Duck Confit: (Arguably) the Tastiest Way to Cook Poultry
Duck Confit: (Arguably) the Tastiest Way to Cook Poultry
Imagine you’re sitting down for dinner. You’ve settled on a leg of a bird as your protein element of the night: a piece of juicy, flavorful meat that goes well with almost anything. You stick your fork into it, and the meat falls apart like nobody’s business like it was just waiting for you to jar it slightly instead of waiting until you put your teeth to use. It’s rich and supple; the flavor is more robust but somehow mellow enough not to overwhelm whatever side dish you’ve chosen to accompany it.
And the best part? You didn’t have to cook it after the busy workday. It’s been pre-cooked and stored for you. You just took a little time to heat it up and hit the dining table.
Now look me in the eye and tell me that doesn’t sound like a nigh-ideal dinner for any meat-eater. That’s duck confit for you.
What is Duck Confit?
Duck confit (Fr. Confit de Canard) is a staple French dish, made by first salt-curing and then slowly cooking the duck in its own fat. Once the meat is cooked, it’s transferred to a container and covered with fat once again. It’s kept this way, vacuum-sealed, until consumption.
Traditionally the dish is made with duck legs, so it’s more like duck leg confit and not any-cut-of-duck-will-do confit, though - spoiler alert - technically, it can be made with other cuts of duck (more on the authenticity of it later).
While it came to prominence in the eyes of the wider audience sometime in the 19th century, Confit de Canard is much older than that. The most popular theory is that it was introduced to the province of Gascony by the Romans and was widely used to prolong the meat life expectancy before refrigeration became accessible.
The original process involved first heavily salting the meat and leaving it for several days to protect the meat against spoilage, and then submerged into the bird’s own fat and storing it in a chilly place to let the meat ripen. Centuries later, ripening was swapped for cooking at low temperatures.
What is the Process of Confit?
If I read one more article about how making duck confit (or any other type of meat confit, really) is easy, I will blow a gasket, I swear. Confitting something may be a straightforward process, it may even be simple, but it’s not easy. In fact, it requires a considerable amount of your time. I’m talking days here, not merely hours.
Frankly, I’d advise just getting the ready-to-go, packaged duck confit and calling it a day (and what do you know, you can find it right here, at Yummy Bazaar’s online French grocery store).
But if you’re still willing to power through the process yourself, let me walk you through it step by step.
The term “confit” comes from the French word “confire,” which means “to preserve.” Initially, it described cooking food in fat or sugar at a low temperature for the purpose of preserving the ingredients. Nowadays, the term is almost synonymous with slow cooking on low heat, preservation not being the necessary goal anymore. However, the French have a thing or two to say about that (more details below).
The process of confitting meat (including duck) is divided roughly into two parts.
Step 1: You salt-cure the meat. An ample amount of salt is rubbed into the meat, which is then kept in an airtight container until the salt draws the moisture out of the meat, the process lasting between one and three days. At least, that’s the traditional approach. Nowadays, when curing serves the purpose of flavoring the meat rather than preserving it (we do have refrigerators for that now), this step lasts between 12 and 36 hours, with some recipes cutting it down to just an hour. Ingredients like garlic and thyme are sometimes added to salt for extra flavor.
Step 2: You cook the meat. The meat is extracted from the salt, rinsed, and patted dry before placing it in a cooking dish filled with fat. It’s then slowly poached at a very low temperature (170-270 °F). The process can last anywhere between four to twelve hours until the meat is cooked through and fall-apart tender. While the legend goes that the longer the meat is cooked, the better (indeed, there are accounts of meat cooking for days when making confit), in reality passing the 12-hour mark increases the chances of overcooking the meat and turning it from tender and juicy to gelatinous and mushy.
Hence, while I can’t, in good conscience, call the process complicated, I’m still iffy about describing it as easy. Unless you’ve got a free weekend you’re ready to devote entirely to making duck leg confit (with a high likelihood of a sleepless night thrown in there). I’d say stick to the ready-made product.
Fun fact: traditional confit requires the meat to be submerged in goose or duck fat, even when the meat in question isn’t goose or duck. So you can’t swap for, say, pork fat when making pork confit if you want it to be authentic confit. It should still be submerged in goose or duck fat.
What Does Duck Confit Taste Like?
Duck confit is rich and very meaty (quite a bit more intense than your regular fried poultry), noticeably nutty with a slight underlying sweetness.
While it’s moist and fatty, it’s not at all greasy, at least unless you take a little time to crisp it up in a skillet or an oven and not sink your teeth into cold duck confit straight out of the jar.
Is It Still Duck Confit If It’s Cooked in Olive Oil Instead of Duck Fat?
If we stick to the logistics of our previous answer, then yes: if the duck leg is cooked following the necessary instructions (salt-cured for at least 12 hours, cooked covered in fat at a temperature no higher than 270 °F), then the resulting dish is duck leg confit, even if duck fat was swapped for another type of fat like chicken fat or olive oil (and to be fair, extra virgin olive oil is considered the best substitute in the absence of duck fat).
