Duck Confit and Seared Duck Breast with Apple-Walnut Salad
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Elias Cairo’s easy duck confit recipe yields tender meat seasoned with garlic, peppercorns, herbs and spices. Confit, a cooking and preservation technique where you season and slowly cook meat in its own fat, is an ancient method but more commonly thought of as fine dining today. Rustic and simple, the process requires some advance preparation to cure and cook the meat but finishing the dish takes mere minutes, making it a perfect recipe for entertaining or after a long day of outdoor adventures. Don’t be intimidated by the length of this duck confit recipe; broken down into steps it’s quite easy and mostly hands off. If using a whole duck, break it down into quarter parts and remove the breasts from the bone. Store breasts in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the finished dish.
Prep: 1-4 day cure, up to 3 hours confit cook time, 15 minutes breast cook time
For the Duck Confit:
1. Duck legs and wings are usually around 1½ to 2 pounds in weight. Measure 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt per pound of duck meat. Mix salt with measured whole black peppercorns, whole coriander seeds, whole juniper berries, and star anise. Thoroughly rub duck legs and quarters with salt mixture. Rest rubbed duck in a pan, add sliced shallot, halved garlic head, and thyme. Wrap tightly in plastic and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours and a maximum of 3 days.
2. Preheat oven to 225°F. After the curing process is complete, remove duck legs and wings from the refrigerator. Brush off and discard as much of the cure as possible, reserving the shallots and garlic for the cooking process. Place the duck parts and reserved shallot and garlic in a fresh baking dish or heavy oven-safe pot with a lid. Cover completely with melted duck fat. Cover pot with lid or tightly wrap in foil and place in the oven. Allow to very slowly cook for about 3 hours.
3. At the 90-minute mark, remove the duck from the oven and check for doneness. Once the meat is very fork tender and pulling away from the bones, it is done. The wings will likely finish first and can be removed from the pan while the legs continue to cook as necessary. Because fat is being used as the cooking method, it is difficult to overcook. Check the legs at 30-minute intervals until the meat has pulled away from the end of the leg section. Cooked duck confit can remain completely submerged in fat for storage in the refrigerator for up to six months.
For the Duck Breast
1. Using a mortar and pestle grind together 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt per pound of duck meat, the measured black peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries, and star anise into a coarse spice mix. Set aside.
2. Using a very sharp knife, score the skin on a diagonal across the breast, being careful not to cut all the way through to the meat. Repeat this in the other direction to create hash marks across the entirety of the skin. Rub spice mix on the duck breasts and into the scored skin. Allow to marinate for 15-20 minutes.
3. Heat a cast-iron pan over medium heat. While the pan heats, lightly brush any large spices off the duck breasts. Place breasts into the hot pan, skin side down. No need for extra oil as the duck will release plenty of fat. Allow the skin side to cook for at least 5 minutes before checking the color. The goal is very golden, very crispy skin. Once the skin reaches a rich caramel color and feels crisp to the touch, carefully turn the breast over and cook for another 2-3 minutes. It’s ideal to have a medium to medium-rare duck breast. Remove from pan and rest, skin side up, for a few minutes.
For the Salad and Serving
1. Remove duck legs from the fat and gently scrape clean. Place the confit legs, skin side down, in pan used for searing the breasts. Allow the legs and wings to sear until golden and crispy, about 5 minutes, before flipping and repeating the process on the other side. Add a handful of the cubed bread to pan (do not overcrowd; you’ll need to do these in batches) and turn until crispy. While the confit sears, make the salad.
2. Rough chop the toasted walnuts and place in a small mixing bowl or mason jar with a lid. Add chives, olive oil, red wine vinegar, a few cracks of black pepper, and a pinch of salt. Whisk or shake vigorously to combine. Slice radicchio head into quarters and slice into ½-inch thick strips, avoiding the center heart at the bottom. Slice the unpeeled apple into thick matchsticks. Toss radicchio and apple with the walnut vinaigrette and a generous amount of croutons, and plate on a large platter. Remove crisped confit and arrange on the platter. Flip the duck breast to skin side and slice into ½-inch pieces and add to the plate. Serve immediately.