The best duck confit so far

We’ve had some very good confit de canard in French restaurants, and some surprisingly poor versions of the dish — even here in the duck-rich Dordogne. But today we prepared   duck confit for Saturday lunch at home, and it may have been the best ever.

Before I show off our dish, and explain how we made it, let’s cover off the basics. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of confusion about the topic, even on food-oriented websites.

What is confit de canard? To confit something is simply to preserve it through long, slow cooking. So confit de canard refers to duck — typically, it means the whole leg — that has been cooked for a long time in a pot of melted duck fat. When it’s served, it’s re-heated to eliminate the excess fat sticking to it, and to brown the skin.

What’s good about it? Because of the long, slow cooking, the duck meat becomes rich, flavourful, tender and moist. If the meat is re-heated properly, some of the fat underlying the skin is melted away, and the skin itself becomes crispy and golden, without being tough.

Do you make it, or buy it? We have friends in the Greater Daglan Area (the GDA) who make their own confit de canard from scratch, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Plastic packages of the cooked duck are as common in GDA supermarkets as hot dogs are in North America. We buy ours at the Carrefour supermarket in Gourdon.

What can go wrong? We have bought confit de canard that was a bit tough; this simply means that the duck wasn’t cooked long enough in the duck fat. Even worse is when restaurants serve the duck with soft, flabby skin that hasn’t been properly crisped up. Frankly, that is inexcusable in this area, where the dish is part of the regional heritage.

So, how about lunch today? Glad you asked. My job was preparing the duck, while my wife Jan handled the accompaniments — fresh green beans, plus chunks of steamed potatoes that she fried along with lardons (bits of bacon), paprika, salt and pepper, and a touch of Cayenne pepper.

For the confit de canard, I started by removing the duck legs from their plastic wrappings, and placing them in a medium-hot pan on top of the stove. This melts away the excess fat that clings to the legs, and starts the browning. I turned the legs fairly frequently with tongs, so they wouldn’t burn. Then I placed them on a rack in a foil-lined pan, and put the pan in a very hot oven (225 C/435 F). We checked them from time to time, and removed them from the oven after about 25 minutes. By then, the skin was not only golden but was also bubbling gently as the fat melted away. Perfect!

And here’s my final plate, accompanied by a spoonful of red currant jelly to enjoy with the duck:

Confit

This is how confit de canard should look.

My wife cut away some of the fattier bits of skin. As for me, the only thing I didn’t finish were the bones. Seriously good duck!

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7 Responses to The best duck confit so far

  1. VP Martinis says:

    mmm … duck confit …. ….

  2. Rob says:

    Hallelujah for duck confit! Teri and I are still hanging on to a tin or two from our last trip to France. Since both confit and duck fat are hard to come by and way expensive here, we also preserve the fat for future use — most notably our beloved Brussels sprouts with prosciutto cooked in duck fat.

    Thanks for the instructions on how to crisp up the skin — I’d always relied on skin-side-down-in-a-hot-pan with only mediocre results.

  3. Chef Sam says:

    Yum, Yum. From now on, I’m going to “preserve” my hot dogs by cooking them a long, long time in a large cauldron of pig fat. You Nouveau French really know how to cook!

  4. Rob, for sure try the oven method for crisping the skin. Makes all the difference!

  5. Chef Sam, you are (sort of) on to something. However, hot dogs are typically already cooked and therefore ready to eat. Also, they are pretty well preserved by the 614 chemicals used in them. Instead, why don’t you and Chef Jill experiment with various cuts of (raw) pork, and then crisp them? Has anyone ever tried confit of pork chops? Confit of pork roast? Why not? Go for it!

  6. Andrew MacFadyen says:

    I can see that you are surviving on meagre rations down there and that starvation can only be round the corner. We are arriving in Daglan for 2 weeks from Sept 1. Is there anything we can bring you from the UK…. like Marmite…. or maybe Marmite…. or real beer…. or jellied eels……er….. fish yoghourt (just invented that, queazy at the thought…)… or HP sauce (that’s better)…..

  7. Andrew, thanks for thinking of me. A hearty “no thanks!” to the Marmite, the jellied eels and the fish yoghourt. As for beer and HP sauce, those are the two items I do enjoy — but I find them easily here. Surprising but true!

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