Confit – lightly salted goose or duck poached slowly in fat – is one of the most delicious food traditions of South-Western French farmhouse cooking and very easy to make. If you are scrupulously careful about cleanliness of hands and dishes during preparation, confit will keep for months stored in the fridge, in the fat in which it was cooked. You are unlikely to want to do so, but leave it for a couple of weeks for the flavour to develop.
The classic accompaniment to duck confit is thinly sliced potatoes cooked in a heavy frying pan with a few tablespoons of the fat and some garlic, and plenty of chopped flat-leaved parsley stirred in just before you bring it to the table.
Scatter half the salt in a dish, then lay the duck portions on top. Scatter the garlic evenly over the duck. Crumble the bay leaf over and sprinkle over the thyme, followed by the remaining salt on top. Put in the fridge for 24 hours, then turn the duck and return to the fridge for a further 24 hours. The salt will have partially liquefied.
Preheat the oven to 130°C/275°F/ gas 1. Rinse the duck in cold water and pat dry. On the hob, gently melt the fat in a casserole or ovenproof dish in which the duck pieces will just fit and, when hot, add the duck which must be covered. If not, top up with lard. When just simmering, put the dish in the oven and cook for 1½ hours, when the meat will be golden brown, the fat translucent and you should be able to slide a skewer easily through the meat. At this point remove from the oven and transfer the confit to the container in which you will store it, ladling the fat through a fine sieve to cover. Be careful not to ladle in any of the meat juices which will have been generated and will sit on the bottom of the cooking dish, as these will eventually go bad. (They are, however, delicious added to a gravy or to boost the flavour of a stock.) When cold, refrigerate the confit until needed.
To serve, remove the duck from the fat, scraping off as much as you can, then place on a baking tray for an hour to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6. Pour off any melted fat from the tray and roast the confit, skin side down, for 20 minutes.
Serve with garlic and parsley potatoes.
Melt the stored fat from which you took the confit and let it bubble before straining back into a bowl to keep in the fridge for the next time.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.