Curing and cooking animals in their own fat is an ancient preserving technique. There are two fundamental steps to the process. First one would typically cure the meat in a salt and sugar mixture. Afterwards, the meat is cooked in its own fat and then stored.
There are other ways to preserve meat in animal fat much like the process of making pemmican where meat first dried and then stored in rendered fat. Both of the mentioned methods use a combination of techniques that will make the meat an inhospitable place for harmful bacteria.
The French technique of confit where meat is salted, cooked in its own rendered fat, then stored in a cool, dark place can last several weeks or even months without refrigeration. Fruit confit are candied fruits preserved in sugar.
In many traditions, such as the French’s confit, sugar and salt would typically be used in this preservation process. However, in seeking to challenge myself to present recipes and techniques that support the Healthy Roots initiative, I am using only maple syrup as my curing agent here. The natural sugars act similarly to salt in that they help create an environment where harmful bacteria will have trouble reproducing.
Cut the legs off the duck with or without the skin. I like to keep the skin on because it gets crispy when you reheat it after cooking it in the fat and more of the fat renders out as you cook it.
I prefer using dark maple syrup for cooking because it has a strong maple flavour so a little goes a long way in the kitchen. You can also choose to reduce the maple syrup so it has a thicker consistency and higher sugar content. You could also use maple sugar for a dry rub.
Let the duck legs sit in the maple syrup or maple sugar for a day or two rotating frequently, stored in your refrigerator. If you have enough syrup to completely submerge the duck go right ahead. The longer you leave it in the cure the sweeter the end result will be as more sugar will have penetrated through the meat.
After curing for at least 2-days, remove the legs from the syrup. If you used a dry rub rinse the legs off and pat them dry. Let the cured meat sit for at least 12-hours in the fridge.
In a baking dish or cast iron, melt enough of your rendered fat, to completely submerge the cured duck legs. Cover and cook in your oven at 300F until the meat is tender to the fork. Monitor the meat at the 2-hour mark. If you choose you can set the oven temperature lower. Low and slow is best here. Also, be mindful that the sugar will caramelize if cooked too high for too long and there is a risk of burning. Once the meat has reached the desired doneness, let the legs cool in the fat. This will probably happen somewhere around the 2-3 hour mark.
If you wish you can store completely covered in fat by an inch in a cool, dark place in your root cellar or in your fridge. If done properly it should keep for a very long time. Please note that I have not attempted to store the meat after preparing it only using a maple syrup cure. In theory it should work. I will try it and see how it goes. I will update this post on the Two Row Times website accordingly.
Next week’s article will discuss different ways to utilize the rendered animal fat and meats that have been preserved using a cured in own fat method.