I usually have a hard time getting excited about chicken. But duck…duck I can get very excited about. Especially duck confit: duck that has cured and cooked slowly in duck fat until the meat is silky smooth and the flavors intensified. The problem is that duck can be both expensive and hard to find. Chicken, however, is both plentiful and cheap; particularly the chicken leg quarters used in the chicken confit recipe below.
So we’ve started treating our chicken like duck by confiting it in duck fat. With this confit process, the chicken meat becomes succulent and full of flavor, much like duck confit. It can be used in recipes in the same manner as duck confit—stirred into stews like cassoulet, blended into rillettes to spoon over bread, or seared to crisp the skin and served as a main course like we’ve done here. Infused with the flavor of the duck fat, you might not even remember that you are eating chicken.
Confit is a classic French preservation technique that has been used to store duck and goose meat for hundreds of years. It is particularly popular in the south-west of France. The regions of Southern France can be divided by the type of cooking fat traditionally used by the locals. In Provence, for example, the abundance of olive trees made olive oil the preferred fat. To the west in Gascony, olive oil was not as plentiful so duck and goose fat was used for cooking.
Waterfowl like ducks and geese are well-suited to confit. They have a thick layer of fat stored under their skin to use as fuel during migration and get them through the winter. Duck and goose fats are actually more healthy than you might think. They are low in saturated fat and high in heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, relative to butter at least.
According to Paul Plummer in his book Sensual Preservation: The Art of Confit, the French consider duck and goose cooked in their own fat to be the only true confits. Any other meats that are cooked in duck or goose fat are referred to as being “in confit”. Therefore, here we are making poulet en confit (chicken in confit). This book is a great resource if you want to learn how to make traditional French confit.
The term confit comes from the French word confire, which means “to preserve.” However, the confit process is not unique to France. Other countries have their own versions of cooking and preserving food in fat. In Spain, we found many foods prepared confitado. The Spanish were more likely to confit in olive oil, using it to prepare fish, vegetables, and even suckling pig…cochinillo confitado was a favorite of ours! The Italians use a process called sott’olio, which means “under oil” to preserve vegetables. The freshly picked veggies are salted overnight, soaked in vinegar, and then packed in jars under olive oil.
Confit is a two step process in which the meat is first cured in salt along with herbs and seasonings. After one or two days of curing, the meat is then submerged in its own fat and cooked slowly at low temperature. The fat helps to seal in flavor while the long cooking time breaks collagen down into gelatin, tenderizing the meat. Traditionally, the cooked confit is allowed to cool completely covered by the solidified fat. It could then be stored for months inside earthenware jars (called toupins) in a cool dry place.
Our homemade version of slow-cooker chicken confit is not suitable to store in a jar in the basement, but the confit process does mean that it keeps well in the refrigerator or freezer. During a quarantine, a freezer full of confit chicken would be a very nice luxury.
How to Make Chicken Confit
Salt Cure: The process begins by salt curing the chicken. Create a salt rub by combining kosher salt and seasonings. We like white pepper, crumbled bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and garlic.
Completely coat the chicken leg quarters with the salt rub, including underneath the skin of the thigh portion. Layer the chicken quarters in a glass container, cover, and store chilled in the refrigerator for two days.
Confit: On the third day, the chicken is ready to be cooked slowly in fat. Now, you could cook the chicken in olive oil and many recipes call for this. However, olive oil doesn’t lend the same flavor and richness to the meat as duck fat. You can purchase rendered duck fat from a good butcher and some specialty grocery shops, or you can buy it online. We purchased this duck fat online from Rougie. It is expensive, but you can strain and reuse it for at least three batches of confit and it keeps for a long time in the freezer.
Warm the duck fat in the microwave to make it easier to get it into your slow cooker. Start the slow cooker on high heat just long enough to bring it up to temperature, then reduce the temperature to the low setting.
While the fat is warming, remove the chicken quarters from the refrigerator and wipe away as much of the salt rub as possible. Do not rinse. Allow the chicken to come to room temperature before cooking. This ensures that the meat cooks evenly.
Place the chicken quarters in the slow cooker, making sure that they are completely covered with the duck fat. Add olive oil for extra volume if needed.
With the slow cooker on its low setting, cook the chicken for approximately 2.5 hours until the meat is tender but not quite falling off of the bone. Do not cook it too long, or the pieces will fall apart when you try to take them out of the cooker.
Using tongs or two spoons, carefully transfer the legs from the slow cooker onto a plate, making sure they do not fall apart. Once cooled, wrap the legs in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator to be finished sometime in the future. You could finish the chicken confit immediately, but we find that the flavor develops more with time and the chicken holds together better if the meat has had time to chill and solidify.
The legs can also be stored in the freezer for months as the coating of duck fat will help in preservation. A vacuum sealer is a handy way to freeze them.
Finishing: The final step in this exercise is to finish each piece by crisping the skin.
Remove the chicken quarters from storage and let them come to room temperature. Heat a non-stick fry pan on medium high and place the chicken quarters skin side down. It is best to sear these in small batches, no more than two at a time, and be sure you have a very large pan to work in. No oil is needed in pan as the leg is already covered in duck fat, which has a high smoke point and is great for searing. Since the leg is already cooked, this step is solely for crisping the skin and heating the meat. Once you have desired crispiness, flip the chicken over. Reduce the temperature and cover the pan. When the chicken is heated through to your preferred temperature, remove and plate with the skin side up.
Chicken Confit Recipe
¼ cup Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon White Pepper
4 large bay leaves, crushed
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 tablespoons rosemary leaves
10 cloves garlic, minced
6 chicken leg quarters
4 quarts of rendered duck fat
Olive oil, as needed
- Combine the salt, white pepper, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and garlic together to form a rub.
- Coat the chicken quarters with the salt rub, including underneath the skin. Cover the chicken with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for two days.
- Heat the duck fat in a slow cooker on high heat to bring it up to temperature. Reduce temperature to low setting.
- While the fat is warming, remove the chicken quarters from the refrigerator and wipe away as much of the salt rub as possible. Do not rinse. Allow the chicken to come to room temperature.
- Place the chicken quarters in the slow cooker, making sure that they are completely covered with the duck fat. Add olive oil for extra volume if needed.
- Reduce the heat on the slow cooker to its low setting and cook for approximately 2.5 hours, until the meat is tender but not quite falling off of the bone so the pieces remain intact.
- Carefully transfer the chicken quarters from the slow cooker onto a plate, making sure they do not fall apart. Once cooled, wrap them in plastic wrap (or vacuum seal) and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
Finishing to serve:
- Remove the chicken confit pieces from storage and let them come to room temperature.
- Heat a large non-stick frying pan on medium high heat.
- Place the chicken in the pan skin side down and fry until the skin becomes browned and crispy.
- Reduce the temperature to low. Turn the chicken over to the other side and cover the pan. When the chicken is heated through to your preferred temperature, remove and plate with the skin side up.