congealed fat and meat to the bottom of the confit pot to see if there's any pool of moisture down there. If there is, you've got some rotten confit.

            1. re: Will Owen

              You are asking the impossible here. There will still be moisture in the meat, and juices at the bottom of the pot. As long as it goes into a sterile container while piping hot, and you let the fat harden in a solid layer over the whole thing, without leaving any air pockets inside, the meat will not go bad. Unless you are really unlucky and have Martian bacteria in your house or something.

              1. re: DeppityDawg

                Dead wrong! If it's confited properly, there will be NO moisture left in the meat. It will all have been replaced with fat. Furthermore, you're supposed to pour the fat off the juices at the bottom of the pot - as I've said, it's like making clarified butter - and strain any solids out, then heat it again to make sure there's no residual moisture still in it. If it doesn't fizz at all, you're OK.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  I don't even see how it would be physically possible to "replace" all the water in the meat with fat. It is quite obvious to me that every piece of confit I've had is full of moisture. I mean, when it's hot, it steams, and the leftovers leave condensation inside the Tupperware… And when the meat is cold, it has the consistency of cold meat, not cold duck fat… Anyway, you don't have to believe me. I don't even make the stuff myself. Where I live, there are plenty of people who will do it for me, and if they're doing it "dead wrong" that's 100% fine with me.

                  1. re: DeppityDawg

                    Where there is always some residual moisture, when the confit is properly prepared*, there's not much seepage -- only one or two tablespoons' worth for a jar of legs after three or four months' ripening. The French call these juices *salarque* and to avoid the risk of their souring the duck, they scatter a small amount of salt on the bottom of the jar before adding the duck and fat.

                    Commercial duck confit can be good but a lot of it is not made using the traditional method (often brined, not cured; cooked under pressure or sous vide, not slow-poached; etc.) and so has a higher moisture content.
                    ___________

                    *Dry cured with salt; patted dry before poaching; submerged in warm fat and poached at low heat for a couple of hours; allowed to cool in the fat off the heat for an hour or two; the fat subsequently heated to rid it of any moisture before being poured over the duck in the jar.

                    1. re: carswell

                      I really like the idea of having a word for these juices, but none of the giant French dictionaries or (normal-sized) people I have consulted have ever heard of "salarque". There is a word in Gascon/Béarnaise (languages spoken in confit country) "salargue" or "salurgue", but it refers to the foamy scum that one skims off the surface of the simmering fat during the confit process.

                      Apparently you don't just throw this scum away, you spread it on toast and eat it. Mmmm. So there's a little bonus to motivate all of you to make your own confit this holiday season.

                      1. re: DeppityDawg

                        Re salarque, my info comes from Paula Wolfert, more specifically her new edition of *The Cooking of Southwest France* (p. 201, when packing the cooked duck legs into a crock): "Thoroughly dry the inside of the containers with a clean towel. Immediately place 1/2 teaspoon [kosher] salt in the bottom of each container; this prevents the meat juices (salarque) that may seep from the duck during ripening from turning sour."

                        Will do some research the next time I'm at the Université de Montréal's main library and will try contacting PW to see if she has any input.

                        Haven't heard of using the scum as a spread. PW simply says to skim it off. However, after the legs are packed into the crocks, she says to ladle the clear fat from the cooking pot over them, leaving behind any "perishable cloudy fat and meat juices at the bottom of the pan." In her notes to the recipe, she says the cloudy fat can be used for sautéing; the juices can be added to soups for flavour; and any solids can be turned into rillettes by mixing them with an equal amount of confit fat or butter.

        2. re: carswell

          Okay... so just to be sure I'm understanding this -- if I were to purchase duck confit from Dartagnan or another similar source, what I would get is an already-cooked product. Then I'd pan-sear it, or pop it in the oven to heat it and crisp it up, and it would be ready to serve, say, atop a salad. Is that right?

          1. re: CindyJ

            Exactly. A more traditional presentation would be to serve it as an entree (one leg per person) alongside some sort of potatoes, maybe with a side of red cabbage as well.

            And keep in mind that in the can you're going to get lots of yummy duck or goose fat along with the meat. Save this in the fridge for making the most delicious fried potatoes you'll ever eat!

            1. re: BobB

              Good advice, but unfortunately it will probably come in a vacuum sealed pouch. Good product, just no leftover duck fat.

