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:
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!