Duck confit is a preparation where duck meat (usually from the legs and thighs of the duck) is cooked in its own fat and then preserved in that same fat. The fat forms a barrier that keeps air and moisture out and along with refrigeration prevents spoilage. The tomato conserva that I made back in September was a sort of confit for vegetarians.
The biggest obstacle keeping me from trying most duck confit recipes is that they tend to call for a massive quantity of duck fat. The process produces a lot of extra duck fat so this becomes less of a problem for future endeavours but the first time around buying a litre (or more) of duck would be pretty ridiculously expensive.
Even more to the point there seems to be a believable contention that cooking in fat, like this at least, doesn’t add flavour. Nathan Myrhvold former chief technology officer at Microsoft and now food super-scientist contends that theoretically there is no way that large fat molecules could penetrate into duck meat and also that blind taste testers couldn’t tell the difference between the traditional method and duck meat that had been steamed and then rubbed with duck fat. The article is also worth a read for Myrhvold’s suggestions of using a dog brush to prepare duck breast for cooking.
Luckily, the duck confit recipe from Earth to Table uses chicken broth and apple cider. I don’t know, scientifically-speaking, whether apple cider molecules are small enough to penetrate into duck meat but adding it to the cooking pot really makes the kitchen smell great and brings a welcome, faint acidic note to the leftover broth. Speaking of the cooking pot, I don’t do very much deep-frying so I really welcomed the opportunity to cook a whole bunch of fat in my cast iron dutch and thereby help improve its cure.
After the long, slow oven cooking the meat is separated from the very fatty broth and shredded. The bones, bits of skin and un-rendered fat are discarded and through separation (same process as making turkey gravy) and a gentle simmer (to boil away the broth that refuses to separate) we get pure duck fat. The meat is packed into a clean Mason jar and the still-warm and liquid duck fat is poured over top to fill the air holes and form a centimetre-thick layer on top that will keep air out and prevent spoilage. The remaining fat was also jarred and refrigerated.
Duck confit needs to be used in pretty small doses because it is rich, rather fatty stuff. I say that and then I go and combine it with brie melted on a sandwich and find myself in sandwich heaven. With mozzarella, bosc pears, and more brie it combines to create a new homemade pizza favourite.
The most traditional use for the confited duck is to create rillettes. I used a standing mixer’s paddle attachment to beat in spices (cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, and salt) and create a smooth, spreadable texture. Packed tightly into a ramekin and topped with more melted duck fat the rillettes are a traditional anchor for a charcuterie plate.