Fat is the great multitasker in the kitchen: it adds flavor and texture, it transfers heat in cooking, it does miracles in baking, and using an old French technique, it preserves. Adam Rapoport, editor in chief of Bon Appétit magazine, explains how to render fat for duck confit.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: I took one look at the picture of the Duck Confit with Spicy Pickled Raisins and said, "We have to talk about this one." What is a confit?
Adam Rapoport: A confit is simply cooking a protein of any sort in fat -- often its own fat -- whether it's pork, whether it's duck confit and duck fat. Lots of times you'll see some sort of fish poached in olive oil. I guess you could call that a confit as well.
LRK: It's a really old preserving method originally, isn't it?
AR: Yes. What's great with duck confit is that once you've cooked it in its fat, it can just stay submerged in its fat forever, as long as it's refrigerated. It's a way to make something delicious and then keep it preserved.
LRK: What does it actually taste like when you cook something in its fat?
AR: Not fatty necessarily, which I think is part of the confusion. With duck confit you're confiting the legs, you're not doing the breast -- typically if you go out to a restaurant, they're cooked a nice medium-rare and they're crispy on the outside. With the duck confit you're taking duck legs and basically braising them in duck fat for several hours until they're that amazing, fall-off-the-bone, shredded, juicy tender. Then right before you eat them, you blast them in a really hot oven. So not only are they fall-off-the-bone tender, but they get nice and crispy and crunchy on the outside.
LRK: And amazingly lean if I remember correctly.
AR: Yes. It's because a lot of the fat actually has leached out. The fat is left in the pot and what you're left with is the meat that's nice and tender. I'm not going to say it's not without fat, but the irony is that you leave the fat in the pan.
LRK: It could almost be diet food. Explain how you did this.
AR: Our food and features editor, Carla Lalli Music, came up with it one day when she was home. Typically a recipe for duck confit tells you to go buy a bunch of duck legs -- we like Pekin duck, the Long Island duck, which is not too big, not too gamy. You buy six duck legs and they would tell you to buy a bunch of duck fat to cook the legs in. Duck fat is not cheap, it's about $6 for 7 ounces, and you need a bunch of ounces, so that adds up.
Carla was thinking, "Wait a minute, I know there's so much fat in duck skin and there's a jacket of fat around the meat. Why can't I just render that fat and use it to confit the duck?" She seasoned the duck with salt, pepper, some ginger and some spices. She put it in a Le Creuset Dutch oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit with a little bit of water and the top on and just let it go for about 2 hours.
Next thing you know, all that fat did render. Within a couple hours, the legs were submerged in their own fat. You don't have to go out and buy all this fat yourself, you essentially make your own duck fat. The fat comes with the legs. It's a bargain! It poaches itself, then you cook it for another couple hours.
The total cooking time, braising time if you will, is about 4 hours. It is one of those things that you put in the oven and turn it on. She had six legs in a pot so a couple of times she had to move them around because they were a little piled on top of each other. But you don't have to do anything -- it's cooking itself.
Once it's done, take it out and let it cool. You will have the legs submerged in their own fat. If it's cool out, if it's that time of year and you have a backyard, you can literally just put the top on and put it outside. It can just rest in its own duck fat for weeks.
Let's say you're cooking it the next day. You just take the pot out and when you're ready for dinner, you remove the legs from the fat. You can scrape off the fat from the top, but it's okay to have a little bits of fat on top of it. Lay it out on a sheet tray, crank the oven up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and for about 30 minutes just put it in the oven skin-side up. Within the half hour it will be super crispy, bubbling, aromatic and delicious, and the inside of the legs will be fall-apart barbecue tender.
Then we make a little vinegar-sugar-raisin glaze that you just boil on the stove. You throw all of these things in a pot and boil it down until it gets nice and syrupy. You can glaze the duck legs with that.
LRK: Sounds fabulous. You can also just take a little bit of that meat and pan fry it and put it on a sandwich.
AR: The French will often do shredded duck confit with a frisée salad so you have the rich meat with a nice, bracing, acidic salad, which is really nice.
It's just a good way to cook. This is something you're doing with the richer, fattier meats: the legs, the pork shoulder, the turkey legs, duck legs. You're not doing this with turkey breast or duck breast. It's stuff that you can cook for 4 hours, not the stuff you want to cook for just 5 minutes over high heat.
LRK: It's a great technique to have in our back pocket.