Confit: Mystery and Alchemy
Making confit is fun, which maybe says a lot about my sense of fun. But it’s hands-on, you have to be patient, and then you have to be patient some more. There is an air of mystery, and one of alchemy because you are transforming a meat you know into one that will haunt you with its lusciousness. So, let’s get going.
Step 1: You can confit many types of protein, though I will focus on duck.
The first step is salting, and flavoring with herbs. This draws out moisture from the meat, and firms up the texture, making it more even, more compact. The best salt to use is coarse grey salt, ideally from Guérand in Brittany. Kosher salt is sharp in taste, though if that is what you have, use it, or a locally produced sea salt.
Strew a fine layer of salt on the bottom of a non-reactive baking dish (glass, crockery, or stainless steel). Gather a handful of fresh thyme sprigs, fresh or dried bay leaves, and pepper corns – you can add a few more flavors but remember, less is more and this triumvirate is traditional. Strew half of them over the salt. Set down the duck – legs and thighs are ideal – strew it with more salt (you don’t need to bury the duck, just cover it evenly), set the remaining herbs atop it, then cover and refrigerate for 48 hours.
Rinse, Rinse, Rinse
Thoroughly rinse the duck and pat it dry or let it air dry.
Meanwhile, get 2 pounds of good quality lard, duck, or goose fat. Melt it over low heat. Add the duck, which should be covered by the fat. Bring it to a simmer, then put it in a low oven (325F; 160C). Leave it in the oven, uncovered, for 2 to 4 hours; to test, pierce the duck with a knife and if it is tender, it is confit. Remove from oven, let it cool in the fat. You can store it for at least a week in the fridge (up to two), and a couple of months in the freezer; make sure the duck is completely covered with fat.
How to Use Your Confit
If you want to use it immediately, heat a large skillet over medium heat, and when the skillet is hot add some of the fat to it. Add the duck and brown it on the skin side. When it is browned, serve it and be prepared to swoon. If you want to add it to cassoulet or any other stew-like dish, you can do a simple transfer without the browning. You can follow these same confit directions for pork, wild boar, chicken, even lamb…adjusting the cooking time.
What to serve with your duck confit? Potatoes fried in duck fat, braised vegetables seasoned with duck fat, a big, crisp green salad with garlic in the vinaigrette. These are all traditional options; your imagination will be your guide!