One of the simplest grand meals in the world is preserved duck legs (or goose, turkey, squab, pheasant, and so on) slowly cooked in their rendered fat and then preserved in it. It is also one of the easiest and simplest meals, because once the confit is made, making a finished dish with it takes only ten minutes in the oven or on the stovetop, broiler, or grill. Since preserved duck will last for weeks in the refrigerator, it is one of the ultimate fast foods.
Below is a recipe for four legs of duck, which will serve two to four, but it is better to cook more once you have decided to do the work. There is never enough duck fat rendered from a single duck, so I save up poultry fat and freeze it until I have enough for this cooking and preserving technique.
You also can buy rendered duck, goose, or chicken fat. Just make sure it is water-rendered and not baked. If you buy whole ducks, use the legs for this recipe and the breasts for the recipe, since you get the best results from the legs and breasts if you cook them separately.
Rinse the duck under cold water and pat dry. Put the legs in a dish and rub each piece with the salt mixture. Pour the remaining salt on top of the duck, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours, turning twice.
Preheat the oven to 230 degrees.
Wipe the salt off the duck pieces. Melt the rendered duck fat over low heat in a casserole just large enough to hold the duck and the fat. Add the pieces of duck, making sure they are thoroughly covered with the fat. Cover and bake until the duck is very tender when pierced with a skewer, about 1½ hours.
When the legs are cooked, take them out and cool on a wire rack over a pan.
Strain the fat remaining in the casserole and let it sit until the juices fall to the bottom of the container and the fat rises to the top. Carefully lift the fat out with a ladle, making sure you do not get any of the juices. These juices are a wonderful addition to sauces or soups and can be frozen for later use. If stored with the duck and fat, however, they will spoil.
Put the duck pieces in a sterilized preserving jar or crock and pour the fat over them, filling the jar until there is at least an inch of fat covering the duck. Cool in the refrigerator uncovered and then cover tightly.
Once the duck is entirely covered with fat, it will keep six months or more in the refrigerator, but its delicious taste and ease of preparation make it irresistible—I can never keep it that long without eating it. It has only to be cooked in a tablespoon of its fat, 15 minutes before serving time, to heat it through and crisp the skin (be sure to place it skin side down in the fat).
© 2002 Jeremiah Tower. All rights reserved.