The Paradoxical Duck Confit Recipe

The Paradoxical Duck Confit

Thursday night, on a whim, we asked our neighbors Stéphan et Patricia over for dinner, and I prepared the kind of dish that epitomizes the French paradox * : duck confit.

Back in July, Maxence and I spent a lovely extended week-end in the South-West of France, visiting his grandparents in Gourdon and driving around the incredibly beautiful countryside. On our last day, as is becoming the tradition, we indulged in a shopping spree at the Canard du Midi store. We joyously filled our shopping basket with foie gras, magret de canard (roasted duck breast), canned cassoulet (a typical regional dish that involves white kidney beans and various meats in goose fat), a black truffle in its jewellery-like box, canned gésiers de canard (duck gizzards), ostrich (!) and boar terrines, canned confit de canard (duck confit), confiture d’oignon (onion jam), and noisillons (chocolate-covered walnuts). This was stashed away in our luggage, keeping company to the other marvels purchased at the marché : dried cèpes (porcinis), an assortment of duck, boar, hazelnut and pork saucissons (dry sausages), a scrumptious walnut cake, and a rather unreasonable number of Rocamadours, these succulent individual little goat cheeses – which we redistributed to gleeful family and friends upon our return.

* What is referred to as “the French paradox” is the seeming contradiction between the rich foods we typically consume in France and the comparatively low incidence of heart disease. Jeffrey Steingarten (brilliant author of “The man who ate everything”) was among the first to identify it. The expression, in its implication that this is the only paradox the French have, amuses me to no end…

To feed the four of us, I opened two cans of duck confit, which amount to six thighs. Duck confit is best accompanied with pommes sarladaises : named after the town of Sarlat, these are potatoes sauteed in duck fat and garlic. I cut up a kilogram of small new potatoes, of the Ratte du Touquet variety, and chopped three cloves of pink garlic, which Ludo brought us back from Lautrec. In a large skillet, I heated up the garlic in 3 tbsp of the duck fat, taken from the confit cans, then threw the potatoes in to cook, covered, over medium-low heat for about an hour, stirring from time to time, until they were thoroughly cooked and tender and a golden crispy crust had built up.

Meanwhile, I washed and dried some salad, and made a walnut oil vinaigrette to dress it. About 45 minutes into the cooking of the potatoes, I transferred the thighs from the cans to another skillet, meat side down, trying not to take along too much of the fat, which was still solid at this point. I heated them up, covered, over medium heat. The excess fat rapidly turned liquid, so I poured it into the sink. After a while, the meaty side had turned brown, so I turned up the heat under the potatoes for final crisping, flipped each thigh, and cooked them until the skin had turned crispy too.

This has got to be one of the most satisfying combos ever : sweet duck meat, warm nutty potatoes, constant contrast between crunchy and tender, refreshing yet tangy salad, and a delicious – and most appropriate – red wine from Cahors to wash it all down, courtesy of our guests.

  • Sylvie

    Oh lala ! quel régal ce devait être !
    Cela me parait tout à fait dans la tradition sarladaise ! c’est bien de préserver tes artères !

  • Maman,
    Oui, tu as vu, c’est régime, einh? :) Mais qu’est-ce que c’est bon…

  • Clotilde,

    I wanted to post a comment to this when you updated. This recipe (especially the potatoes) sounds amazing. Oh, to live in the French paradox. However, the times I have had duck confit, I’ve been extremely disappointed. Does the preserving process take out all the wonderful tastes of the duck, or is it just me? The two I have had tasted like an old, dry shoe. I hope yours was better.

    Us Americans don’t have a paradox. It’s more cause and effect: we eat McDonalds and we get heart disease, c’est simple. :)

  • Blue – old, dry shoe? Oh my, no! Good duck confit is moist, it’s tender, it’s sweet, it melts in your mouth, it’s flavorful! Sorry you had bad experiences. But come on right over, and I’ll have you sample the real thing!

  • Clotilde,

    Merde, if only I could come to Montmatre and have some real duck confit. I have always liked the duck served at Chinese restaurants–that’s some good stuff, although a bit oily, which I heard duck is an oily type meat.

