How To Make A Kaleberg Duck Confit

Duck confit was originally developed as a means for preserving duck meat in the absence of refrigeration. Basically, the duck is preserved in its own fat and by using salt. French housewives would preserve a batch of ducks and keep them in a ceramic crock in a cool part of the house, typically the basement, and there the confit could last for several months.

We rarely keep our confit for more than a month, despite preserving the duck in its own fat, the salting, the seasoning, the sealed glass jar and refrigeration. None of that can protect the confit from maurauding Kalebergs. On the other hand, we usually do keep our confit preserved for two or three weeks before attacking it in order to let the flavors mellow.

This recipe calls for four ducks, typically weighing about 7 pounds each, and it produces enough duck confit to fill a 3 litre jar, a fair bit of duck stock and perhaps a gallon of duck stock, depending on how much we cook it down. These ingredients are perfect for making a cassoulet, or you can just enjoy your duck confit, use the duck fat for frying vegetables and potato pancakes and the duck stock for flavoring a broad range of dishes.

The whole process can take a while. If nothing else, the ducks need to be cut up, the fat rendered, and then the duck breasts and legs need 36 hours of salting before they are slowly cooked for from four to six hours. Do not attempt to make a duck confit when you have lots of other things going on. It has to be worked into your schedule for the best results.


• four whole ducks
We use standard Long Island Peking ducklings. They typically weigh about seven pounds. When we can, we use fresh ducks, but we have used frozen ducks with good results. If you do use frozen ducks, defrost them in the refrigerator overnight, or longer, so you don't need an ice pick to carve them.
• kosher salt
We usually get about 7 pounds of usable breast and leg meat from all four ducks, a reduction of four to one in the skinning and carving. This means we need about 7/3 or 2 1/3 ounces of kosher salt for the preservation. You can use a bit less if you choose, but it is a good idea to measure the weight of the meat you are preserving using a kitchen scale, and to measure the weight of the salt to get the proper ratio.
• two or more heads of garlic
It is conceivable that one might make a duck confit without garlic, but we cannot imagine why.
• the spice mix

We use Paula Wolfert's wonderful confit spice mix. We usually make up a jar of it with the following ratios:

 1 tsp ground cumin 1 tsp ground coriander seeds (not the fresh parsley like herb)
1 tsp ground cinnamon 3/4 tsp ground allspice (or even a bit more)
1/4 tsp ground clove 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (try green cardamom for more kick)
1/2 tsp ground ginger 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 Turkish bay leaf, crumpled or ground 3/4 tsp dried thyme leaf (or powdered thyme)

You will need about from one half to all of the above spices for a four duck confit, but it makes sense to make a double batch of the spice mix. It is awfully good.


The Ducking Factory

  1. Start by setting up an assembly line for skinning and carving the ducks. You want to work with sharp knives and have a bunch of output bowls ready. Then skin each duck and use the parts as follows:
      the breasts and legs Remove the breasts and the legs. Try to follow the natural lines of the bone, the joints and folds of the duck. We usually remove the large bone from the legs as this makes it easier to cram everything into one big jar.
      the wings Remove the wings and pop them into a big pot of boiling water. Removing the wings often makes it easier to get at the duck breasts.
      the skin Remove all of the skin from the duck, except for the skin on the breasts and legs. Cut it into thin 1/4 to 1/2 inch strips and render them in a slow oven to extract all the fat. You will need two large pyrex bowls and a slow, 275F oven, for this.
      the liver Save the livers. They are delicious with confit spice and corn kernels, a dish of our own based loosely on one of Dany's
      the heart and gizzards Save these to preserve with the meat. Some people like to preserve them separately and make a confit de gezier (gizzard confit), but they make great surprise nuggets in the main confit otherwise.
      the neck and the rest of the carcass

    When you have removed the breasts, the wings, the legs, the skin, the liver, the heart and the gizzards, take whatever is left and toss it into that big boiling stock pot we mentioned back with the wings.

    As you can see, nothing goes to waste, except maybe any little packets of orange sauce you might find in the duck cavity.
  2. Let the duck fat render from the skin in a slow oven. You might want to start with the oven up at 300F, but then lower it to 275F. This process can take a couple of hours because duck fat is a good insulator. Eventually, there will be browning duck cracklings and golden duck fat. Strain out the duck fat and let it cool. You will use this for preserving the duck meat. You can try hot frying the cracklings to use as a garnish on salads, but we wind up throwing most of them out.
  3. Let the duck stock simmer for several hours, then let it cool. Refrigerate it overnight and you can defat it easily the next day by removing the fat layer that forms on the top. You won't need the stock for the confit, but it is great to have around.
  4. Weigh the duck breasts and legs. You should get around seven pounds. Now do some math. You want 1/3 ounce of salt per pound of meat to preserve. Measure carefully, and err on the low side. You don't want to oversalt.
  5. Peel the two heads of garlic. You don't have to do this, but we always hated having those little sheets of garlic skin floating around in our confit.
  6. Get a big glass or ceramic bowl and dump in the breasts and legs, the salt, half the spice mixture described above and the two heads worth of garlic cloves. Toss them around so the duck is covered with salt and spice. Now, start the clock. In 36 hours you will start cooking the confit. We tend to do this step in the evening so we can continue in the morning. Your schedule may vary.
Thirty Six Hours Later
  1. Preheat the oven to 300F.
  2. Melt the strained duck fat in the oven.
  3. Pour the duck fat over the salted duck meat, garlic and spices. (You might want to transfer the duck to a different baking dish first. Whatever dish you use should have relatively steep sides since you want to cover all of the duck meat with fat).
  4. Let the confit cook at 300F for perhaps an hour. Then lower the temperature to 275F and let it cook for another four to six hours. When you think it might be ready, poke at the meat with the blunt end of a satay stick. If it slides right through without any pressure, you have a confit.
  5. Store the confit in a big three liter preserving jar with a tightly fitting lid. First transfer the breasts and wings. If you want, now you can sort out the garlic and gezier, or you can put them in as well. Then, pour in the remaining duck fat so it covers all of the meat. Seal the jar. Let it cool. Store it in the refrigerator. No self resepecting French housewife would do this, but we are belt and suspenders types.