If duck confit, the process by which you cure duck legs in salt, then slowly poach the meat in its own fat at a low, constant temperature over the course of two days seems like total fancy French craziness, you’re right. The luxurious, centuries-old preparation for duck actually began as a method of preservation. Since bacteria can’t thrive in dense fat, duck confit made perfect sense for pre-refrigeration Medieval France, where the meat could be stored for months and months without cooling. The supple, buttery quality of the meat was just a happy accident, a side effect of the means of preservation. And if using a complicated, ancient French technique for preserving duck that takes days to pull off seems like overkill for making tacos, you’re right again. It is. Let’s get started, shall we?
While you can purchase liquefied duck fat from your butcher for poaching the duck in, it can be expensive (upward of $20 or more per quart). For our version, we use olive oil for poaching the bird, which can then be strained through a coffee filter, kept in the refrigerator, and reused the way you would use regular olive oil, for adding lightly duck-infused deliciousness to sauteed vegetables, fried potatoes, or for dipping scraps of bread into.
Plan ahead. You’ll need at least 12 hours for the brine, and then another 12-14 hours to do your actual cooking. Start the day before you plan to eat; I started brining my duck at about nine in the morning, put it into the oven before I went to bed at around eleven, and then woke up to perfectly cooked duck.
The sweet, tart, and spicy fruit salsa pairs perfectly with the rich flavors of the duck, but is also completely appropriate for use on fish or pork.
Crispy Duck Confit Tacos with Grapefruit Plum Salsa
Makes 8-10 tacos
- 4 duck legs with thighs attached (about two pounds)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 bay leaves
- 8-12 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 4 cups olive oil
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 8-10 corn tortillas
- Grapefruit Plum Salsa (recipe follows)
- 2 cups iceberg lettuce, shredded
- Mexican crema, cotija cheese, to garnish, optional
In a shallow baking dish, arrange duck legs in a single layer, skin side down. Sprinkle with one tablespoon of the Kosher salt and black pepper.
On two of the portions of duck, divide garlic cloves, bay leaves, and thyme.
Stack remaining two pieces of duck on top, flesh side down, so that you have two stacks of two duck legs each, with the seasonings and herbs sandwiched between them. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon of Kosher salt, cover, and place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Remove duck from refrigerator, and remove garlic, bay leaves, and thyme to the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Add whole peppercorns.
Lightly rinse duck legs under cool water to remove excess salt, and add to Dutch oven in a single layer on top of herbs, skin side down.
Add olive oil, cover, and bake until meat is very tender, about 12-14 hours.
Using tongs, remove duck from oil and let cool slightly.
Remove skin and bones (bones should pull out very easily), and shred duck meat using fingertips. When oil cools completely, strain through coffee filters and reserve, refrigerated, for later use.
In a shallow frying pan, heat vegetable oil until just before the smoking point. Working quickly in batches, use tongs to fry and shape tortillas into taco shell shapes, and drain on paper towels.
To assemble tacos: Add 1-2 tablespoons of shredded duck meat to taco shell. Add shredded lettuce, salsa, and optionally, cotija cheese and Mexican crema.
Grapefruit Plum Salsa
Makes about two cups
- 1/2 large “Ruby Red” grapefruit, peeled and diced
- 2 plums, pitted and diced
- 1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
- 1 Fresno pepper, seeded and minced
- 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
- 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest
- 1 tablespoon honey
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss gently until combined, cover and chill at least 2 hours before serving.