Why It Works
- Curing duck legs with salt, alliums, and aromatics seasons the meat deeply and gives it a subtle background vegetal sweetness.
- A gentle and slow cook in a low oven yields tender and silky duck confit.
- Fully submerging legs in duck fat allows them to be stored for a long time after cooking, while also imparting the fat with extra flavor for subsequent cooking projects.
Duck confit is a classic French preparation that produces silky, tender meat that can be preserved (what "confit" means in French) for a long period of time, thanks to the protective, air-blocking seal formed by the rendered fat that the duck is submerged and cooked in.
For this traditional confit (the analog alternative to our more modern and streamlined sous vide duck confit recipe, we start by curing duck legs for 24 hours with salt, black pepper, and an allium cure made with shallots, onion, garlic, parsley, and thyme. This cure seasons the meat and gives it a touch of vegetal sweetness, and it's then rinsed off (which allows for the duck fat to be reused later for subsequent batches of confit). The duck legs are submerged in the fat and cooked gently in a low oven until completely tender.
Submerged in fat, the confit can be refrigerated for at least one month. Reheat and serve it with a refreshing salad or use it in dishes like French cassoulet.
4 duck legs (about 2 1/4 pounds total; 1kg) (see note)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (16g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
6 large shallots (12 ounces; 340g), quartered
1 small onion (4 ounces; 110g), cut into 2-inch pieces (see note)
6 medium cloves garlic (30g)
1/2 bunch (2 ounces; 55g) flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
10 sprigs fresh thyme
2 teaspoons (6g) whole black peppercorns
2 to 4 cups (475 to 950ml) rendered duck fat (see note)
The Day Before Cooking Confit: Season duck legs evenly on all sides with salt; set aside. Combine shallots, onion, garlic, and parsley in food processor bowl and pulse until finely chopped but not puréed, about 15 pulses.
Transfer half the vegetable mixture to a nonreactive container that can fit duck legs snugly, such as a baking dish, and spread in an even layer. Scatter half the thyme sprigs and peppercorns over vegetable mixture, then arrange duck legs skin-side up in an even layer on top, pressing them into vegetable mixture. Distribute remaining thyme sprigs and peppercorns over duck legs, followed by the vegetable mixture, spreading it evenly so legs are well-coated. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours.
Alternatively, combine duck legs, vegetable mixture, thyme, and peppercorns in a 1-gallon zipper-lock bag. Seal bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Massage bag until duck legs are evenly coated on all sides. Lay bag flat on rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours.
When Ready to Cook: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 225°F (105°C). Melt duck fat, either in 3-quart saucier over low heat or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave. Remove duck legs from cure, wiping away as much of the cure mixture as possible before rinsing legs gently under cold water to remove all seasonings; discard cure. Pat duck legs dry with paper towels, then arrange in single layer in saucier with duck fat (if using), making sure they are completely submerged in fat. Alternatively, arrange duck legs snugly in a small baking dish and cover with melted duck fat, making sure legs are fully submerged in fat.
Cover saucier or baking dish with lid or aluminum foil, and transfer to oven. Cook until duck is completely tender and meat shows almost no resistance when pierced with a paring knife, and skin has begun to pull away from bottom of the drumstick, 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
Remove from oven and cool duck to room temperature in its cooking vessel, removing lid but keeping it submerged in fat. Once cool, cover container tightly and transfer to refrigerator, where confit can be stored for up to 1 month.
This recipe will work with all breeds of duck, but it was developed using Pekin (also known as Long Island) and Alina ducks.
If you don't have a spare onion for the allium cure, substitute with an additional 3 to 4 shallots.
The amount of duck fat needed for this recipe is dependent on the size of your cooking vessel. You need enough rendered duck fat to fully cover the legs and keep them submerged throughout cooking. You can render duck fat yourself from breaking down whole ducks or purchase containers of rendered duck fat at well-stocked supermarkets or online.
This recipe can easily be scaled up or down for any number of duck legs you want to make; just note that the ratio of rendered fat to duck may change dramatically as the size and shape of the cooking vessel does.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Duck confit can be refrigerated in an airtight opaque container, with legs completely submerged in fat, for up to 1 month. The duck fat from the confit can be reused at least 2 more times for subsequent batches of confit; after the third use, taste it for salinity as it will eventually become too salty.