    Someday I will come to France. Peach has been pushing me saying, “Let’s go to France! We can just work our way through!” I think she’s saying that to avoid New Zealand. ;)

  • Blue,
    To me, the texture and taste of lacquered duck are quite different from those of duck confit. I’m not a big fan of lacquered duck (very fatty indeed), but I may not have tasted the best there is, I don’t know.
    And I regret, but I have to side with Peach on this. By all means come to France before you go to NZ! :)

  • Rebecca

    Really? Duck? From a can? Will wonders never cease?

    I have never had duck confit. In fact, I have only had duck once, and it was in fact Peking duck in Houston’s Chinatown. Quite tasty, if fatty. And a bit sad, since the duck’s head was just sprawled out on the platter for everyone to see… how humiliating for the poor thing. Since I make it a policy never to eat anything that is looking at me, I had to cover his head with a napkin…

    But I digress. Your description of the duck, and the potatoes especially, sounded wonderful!

  • Rebecca – yup, I can understand how this comes as a surprise, canned food having a bad reputation, but it’s really industrial canned food that casts a bad shadow on the whole technique. Good-quality canning can sometimes be the next best thing to fresh, and even better in some cases!

  • This brings back wonderful memories of the summer I spent in the Dordogne in 2002. I don’t think I had duck confit, but just your mention of gésiers de canard reminds me of the outrageously delicious gésiers salad that I adore so much. And I can’t believe I spent a day in Sarlat without having those potatoes!

    I could go on for ages about wonderful French food, but the fact that going to the food markets and the chateaux was the best part of the time I’ve spent in France — and then the climax of the meal and conversation with good friends — says it all. I can’t wait to return, and you are making me want to pick up and move there! Dangerous blog, this. :)

  • joey


    This is a great blog! I love duck and duck confit. Although I have never made it myself, there are some restaurants here that do serve a pretty good one. And I had a great one in Paris! And those potatoes sound heavenly — cooked in duck fat and garlic! That has my name written all over it!

    With regards to the French Paradox, Mireille Guiliano wrote a book on that very topic called “French Women Don’t Get Fat”. This book has changed my life! I have never enjoyed food more, while losing weight and being healthy at the same time.

  • veron

    I love duck confit. I am in search of the perfect recipe for it that I will be satisfied with. This is what actually inspired me to start my food blog :) .

  • Kris

    There are plenty of recipes for duck confit accessable on the ‘net. I made some T’giving weekend. Simply anointed the disjointed duck with salt, pepper and some herbs and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Stewed it in duck fat the next day, et viola, confit du canard.

    So far I have only used it for one batch of cassoulet. The next attempt will be to recreate a duck confit pot pie similar to the one I had at a local restaurant which is, to date, my most memorable meal.

  • Ann

    Just curious…my sister Meg lives in Paris and served a confit-delicious! She gave me a tin of confit to bring home. Does anyone know if it was “illegal” to bring this back into the States since it was canned meat?

  • Katie A

    Perfect! Whenever anyone i know goes to french a beg a tin of confit de canard from them, but once i have a cassoulet i normally store the duck until we’re ready for another one. This dish has proved to be the perfect way to eat up the last few legs. delicious! my potatoes tuned into a mash (a very nice, almost bubble and squeaky mash) but all the same i think i need to use a non stick pan next time. Thank you!

  • BeachyGal

    was the perfect post for the perfect moment! I made the entire menu and it all worked perfectly. COuld not be easier. ALso added braised kale to complement the richness of the duck and potatoes- drew raves. Thanks, Clothilde!

    • Lovely to hear, thank you for reporting back!

  • Gwendolyn

    Hello, Clotilde. I liked reading about the many things you purchased on this trip (you’re archives are full of many gems, like this one). I’d like to try my hand at making duck confit at home and preserving it. Is that too big an undertaking? I’m an experienced cook, and I’ve done plenty of preserving in glass jars for jams and such.

    I’ve been reminiscing about a large tin of confit we brought home years ago from Sarlat, which I browned alongside the potatoes browned in the duck fat and garlic. I would love to try having stores of my own confit preserved and on hand for special meals.

    If you have any tips on making it from scratch, or have any tips on preserving it to stock my pantry, I’d be grateful! Otherwise, I will buy the expensive tins online, for extra, extra special occasions.

    • It’s not something I’ve ever tried, Gwendolyn, simply because good confit is so readily available here, and not very pricy. I don’t think it would pose any significant challenge to a cook like you though!

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