If I could choose my favourite dish in the world to eat it would definitely be duck confit. The succulent meat has a unique flavour that, when I bite into it always reminds me of sitting in a little French Cafe in the Marais district in beautiful Paris. This is a French bistro style of dish that is ideal for a dinner party, as it can be prepared in advance with only the need to reheat when ready to serve.
This comfort dish will require some effort and preparation, but the classic technique of preserving meat will reward you with duck legs that are impossibly tender and moist. It is worth remembering that this dish needs to be prepared at least 24 to 48 hours before serving and to keep the temperature of the duck fat just below boiling point to avoid drying out the meat. The longer this dish is stored sealed by duck fat the better it will be with age.
Although I have cooked this version of duck confit a number of times and have had great success, if too much salt is used during the marinating it will have a tendency to be over salty, so use it sparingly. My twist on the traditional seasoning of this dish is the addition of star anise, orange peel and fig vino cotto. Many cooks have their own selection of spices and flavours and in France, usually indicates a regional difference. I like to use the star anise and orange peel that complements the wonderful gamey flavours of the duck meat.
Accompaniments to this dish really need to be kept simple, so a silky smooth potato mash and a salad of roquette leaves drizzled with truffle oil are subtle enough for the duck to be the star here.
I have found that wines that have both sweet fruit and savoury notes cut through the richness of the duck meat and suit the rustic style of the dish. Pinot noir or a grenache/shiraz/mouvedre blend would be perfect.
Wash the duck legs thoroughly removing all salt, garlic, herbs and spices and dry with a clean towel. In a medium ovenproof dish, heat the duck fat on top of the stove on a low to medium heat. Add the dried duck legs, the remaining star anise, peppercorns, orange peel and bay leaves to the dish, ensuring all duck legs are covered and continue to cook gently until legs are heated through, about 15 minutes. Place in preheated oven for 3 hours. Remove dish from oven and allow to cool to room temperature before covering and storing in the refrigerator. The aim is to have the duck legs immersed in the duck fat without exposure to air. Cover, date and keep refrigerated. When ready to use, remove the duck legs from the fat, scraping off excess fat and grill under a medium heat until golden and crisp on both sides. Serve a duck leg per person on a bed of creamy potato mash with a drizzle of fig vino cotto and side salad of wild roquette drizzled with truffle oil.
TIP: Duck fat and fig vino cotto can be bought from a number of specialty food stores. Used duck fat should be heated gently, strained, date labelled and stored in the refrigerator. Photo by Steve Shanahan