Thursday, February 16, 2012

Quick Duck Confit, Relatively Speaking

Yeah, it's not gorgeous like this but it will be succulent and delicious.  
In our house, many of the conversations focus on food.  Preparing it, eating it, shopping for it, planning the meals.  Last summer my mother and I had a long and interesting discussion about confit du canard and cassoulet.  I don’t remember which of my cookbooks she was deep into, or perhaps it was something she had read before she got to KL, but the dialog then required further research in other cookbooks and on the internet, but, frankly, it was more of a scientific exercise because the only ducks I had ever seen in KL were 1) already roasted in the Chinese style or 2) scrawny frozen specimens that didn’t look like they’d have enough fat to render to cover their thighs and legs for cooking the confit.   As much as we wanted to try a genuine cassoulet, full of pork and beans and duck confit, we were discouraged, so we never got to the planning - forget buying - stage.

At my nearby Carrefour here in Cairo, the ducks are fresh and fat and healthy-looking – well, apart from the being dead part.  My first thought was to roast one whole, because I have a new Jamie  Oliver cookbook and he roasts a whole duck.  But there are just two of us and my mind wandered back to last summer’s conversation and research. 

I decided that this duck would be at least two meals:  boneless duck breasts to pan-fry for dinner, legs and thighs to make into confit and a future cassoulet, and then I could even roast the carcass and wings and simmer them to make a rich duck stock, thereby using everything but the quack, which wasn’t included anyway.

The duck breast dinner went pretty much like this, so I won’t repeat that part.  But here’s how to make a simple duck confit with the legs and thighs.

1 large duck with lots of extra skin (choose the biggest one you can)
A few sprigs of thyme
3-4 bay leaves
Sea salt
Black pepper

Separate your legs and thighs from the rest of the duck.  Cut off all the excess skin and fat.

Cut the extra skin and fat into little pieces.  The more surface area there is, the better the fat will render out of the pieces.  Pop them into a small pot and turn the fire on low. 

Put a lid on but have some folded paper towels nearby on which to drip the condensation from the lid when you remove it.  As the fat starts to render, you will not want water dripping into it and causing a big popping, greasy mess on your stove.

Salt the legs and thighs generously on both sides and give them a good few grinds of fresh black pepper.  Tuck in the bay leaves and sprinkle them with lots of thyme leaves.   Cover them with cling film and leave them in the refrigerator overnight, or at least five or six hours.

Preheat your oven to 400°F or 200°C for roasting the bones.

Meanwhile, trim your duck of fat and skin, all around the neck and innards cavities, and keep adding these, cut into small pieces, into the rendering pot.  Remember to drip the condensation on the bottom of the lid into your folded paper towels, not into the pot.

Starting at the breastbone with your sharp pointy knife, carefully cut the breast meat free from the bones.  

Trim the breast of extraneous skin and add this, finely cut, to the rendering pot.   Remove any tough fibers by inserting the knife below them and gently easing the knife along under them.  These can be discarded.

You can score the breasts now or when you are ready to season them.
Your breasts are now ready for cooking so they can be covered and put in the refrigerator until needed.  Instructions for cooking the duck breasts can be found here.

Pull all of the skin off of the back and rest of the carcass.  Add this to the rendering pot as well. 

By now that pot should be getting quite deep with beautiful golden duck fat.  At this point, you should rub your hands together in glee.  Happy dance optional. 

Now on to the stock.  Put the carcass, including the wings, in your preheated oven and roast until lovely and sticky and brown.  The more you roast, the more flavor you will get from these bones.   

When the bones and wings are sufficiently browned, put them in a stockpot covered with fresh water and heat them to boiling on the stove.  Add a little hot water from a kettle into the baking tray and make sure to get all the sticky goodness off and into the stockpot as well.   You can add salt and onions and carrots if you would like but I chose to keep the duck stock pure.  That way I can add salt to taste in whatever recipe I ended up using it, without worrying about too much salt.  This stock is rich and luscious, even without salt.   Once the bones and wings are boiling, reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cook for as long as you have patience for, but at least 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Apparently, I forgot to take a photograph when the bones came out of the oven.   Sorry!
Place a colander over a large bowl and strain the stock into it.  Allow the stock to cool before putting it into a well-marked freezer bag and popping it into the freezer.  If you (or a neighbor) have an animal that would love the scraps of meat left on the bones, take the time to pick all the little pieces off – especially from the wings which are still full of meat – and add those treats to his or her bowl.  

Once the oil has completely rendered from your skin and fat, turn the fire off and allow it to cool a little bit.  You want it still liquid, just not scalding hot.  Take a piece of paper towel and separate the two plies of the one towel.  Use this as a strainer to clean the duck fat as you pour it through a funnel into a heat-resistant bowl. 

Golden nectar!  If you have never had potatoes roasted in duck fat, you haven't lived yet.  I had to give a jar away when I left KL and it would have broken my heart except I gave it to a good friend.   
Set the duck fat aside in a cool place (the refrigerator if you live in a warm climate) until you need it to cover your thighs and legs for the confit.

And on to the confit.  Preheat your oven to a slow 300°F or 150°C.   Wipe the salt off gently with a paper towel and put the duck into a close fitting pan.  Warm the duck fat gently if it has solidified and pour it over to cover.

Bake at this gentle temperature for at least 2 hours.  Remove from the oven and allow to set.  This can be kept, carefully covered, for a couple of months in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

Completely cooked and just out of the oven
Fat is starting to set
Almost set
My mother is supposed to come visit, possibly in March or April so this is standing by in the refrigerator and the conversation begun last June can finally be completed.

So soon, someday soon: cassoulet. 

Update:  I did make the cassoulet but have yet to post it.  I'll add the link as soon as I do. 


  1. Stacy, you are awesome. That experience with the duck was a lot of work, right?

  2. It's not work when you are having fun! I have never deboned a whole bird of any kind so I felt quite accomplished when I finished. Also, I was thinking of your visit and cassoulet. Nothing is too much trouble for you, Mom! Love you!


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