              1. re: HaagenDazs

                I get the vac-packed legs and after searing them to crisp the skin I do get some leftover fat, albeit not a large amount. It's enough for a batch of potatoes, fried or roasted. And if you're making a big batch of spuds, you can augment it with oil (or your freezer stash of duck fat), no sense tossing it. Heck, even just tossing the residual fat into mashed potatoes, instead of butter, is worth it.

              2. re: BobB

                It is plenty for a main dish, unless you have especially hearty eaters - although the leg looks small, this is very rich.

          2. The many challenges associated with the preparation of duck confit begs the question ... is it all worth it? What I mean is, is the end result a sublime delicacy?

            5 Replies
            1. re: CindyJ

              The only real challenge is getting enough good fat to make it. The actual process is as easy as 1-2-3:

              1. Season legs with salt & herbs overnight.
              2. Rinse off salt and cook slowly in fat until done.
              3. Place in storage container and cover with strained pure fat.

              And the end result may or may not be considered a "sublime delicacy" but it's darn tasty!

              1. re: BobB

                Do you refrigerate the container?

                1. re: CindyJ

                  Yes. Historically, as this was a procedure invented for preserving meat long before the advent of electricity, it would have been stored in a cool cellar or larder, but nowadays there's no need to take chances.

                  When you want to use a portion, remove it from the fat and sear it in a hot pan to heat the meat and get the skin nice and crisp.

              2. re: CindyJ

                Yes, it's worth it. If you use quality duck legs and prepare them properly (including letting them age for at least several weeks), they gain a savour, succulence and silky texture that's like nothing else. They also make the basis for an incredibly fast and delicious supper: remove the legs from the jar, reheat them for 15 minutes or so and voilà.

                Reheating in a skillet is common but I actually prefer putting them skin side down in a baking dish and reheating in a 400ºF oven. For crispiest skin, turn them over half way through the cooking and/or broil them for a minute or two at the end. Less messy and leaves you free to work on the rest of the meal.

                1. re: CindyJ

                  "What I mean is, is the end result a sublime delicacy?"

                  yes.

                  and after reading this, I know something I need to do again SOON.

                2. I wonder if there's a demonstration video I can watch to get a close-up look at how this is properly done.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: CindyJ

                    YouTube search it. Here's one example if you withstand the music :)
                    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eng_3c...

                    --edited for better video.

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      CindyJ: You probably know this already, but you can also buy duck legs that have already been confited. You can find these at "gourmet" shops including, in NYC, Citarella, and online through D'Artagnan.

                      http://www.dartagnan.com/item.asp?ite...

                      1. re: erica

                        As a matter of fact, Erica, I didn't realize that until just a short while ago, when I began searching for a place to buy duck legs locally. I found quite a few links to places that sell duck confit. I think I may treat myself to a day in NYC this week. Citarella -- isn't that somewhere near Zabar's?

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          There are a few Citarellas (Citarelli??) in Manhattan. The one near Zabar's is on Broadway, next to Fairway, at 75th Street. There is also one on the Upper East Side, on Third Avenue in the 70s, one in Harlem, and on on 6th Avenue @ 9th Street in the Village.

                          I think that you can buy the confited legs at other markets, too; I know that my own local butcher carries them (First Avenue and 54th Street). Zabar's and Fairway probably do, too. Ask if you do not see them, as sometimes it is tricky to figure out which department they are in..

                          I think I paid about $6.99 per leg at Citarella a few months ago. Figure one leg per person.

                    2. I've got four Moulard duck legs in my freezer, but haven't yet made the confit because I don't have the fat. I know I can buy it online, but I haven't done that yet. I came across this video that shows the preparation of duck confit using an oven roasting method instead of poaching in fat. I'm interested in hearing your opinions of this alternative method. My thinking is, that it really isn't a confit. But, if I'm planning on serving the duck shortly after it's cooked, it might not matter. Or maybe it does. Please tell me what you think, and more importantly, what I'd be giving up, if I followed this method. Thanks.

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwpwqt...

                      13 Replies
                      1. re: CindyJ

                        i haven't watched it, but unless you're salting, then cooking the duck leg in it's own fat, it's not confit.

