I started this blog a year ago and a day. Since then, I’ve answered dozens of questions and, in the process, improved my own cooking skills. So I want to thank everyone who reads these pages – I hope it’s been good for you, because it certainly has been good for me.
Last week, shopping in the H-Mart, I came across a beautiful display of duck leg quarters. I won’t lie to you. Breaking down duck isn’t exactly a huge pain in the ass, but the breasts are not as interesting to me as the dark meat. Breast meat, if cooked just a little too long, has a sort of liver-y quality; in my opinion, the leg meat is ground zero for that classic duck flavor. At the H-Mart, the quality of the duck varies. Sometimes the legs seem suspiciously lean – are these wild ducks, somehow? These leg quarters, however, were thickly coated with creamy white fat and smooth skin. Perfect for confit.
Confit is, above all, a preservation technique. In southwestern France – throughout Gascogne and elsewhere in the western Occitan provinces – waterfowl, like duck and goose, have for many years been salted and then cooked slowly at a relatively low temperature, immersed in their own rendering fat. The resulting product, if salty enough, could withstand storage without refrigeration for months. Today, confit is not necessary for preservation, and it tends to be somewhat less salty. It is no less rich, though, particularly when the meat is shredded and combined with some of the poaching fat to make rillettes.
In accordance with modern tastes, I don’t salt the duck legs that heavily. I like to use about two teaspoons of kosher salt for each meaty leg. Unfortunately, that’s not nearly enough salt for safe room temperature preservation. And after curing nearly eight pounds of duck legs and then slowly cooking in a 220F oven for many hours, I asked my husband to turn off the oven. Then I totally forgot about the duck and went to bed. In the morning, I went to the office. Around lunchtime, I remembered. When I got home, I threw it out. Not enough salt for safe room temperature preservation.
So we begin again. I went back to H Mart and bought eight more pounds of duck leg quarters. I salted them and layered them with thyme branches. I cured them overnight and cooked them slowly in a 220F oven. I took them out of the oven and didn’t forget.
Crispy duck confit, savoy cabbage, green peppercorn mustard sauce.
Let the duck cool in the fat for at least 45 minutes before removing it (to package it for storage, or to cook it for immediate service). It needs to cool off a little bit to firm up so it doesn’t collapse.
Savoy cabbage is aromatic, slightly pungent, and provides a great balance to the fatty richness of the duck. The green peppercorn mustard sauce brings a little acidity and the sweet, round taste of butter.
For the confit:
6 lbs duck legs (about 8 large legs)
1/4 c kosher salt
about 12 thyme branches
The day before cooking the legs, season the legs evenly with salt (about 2 tsp per leg), and layer in a nonreactive pan with thyme branches in contact with the meaty side of the duck legs. If you have a single layer, place the thyme on the bottom of the pan and lay the duck skin side-up. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 24 hours (as much as 48).
Remove the duck from refrigeration and transfer to a dutch oven or cast iron pot with a lid, layering with the thyme. Place a layer of parchment between the top of the duck and the lid, especially if using cast iron (to prevent condensation from building up and rusting the pan.
Place in the oven and cook for about six hours. After 2 hours, turn heat down to 200F/95C. Remove from the oven; remove the lid and parchment. Rest the confit for 45-60 minutes before transferring to a container for storage, covered in fat, or proceeding to the next step.
To crisp the duck leg confit, oven 250F/120C. Place a skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, place 2 tbsp duck fat in the pan. Add 4 duck leg quarters, skin side down, and baste with the fat. Do not crowd the pan (you may need to use two pans). When the skin is crisp and deep golden brown, flip the legs carefully (be careful – they may be prone to falling apart) and place the pan in the oven. Cook until heated through (about 15 minutes).
Meanwhile, prepare the savoy.
Butter-braised savoy cabbage
Do you hate cabbage? Try this cabbage dish. The most important thing is to avoid overcooking the savoy – like all cabbages, it becomes unpleasantly pungent and a little skunky if you let it go too long.
If you are nervous about so much butter, you can cut the amount in half. Use vegetable oil in the initial cooking.
One head savoy cabbage, cored, quartered, and shredded (1/8″)
One large leek, white and light green only, washed well cut into 2″ segments, and julienned
2 tbsp white wine (such as Riesling or Viognier)
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
salt and white pepper
Place a large skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp butter or oil. Add the leeks and reduce heat slightly. Sweat the leeks until quite tender. Increase the heat slightly and add the savoy. Toss continuously to coat with oil and leeks. When the savoy begins to wilt (about 2 minutes), add the wine and toss, cooking the wine down. Once the savoy is bright green and tender, and the wine has evaporated, remove from heat and toss with the remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with minced chives.
Green peppercorn mustard sauce
Pan with duck fond from crisping the legs
1/3 c white wine
1 1/2 tbsp green peppercorn Dijon mustard (or Dijon mustard if unavailable)
Optional: 2 tbsp duck or white veal glace de viande
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter, divided
Remove the duck legs from the pan and drain on towels if necessary (otherwise, set aside on a plate). Pour off all but 1 tsp of duck fat. Return the pan to medium heat.
Deglaze the pan with wine, scraping up the fond. Reduce to just before au sec (a sticky glaze). Add the mustard and cook, stirring, for a minute to take the edge off the mustard. Add the glace de viande and reduce by 1/3. Remove from heat and mount with the cold butter to form a glossy sauce.
Serve the crispy confit leg with the savoy and sauce.