Duck Confit

Confit is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. In a large earthenware dish, meat is salted, flavoured with herbs and spices, cooked in its own fat, and then covered up for the winter- the salt and covering of fat preserving the meat. A speciality of south-west France, confit tends now to be eaten as a dish in its own right, rather than as a preserved meat, and can be found on traditional French restaurant menus. Don’t be put off by the frequent mention of “fat”, though, you actually eat very little of it- the fat simply creates an incredible melt-in-your-mouth texture for the meat, as well as some incredible crispy skin.

Duck confit is surprisingly easy to make. You have to be a little organised, rubbing the duck with salt a while beforehand, but the cooking part is very straightforward- essentially all you are doing is braising the meat in the fat. As such, I think this would be a great thing to serve if you are having friends over, it’s a main dish which is quite exciting, tastes great, and doesn’t require you to be in the kitchen all evening, allowing you to enjoy your guests’ company. You can even cook the duck beforehand and just heat it up in the oven on the day- making confit was a method of preserving meat after all.

I’ve made duck confit a few times now. If you’re looking for some exciting sides with it, Daupinoise potatoes, roasted red onions, spiced red cabbage, and a red wine sauce would be my choice. However, the dish works well with a variety of sides, traditionally being paired with mushrooms, ham, sorrel, or white beans, to name a few. The dish is quite a pure expression of duck flavour, so it will likely pair well with whatever you’ve got in mind. Here’s a recipe for the most recent dish I did, with creamy curried lentils.

Duck Confit and Creamy Curried Lentils

A word on the fat. The amount of fat you will need is quite tricky to judge beforehand, as it is important to completely cover the duck legs. In this sense the choice of dish you cook the duck in is important- I use a loaf tin, as this allows for a smaller amount of fat to be used. If you decide to cook more than two duck legs, as the quantities here are easy to double, you won’t need that much more fat either, as you can simply lay the duck legs around or on top of each other. Whilst you can get the animal fat from places like Tesco, I’d recommend going to a butchers for this, as you’ll get a lot better value for money. I’ve used both duck fat and goose fat before, and both have worked well.

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 duck legs
1 handful sea salt
1 tsp juniper berries
~400g animal (traditionally duck, but goose works well) fat
250g lentils (pre-soaked)
450ml vegetable stock
1 tsp garam masala
150ml double cream

 Crush the juniper berries with a mortar and pestle. Rub the salt and juniper into the skin of the duck legs. Leave for ~6hrs. This will help to dry out the skin.
2. When you are ready to cook the duck, rinse off the salt and juniper from the duck legs. Place the duck legs into your roasting dish and spoon the fat on top. Heat the oven to 170°C, and cook the duck legs for 2hrs30.
3. Meanwhile, make the lentils. Heat up the stock and place the lentils and garam masala in, and simmer for approximately 45 minutes until most of the stock is used up. Add the double cream at the end to produce the creaminess. If the lentils haven’t reduced to the texture you want, you can safely reduce further.

Wine Pairing: Given the dish’s origins, a south-west French wine will pair well, like the Negrette from Fronton in the top picture, but this might not be so easy to find. A bottle from the Languedoc or Rhone would work well too.


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