                        I use a foodsaver vaccum sealer to do mine, throw it in a pot of water at the right temp for 4-5 hours....you need MUCH less fat and the best part is when they are done, they are already packaged for the fridge storage! (and will keep for months)

                        1. re: RPMcMurphy

                          This is known as "sous vidce" cooking. It is an ideal method when you are short on duck fat. For some reason, I seem to prefer the duck fat method. I don't know about extended storage after sous vide cooking...you lose the vacuum. I vacuum pack my legs after cooking, and they keep for 6-8 months in the freezer.

                          1. re: RPMcMurphy

                            That's what I thought. The duck is seasoned with thyme, garlic, salt & pepper, wrapped in four layers of heavy duty foil, and roasted for a couple of hours. Then it's sauteed to crisp it up.

                            1. re: CindyJ

                              That's neither confit nor sous vide, but sounds interesting nonetheless. Try it and let us know how it comes out!

                              1. re: BobB

                                I actually just ordered a supply of duck fat from Dartagnan, so for my first attempt I'm going to prepare it in the "classic" manner. This is surely going to be interesting. I know it will be delicious; it's just that it sounds so very artery-clogging.

                                1. re: CindyJ

                                  Not really - the final searing leaves little extra fat in on the leg, just tender, succulent goodness! Besides, this is not an everyday dish. Enjoy!

                                  1. re: CindyJ

                                    Don't forget duck and goose fat are "good" fats. They don't call 'em the olive oil of south-west France for nothing. Goose is ever so slightly lower in saturated fat than duck (barely significant) and both are well below chicken fat.

                                    1. re: cinnamon girl

                                      goose and duck fat are very low in saturated fat - far lower than most other animal fats.

                                      They also contain very healthy levels of lineic acid -- the stuff that helps *break down* the cholesterol that's already in your veins.

                                      So other than the calories (and yes, duck meat is actually quite lean underneath the fatty skin) -- help yourself -- it's actually good for you!

                                    2. re: CindyJ

                                      Hi,grimaud farms in california is a much more inexpensive source of duckfat and is very good quality.7.50 for a lb versus dartagnan's 7.00 for 7oz.. Its used by piperade and fringale in S.F.among other great restaurants

                              2. re: CindyJ

                                There is a succulence in the duck legs that have been slowly cooked in duck fat that isn't duplicated via any other method. This technique looks interesting as a way to prepare duck with a minimum amount of effort and probably produces quite a tasty thing to eat but I don't think I'd ever serve it to someone and tell them it is duck confit.

                                Also, I think duck confit is much better after it's had at least several hours and preferably at least a day to chill. I wouldn't want to serve it right out of the poaching fat. Just like it's good to allow virtually any cooked piece of meat rest for a bit, duck confit needs some time to get over the heat. I hadn't thought about it before but perhaps the length of cooking time correlates with the length of resting time that is best.

                                Have fun with it all!

                                1. re: ccbweb

                                  A few days fully immersed and refrigerated before the crisping of the skin is imperative,I like to finish it in a roasting pan and rack @ 450 for about 10 minutes

                                   
                                2. re: CindyJ

                                  We eat duck like most eat chicken. I buy breasts by the dozen from D'Artagnan, and save up the rendered fat in jars until I have enough to confit a dozen legs. I agree completely with posts I've seen in other threads that you really need to stick to duck or goose fat, because the flavor of the fat is so intense. I also always have an open jar going to roast my potatoes on a regular, daily basis! Mmmmmmm

                                  1. re: CindyJ

                                    If you roasted a duck you'd be well on your way to having enough. Even a few duck breasts will give you a jam jar full . . . then if you did still have to buy some extra you wouldn't need to buy a whole quart of the stuff. Those legs in your freezer aren't going anywhere anyway.

                                  2. Okay... I'm getting close now. I have the Moulard duck legs in my freezer. My shipment of duck fat arrived yesterday. I borrowed Paula Wolfert's book from the library. Now I need to know whether the confit has to be stored in a glass or stoneware container, or if it's okay to store it in a large plastic container. Does it matter?

                                    3 Replies
                                      1. re: CindyJ

                                        I think plastic is okay, but I bet you will never be able to clean it entirely. Which is fine if you plan to do this often. Just have a dedicated storage device for confit.

                                        1. re: CindyJ

                                          Sorry, I didn't see your post before I posted just above (re sufficient fat). May I ask how much you bought and how much it was? One thing about buying it is it comes all nicely strained and pristine! And you'll be able to re-use it for future batches.