Chinese-Style Duck Confit

In the first year of the restaurant, when creativity and chaos often came together like Siamese twins, a talented French-trained American chef named Rachel Gardner briefly worked at China Moon and introduced me to confit-making, the process of cooking and preserving duck in its own fat, a grand tradition in France. Someday when the restaurant is behind me and I’ve retired to the peace of a scholar’s nook, I’d love to explore the likelihood that the process originated in China. In the meantime, however, here is a dish to be savored on account of its deliciousness, with any spurious claims to authenticity aside!

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 teaspoons Roasted Szechwan Pepper-Salt
  • 2 pounds (about 4) fresh, fat duck legs with thighs attached
  • 6 to 7 cups freshly rendered duck fat (see Rendering Duck Fat, facing page)

Confit Seasonings

  • 1 small head garlic, smashed
  • Finely pared zest of ½ scrubbed orange
  • star anise, broken into its 12 points
  • 8 quarter-size coins fresh ginger, smashed
  • ¼ teaspoon whole coriander or fennel seeds, crushed (optional)
  • 4 scallions, cut into 1-inch nuggets and smashed

Method

  1. Sprinkle the pepper-salt evenly over the duck legs, massaging it well into the skin. Seal airtight and marinate for several hours at cool room temperature or refrigerate overnight. Let come to room temperature before cooking.
  2. Heat a wok or large heavy casserole over moderate heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add 2 tablespoons of the duck fat and swirl to glaze the bottom. When the duck fat is hot enough to sizzle a duck leg, add the duck legs in a single layer and brown on both sides. Adjust the heat so the skin browns without scorching and drizzle in a bit more fat if it is needed. Remove the pot from the heat and carefully drain off any burnt fat.
  3. Return the pot and the seared duck legs to moderate heat. Add the duck fat and the confit seasonings. Nudge the legs from the bottom while the mixture comes to a gentle simmer, then adjust the heat so the fat doesn’t boil. Simmer uncovered until the duck is very tender at its thickest part and almost falling from the bone, about 40 minutes.
  4. Use tongs to carefully transfer the legs to a shallow, heatproof container. Let the fat cool until tepid, about 30 minutes, then carefully strain it over the duck legs. Discard the solids (excepting any ducky nuggets, which are spoils for the cook). Arrange the duck so it is totally submerged. Carefully transfer the container, still uncovered, to the refrigerator. Once the fat congeals, the container may be sealed.
  5. Store the confit for 1 day to 2 weeks before using. Its flavor (surprisingly) will not change.
  6. To serve, warm the container over low heat or in a slow oven until the fat turns liquid, then remove the legs. Strip the legs of skin, then pull the meat from the bone in chunky shreds. Discard the skin, bones, and any cartilage. The meat is most savory just plucked from the warm fat. It may, however, be refrigerated after shredding. Let come to room temperature before using; or, rewarm in a low oven for an extra bit of savor. Taste the newly picked shreds; depending on use, you may wish to accent them with a sprinkle more of pepper-salt.
  7. The seasoned duck fat may be frozen indefinitely. Strain through several layers of dry cheesecloth to trap excess pepper-salt, then seal and freeze for your next batch of confit. On the second go-around, you don’t need to season the duck fat, but you will need to add about 2 more cups of freshly rendered duck fat to the pot in order to cover the same amount of duck legs.