I love duck. As Vanessa mentioned in her article, something about the cooking and aging process, the chemistry of the flavor development appeals to me. I like to make twelve legs at a time because that number fits into a pot nicely and you’ll be unlikely to eat them all at once.
12 Duck legs—(any good grocer that sells duck breast is likely to have legs as well. They are usually in the back, frozen).
2 1/2 qts/5 lbs Duck fat—(hard to find but must be purchased. Try Golden Gate Meats in the SF Ferry Building or mail order from Fabrique Délices 510/441-9500. You will be able to reuse this, expecting ~20% loss from batch to batch.)
6 to 8 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 Tbs black peppercorns
1 Tbs whole coriander seed
3 whole star anise
1/2 cup coarse salt, medium grained
How To Confit
1. Fully thaw out the frozen legs. Let them sit out 12-24 hours before you salt them.
2. Using a lidded pot that can accommodate 4 legs per layer, individually salt each leg and layer them into the pot interspersed with some of the thyme. Refrigerate overnight or longer.
3. Preheat oven to 250°F. Duck fat at room temperature at this stage is convenient, though not entirely necessary.
4. Brush the salt off of each leg, patting dry with a towel if necessary (esp. the bottom layer of legs). Do not worry about removing all of the salt, since it will season the legs during the next step. You may save the thyme, treating it the same way as the duck legs.
5. Discard the rendered duck liquid from your pot. Return the legs with all herbs, spices and garlic layered in. If the duck fat is a soft solid, put it on top of the legs and put the pot in the oven without the lid. Check on the fat in 20-30 min and put the lid on when the fat is liquified. Make sure that there is enough fat to completely cover the legs.
6. Cook for 3 or more hours, checking the temperature of the fat and the meat with a quick reading thermometer. The meat is essentially cooked at 160-170 °F, but you’ll want to look for the skin pulling away from the joint, revealing the leg bone, to determine that it is really done.
7. Remove legs from fat (tongs are nice) and set to drain on a rack above a pan. Select a lidded storage container that can be microwaved. Place cooled legs in container and pour liquid fat over them until it completely covers the legs. Important: The bottom of the pot will contain non-fat liquid rendered during cooking. You must separate out and discard this portion, it will spoil if stored with the legs. Store in refrigerator for 1-6 months.
Microwave the container until a leg can be extracted: you do not want to further cook the duck. Melt off the solidified fat by placing the leg(s) on a rack in an oven or toaster oven with a pan underneath to catch the fat. You may now:
1. Pick off the meat and mix it with blood orange slices, pickled shallots, frisée lettuce, and a nice vinaigrette.
2. Shred the picked meat, mix with duck fat — voilá, duck rilletes, to be spread on toasted rounds.
3. Heat a skillet on high (turn on hood!). Place legs together and put a lid smaller than the skillet directly onto the legs. Stack heavy, non-meltable things onto the lid to weigh it down (like a tea kettle full of water), cook until crisp, turn legs over and repeat. The object is to press down on the duck legs so that the heat travels efficiently through them in the time it takes to crisp up the outside. Serve with lentilles de Puy (cooked in stock w/ lardons) and braised escarole (in stock, finished with a touch of blue cheese). Or pommes frites with celery root salad. Or…find your favorite combination and tell us about it!