Confit is a one of my all-time-favorite cooking techniques. Confit, translated from French, literally means “preserved.” It was a technique developed by French farmers before refrigeration was available to preserve meat for the leaner months. The fact that refrigerators are a common household item and yet the confit process is still alive and well is a strong testament to just how delicious this technique is.
Although this technique specifically talks about confit duck legs, this exact same method can be used for any number of proteins, including beef, chicken, pork and fish. Although it is preferred that the confit is cooked and stored in the fat from the same type of animal frm which your protein originally came, Olive Oil or Canola Oil can be substituted in a pinch.
The Confit Process
Start by laying your duck leg and thigh portions on a sheet pan covered with a layer of kosher salt at least 1/8 of an inch thick. I like to mix my kosher salt with 0.2% sodium nitrite by weight, which gives the finished confit a beautiful rosy color, cured "hammy" flavor and can be left to "ripen" after cooking for up to 6 months. To make this calculation, multiply the total weight of your kosher salt by .002 (ex. 1,000g salt X 0.002 = 2g nitrite or 0.2% by weight).
Season the top of the legs with ground bay leaves and ground pepper (traditionally white). Cloves are also a classic spice used in the confit process, and I’ll sometimes lay a sprig of thyme or rosemary over each leg. Completely cover the top of the legs with more kosher salt (or curing mix if using), until the legs are no longer visible.
Place another sheet pan on top and weigh it down with some heavy cans or bricks. Place in your refrigerator for about 24 hours. Leaving them in the fridge too long will cause them to become overly salty and leaving them in for too short a period of time will not allow them to soak up enough salt for them to cure out properly.
After the legs have been allowed to cure for 24 hours, remove from salt and rinse vigorously under cold, running water. If not rinsed thoroughly, your finished confit will taste too salty. Lay out on a wire rack and allow to dry out in your refrigerator for at least 4 hours and no longer than 24 hours. This is an optional step but I find it provides a better end product by removing any excess moisture before placing the legs in the duck fat.
Once the rinsed legs have had a chance to dry in your refrigerator, place in an oven-safe braising pan or Dutch oven. Cover with warm duck fat and bring to a low simmer on your stove top. After the duck legs begin to simmer, place in a 200-degree-Fahrenheit oven for 6-8 hours or until the fat is clear and the legs have settled to the bottom of the pan. Once legs are done cooking, remove from the oven and allow to cool in the fat. When cool enough to handle, transfer the legs to a storage container and cover with fat.
Place in your fridge for at least 1 week and up to 2 months to allow confit to “ripen.” Although you can eat the duck confit as soon as you remove it from the oven, allowing it to “ripen” for at least a few days will give it that true confit flavor.
When ready to serve your confit, remove from the fridge and let it sit out on your countertop for about an hour or until the fat softens. Fish out your duck legs and place them in a 400°F/205°C oven for 10-15 minutes or until crispy golden brown and heated all the way through.
A classic accompaniment is duck-fat-roasted potatoes. Just think breakfast-style “country potatoes” but instead they're sautéed in duck fat. I also like to serve my confit with a salad of bitter greens such as arugula and frisée. The slightly bitter bite of these greens helps to cut the fat on your palate and offers an excellent contrast to the rich confit.