In Montreal, you can find duck confit everywhere. Every butcher sells it, but so does the grocery store, cheese store and even some bakeries. But for my homemade cassoulet, I didn’t want to cheat by buying the duck confit… I needed to make it myself. (Making it myself was also significantly cheaper than buying it pre-made.)
Duck confit is a classic French duck preparation. To confit is to preserve meat (generally duck or goose) by first salting it, then slowly poaching and storing it in its own fat. Duck confit can be kept for months. In fact, it should sit at least a week in its fat before eating it.
I will, however, admit that I sort of cheated. But I think you’ll agree that I couldn’t really help myself.
I went to my butcher to get the duck legs and duck fat. I happened to arrive just as they were preparing to make their own duck confit, so they had a giant tub of duck legs already salted, ready to poach in the duck fat. So instead of buying fresh duck legs, I asked if I could buy their salted duck legs. They agreed, so once I got home I was ready to poach.
In a large dutch oven, the duck fat (all 3 lb of it) is melted, and the duck legs (I had 8) are added to the pot and cooked for several hours. The fat should stay around 200°F, and not go above the boiling point of water, 212°F. (I kept a thermometer in the pot the entire time, and checked it regularly. This part was a bit annoying, but well worth it.)
Once fully cooked, the duck is transferred to a baking dish for storage, and the fat is strained and poured over the duck to completely submerge it. (Conveniently, the duck shrinks during cooking, so you can store it in a smaller container than the dutch oven you cooked it in.)
The hard part, after smelling duck for several hours, is letting it cure for at least one week. Check back soon for recipes made with the duck confit.
UPDATE (Feb 24, 2013):
My homemade cassoulet is complete, using 4 of the 8 pieces of duck confit.
While duck confit is a flavourful ingredient in another dish, it’s probably best appreciated straight up. Simply remove the duck from the fat and reheat in a skillet over low heat, starting with the skin side, then the other side (10-15 minutes in total). The meat is full of flavour, amazingly tender and flakes apart in your fingers. There’s nothing else like it… and actually quite addictive. Serve alongside a fresh salad.