Charcuterie is an art that rewards patience. Brining, curing, smoking, pickling: all of these things take time, but the final results are unlike anything you can whip up in a few hours in the kitchen. Charcuterie also demands planning and consideration of ingredient seasonality. If you think far enough ahead about what and when you want to eat, you can create a rolling schedule of meals based on what comes out of the smoker, curing cabinet, fermenting crock, or refrigerator.
When I bought twenty pounds of duck legs in February, I had duck confit in mind. The preparation is simple, but the longer you wait to eat the final product, the better it tastes. Apart from the duck itself, the other key ingredient is rendered duck fat, and plenty of it. I ordered a seven-pound bucket of the stuff the same day I bought the legs:
I had eight legs ready, along with a half cup of kosher salt, two bay leaves, two tablespoons of chopped thyme, a quarter cup of parsley leaves, and a teaspoon of black peppercorns.
Following the techniques described in the Bouchon cookbook, I combined everything but the legs in a food processor, making “green salt.”
I rubbed the legs with the salt (about a tablespoon per leg), packed them into a baking dish, covered the dish with plastic wrap, and let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. The next day the legs had darkened and firmed up a bit, leaving some liquid in the bottom of the dish.
I rinsed and dried the legs, packed them two layers deep into a medium pot, and covered them with melted duck fat. After ten hours in a 190°F oven, the legs were tender.
I let the legs and fat cool, then removed the legs to a new container while I strained the fat and let it settle.
See that pink layer below the fat? That’s the meat juices and rendered collagen, a culinary treasure. I poured clarified fat from the top layer into the container holding the legs, covering them by about a half inch.
I decanted the remaining fat and the confit jelly into separate containers.
Six Weeks Later:
I took the duck legs out of the fridge and let them come up to room temperature, which would let me remove the legs from the fat without tearing the meat.
While I waited, I made two other confits: onion and garlic, both from Bouchon recipes. The onion “confit” is actually an onion soubise, cooked low and slow with butter until the onions are soft but not browned.
The garlic is cooked in oil over low heat for about an hour, until the cloves have softened.
The recipe yields were more than I needed, so I stored the extra onions and garlic in the fridge. I bottled the excess garlic oil, which I will use for sautéing and vinaigrettes.
I reheated the duck legs, skin side down, over medium heat until the skin was browned.
I spooned some of the fat from the pan into a baking dish, added the legs skin side up, and put the dish in a 375°F oven for about eight minutes to heat through.
While the legs cooked, I made Lyonnaise potatoes: sliced fingerling potatoes cooked in duck fat with the onion confit.
Juggling a third pan, I made sautéed spinach with garlic confit, adding a dollop of the confit jelly as seasoning.
Timing being everything, all of the components were ready for the plate simultaneously:
For me this plate is comfort food at its best. It’s simple, balanced, and full of the things – duck, duck fat, garlic, salt – that make life worth living. It’s also easy to prepare once you get into the six weeks in advance grove. As Alton Brown is fond of saying: “Your patience will be rewarded.”