16 November 2008

Duck confit — the brining

I bought a package of duck leg-thigh sections (7 of them) at Intermarché a couple of days ago. These are the legs of fattened ducks — canards gras — which are the ducks that are fattened for foie gras production. In France, these ducks are sold at good prices at this time of year. They come without the fat livers and other giblets (hearts and gizzards), because those are delicacies that are sold separately.

Here's the mise en place, showing everything
that goes into the brine for the duck.

The first step in making confit out of duck pieces is to marinate them in salt for 24 hours or longer. The leg-thigh pieces are the best ones to use for confit, which means duck cooked slowly in its own fat and then packed in crocks or jars in congealed duck fat to protect it from the air and air-borne bacteria, mold, and fungi.

This is the way people preserved meat for the winter before the days of electric refrigerators and freezers. Why do it nowadays? Because it gives a nice flavor and texture that you don't get with other methods of preparing duck. It's like ham, which was salt- or smoke-cured for the same reasons of preservation, but became a product with its own particular virtues.

Salt and aromatics added to the duck legs
you can let it marinate just like this if you want

To start the confit process, the duck parts can be rubbed with coarse salt and then put aside to marinate in their own juices. Or they can be brined. That's what I decided to do this time. The flavoring ingredients are the same either way. In my case, I salted the duck and added sliced onions and garlic, dried thyme, bay leaves, black peppercorns, and allspice berries. You can use cloves if you don't have allspice berries. You can also vary the herbs.

I decided to add cold water and a glass of white wine
to make a brine this time

I made a brine out of all that with water and a little white wine. Now I plan to let the duck sit in a cold place — in our house, the downstairs pantry is a good place for that, because it is unheated and stays cold in wintertime. I put the duck pieces and other ingredients in a big stainless steel stock pot for the brining. By the way, turkey legs or thighs can be prepared the same way, and are delicious as confit.

To be continued...


  1. Hi Ken, Are allspice berries similar to juniperberries? Because that is what I usual put in the confit 'marinade'. Mind you, only 2 or 3, as they give off a very strong flavour. Martine

  2. Hello Martine, no, allspice berries are what they call piment or poivre de la Jamaïque. Their flavor resembles the flavor of clous de girofle. I'm sure juniper berries would be good too. Ken


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