That said, no self-respecting French Chef or a non-French Chef cooking at a French restaurant with a bit of ambition for authenticity would be caught dead swapping duck fat for another product. It’s more of a hack for home cooks who want to try their hand at making duck confit and don’t have ready access to duck fat (which is understandable, it’s not a particularly widely used product).
It’s also a convenient way of checking the quality of ready-to-sell duck confit, by the way. Gourmet food producers never skimp out on duck fat. If the duck confit is packaged in olive oil or other fat alternatives, then you have a lower-quality product on your hand.
Classic Ways of Using Duck Confit: From Simple Sides to Complex Dishes
Goose and duck confit are both commonly used in hearty stews as the main ingredient, though using goose, in this case, is more common.
Cassoulet, a hearty stew with confit, pork, and beans, uses both, easily swapping goose confit for duck confit if the first isn’t readily available.
Garbure is another thick stew, traditionally made with goose confit and cabbage. While swapping for duck confit is less common than with cassoulet, the modern version often swaps goose confit for ham, so using duck confit doesn’t seem like that ostentatious an idea.
But, duck confit is generally eaten by itself, typically accompanied by roasted potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables or salads made with bitter greens.
Saintonge and Brantome tend to pair duck confit with potatoes and truffles.
How Long Does Duck Confit Last?
Another boon of commercially packaged duck confit is that you don’t have to wonder how long it’ll stay fit for consumption. The expiration date will be right there on the package. As long as the package hasn’t been damaged (contact the manufacturer immediately if it is so that they can assess the damage and potential consequences), just stick to that date, and you’ll be fine.
But if you’re determined to make duck confit at home, do remember that what keeps the meat preserved and safe to eat is the fat. The duck should be fully submerged in fat with a thick impenetrable layer on the top and kept in a refrigerator.
The type of container does matter: duck confit placed in a plastic container will last for approximately six weeks, while duck confit placed in a tightly sealed glass jar can last 3-4 months.
Other Types of Confit: Do They Count?
(Spoiler: The French Don’t Think So, But There’s a Caveat)
Here’s a million-dollar question: is all food cooked in fat confit? The French would say that they’re in confit but not true confit. Yes, that’s two different things. Let me explain.
Goose confit or confit d’oie is made similar to duck confit, with the leg of the bird first cured in a generous amount of salt (often herbed) and then cooked on a low heat, entirely submerged in goose fat. Fun fact: the French only consider goose and duck to be true confit, but they allow other meats (and not only) to be put in confit. Yes, the two are considered to be different. The more you know (insert the Spongebob meme).
Duck gizzard confit or Gisiers de Canard is the second most popular type of duck confit after duck leg confit. While not as widespread as the leg of the bird, more than a few producers commercially package gizzard confit (which can’t be said about duck breast, for example).
Pork confit is technically not confit, but in confit, not that old traditions are stopping the manufacturers from labeling it as such. Pork confit is most often made with the belly cut, with pork liver a close second option (though other cuts can be used as well). Pork confit is often used as a base ingredient in rillettes.
Chicken confit is a common, cheaper alternative to duck and goose, cooked the same way. Not much to elaborate about here.
Fish confit is a newer addition to the list and not often (if ever) found commercially packaged. It’s more of a restaurant dish.
Garlic confit is another staple of traditional Gascon cuisine and probably the one exception on this list that could fight for the title of true confit. Garlic is submerged in duck fat and cooked on low heat for a couple of hours until the bite is gone, and you’re left with soft, mellow, somewhat sweet cloves.
Vegetable confit, aside from garlic, is also becoming more and more common. Peppers and onions seem to be the most popular options since they’re used for condiments. But many vegetables are cooked using the confit method for side dishes due to the appealing flavor (rich and fatty) and texture (melt-in-your-mouth tender) qualities it imbues ingredients with. It’s not uncommon to encounter confit potatoes or carrots at high-end restaurants.
Egg yolk confit has also become a staple of many restaurant menus. The appeal is the same: confit egg yolks are creamier and richer and a (comparatively) easy way to elevate the flavor profile of a dish they’re added to.
Fruit confit has little to do with meat confit aside from the fact that they’re both preserved foods, so they both get the honor of using the name. Traditional fruit confit is not fruit cooked in fat; let’s make that clear. Instead, it’s preserved in sugar by infusing the fruits to the very core. Since the fruit needs to be fully covered and imbued, the larger fruit is often sliced to make the confitting process easier. And yes, fruit confit and fruit confiture are two different things. However, if you encounter fruit confit as a dessert on a restaurant cart, it's likely not the classic confit, but a whole fruit slowly cooked in fat (butter though, not duck fat) until soft and served with a syrup.
Flower confit is made similar to fruit confit, with flower petals covered in sugar until they’re thoroughly imbued. Rose and lavender seem to be the most popular options.
We mentioned earlier that as traditional French food goes, only goose and duck confit are considered true confit (labeled either simply confit or de confit). The rest are supposed to be called en confit (i.e., made by confitting, in confit). For example, the correct way to label pork confit would be porc en confit. But the rules are less and less rigid nowadays, especially regarding commercially packaged products and not high-end restaurants. More and more manufacturers seem to be letting go of the “en” part, simply labeling products made through a similar process as confit and calling it a day.