Confit represents all that I love about cooking. It contains history, integrity and flavour. In its purest sense, confit is simply a method of preserving meat for consumption at a later date, but in practice it is so much more.
This type of food preservation has always intrigued me. When confit was first conceived, refrigeration had not even been dreamt of. It was simply a matter of providing protein for the family throughout the leaner months. So why does this antiquarian food preservation technique live on? I would hazard a guess that flavour has a lot to do with it.
When you think about it, confit is an unappetizing dish. It is basically meat slowly cooked in its own fat, usually duck or goose. Once the poultry has been cooked, it is allowed to cool and then covered in its own fat for preservation. But the end result is divine alchemy. It takes on a new dimension that makes a plainly roasted goose or duck pale into insignificance.
When foie gras originally became popular (first in France, then throughout the consuming world), there was a large surplus of goose and duck meat. The local people found themselves with large amount of poultry, sans liver. Confit was the logical solution.
Confit is central to many French peasant dishes, the most notable of which is cassoulet, a rich melange of white (cannelini) beans, local sausage and confit.
You may beg the question, why should I, a self-respecting westerner, make confit. Well I have no quick answer. If you love cooking and the technique that lies behind, then you will love confit. This dish is a labour of love, and you will be repaid in kind.
The duck legs In this recipe are also known as duck marylands, meaning leg with thigh attached.
6 duck legs
2 litres duck fat #
90 gm (3 oz ) sea salt
6 Black peppercorns
1 piece of thyme
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic
Mix together the salt, pepper, thyme, cinnamon and bay. Rub into the duck legs and place into a tray. Set in the refrigerator overnight. This has the twin effects of preservation (salt drawing away water) and flavouring.
The next day, wash the salt mix off the duck. If the fat is solid, melt in a pot or microwave. Place in a roasting tray with the duck legs and garlic and cook in a pre heated 200 °C (390 °F) oven for 1 hour. Remove from the heat, transfer a container and cover with the fat. It will last for at least 6 months, refrigerated.
To serve, Pull the desired amount of legs out of the fat, place in a pan and reheat in a 200 °C oven for 15 minutes.
To cut the richness of the duck, try serving with a light salad or fruit. Perhaps pickled kumquat or sliced pear. There is no debate about the wine, it must be pinot noir (good red Burgundy)
# You can render your own duck fat by trimming the excess of the legs and adding them to a pot with 500 ml (1 pint) of water. Turn the heat up high and when the liquid is clear, strain. This is pure duck fat. If this is too much trouble, you can buy duck fat at good delicatessens. If you fall a little short, top up with olive oil.