Step-by-Step Guide to Sous Vide Duck Confit

Duck confit is a classic French dish made by curing duck legs in salt, then poaching them in duck fat until tender and unctuous. The confit process tenderizes the duck, infuses it with savory duck fat flavor, and allows it to be preserved for longer storage. Sous vide is the ideal cooking method for duck confit, as it enables you to precisely control temperature and achieve the fall-off-the-bone tender meat that is the hallmark of a great confit.

In this step-by-step guide, we will walk through the process of making perfect sous vide duck confit, from seasoning the duck legs to cooking them in the water bath to final searing before serving. With just a few simple ingredients and tools, you can make restaurant-quality duck confit at home.

1. Gather Your Ingredients

To make duck confit sous vide, you will need:

  • Duck legs – Look for legs with a good amount of fat. Moulard or Pekin duck legs work very well. 
  • Kosher salt and spices – Kosher salt is used in the initial dry cure. You can also use herbs and spices like thyme, rosemary, peppercorns, and bay leaves.
  • Duck fat – This is what you will poach the duck in. Duck fat can be rendered from duck trimmings or purchased.
  • Aromatics – Ingredients like garlic, shallots, or onions can be cooked with the duck to add flavor. 
  • Vacuum sealer – This is used to seal the duck in bags for cooking sous vide. You will also need vacuum sealer bags.

2. Prepare the Duck Legs

Rinse the duck legs under cold water and pat them completely dry. Use a sharp knife to trim off any excess skin and fat. Make sure the duck legs will lie flat in the bags – you can cut in between the joints to help with this. Lightly score the duck skin in a crosshatch pattern; this will help render fat and crisp the skin later. Sprinkle both sides of the duck legs liberally with kosher salt. Stack the legs in a container, cover, and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. This dry brining helps season the meat and removes excess moisture. After brining, rinse the duck legs under cold water and thoroughly pat them dry.

3. Season the Duck Legs

In addition to salt, you can add other dried spices and herbs to the duck to complement the flavor. Some good options are peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper. You can either sprinkle the spices directly on each side of the duck legs, or mix together in a bowl and dredge each duck leg in the mixture to coat evenly. Try to avoid using fresh herbs at this stage – dried are better suited for the long cooking time.

4. Vacuum Seal the Duck Legs

Place the seasoned duck legs in vacuum sealer bags, laying them flat in a single layer. Add any aromatics you are using like garlic cloves or shallot wedges into the bags. Pour the rendered duck fat into the bags – you will need enough to fully submerge the duck legs. Vacuum seal the bags, removing as much air as possible. The duck legs need to cook fully submerged in fat to confit properly. Let the bags rest in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

5. Set Up Your Sous Vide Cooker

Fill your sous vide cooker or immersion circulator with water and preheat it to the desired temperature (see below for temperature guidance). The vessel should be large enough to accommodate the number of bags you are cooking. Make sure the bags are fully submerged in the water later – weigh them down with something heavy if needed.

6. Cook the Duck Legs in the Sous Vide Bath

When the water reaches the target temp, lower the vacuum sealed bags into the bath. The duck fat should keep the bags weighted down sufficiently. Cook for the desired amount of time based on thickness (see below for timing). During the long cook, the duck will become fall-off-the-bone tender and infused with flavorful duck fat.

7. Finish and Serve Your Sous Vide Duck Confit

Once the duck legs are cooked sous vide, carefully remove the bags from the water bath. Open them (duck fat is hot!) and transfer the duck legs to a plate. Pat the legs dry with paper towels. To serve, you can sear the legs skin-side down in a hot pan to crisp the skin. Alternatively, broil or grill them for a few minutes. Serve the tender duck legs with roasted potatoes or a fresh salad. The possibilities are endless!

The long, gentle cooking plus the moist heat of the duck fat in the sous vide bags results in duck confit that is supremely tender and richly flavored. Sous vide allows you to nail the texture and doneness perfectly every time. This versatile duck confit is fantastic on its own, in cassoulet, risotto, sandwiches, salads and more. Make a batch on your next sous vide cook and enjoy duck elevated to new levels!

What is Duck Confit?

Duck confit is a traditional French preparation where duck legs are cured in salt, then slowly cooked submerged in duck fat until ultra tender. The salt curing helps remove moisture and intensifies flavor. Cooking the duck in its own fat keeps the meat incredibly moist, tender and infused with richness. The confit process was originally developed as a way to preserve duck legs for longer storage. The cooking and submersion in fat protects the duck from spoilage. Confit remains a specialty of Southwest France and is considered a delicacy.

Why Use Sous Vide for Duck Confit?

Cooking duck confit using sous vide offers several advantages:

  • Precise temperature control results in evenly cooked, tender meat.
  • Low, slow cooking over extended periods yields incredibly succulent duck. 
  • Submersion in duck fat distributes heat gently and moistly.
  • Duck cooks low and slow without risk of burning or drying out.
  • No need to monitor on the stove – just set and walk away.
  • Temperature precision avoids overcooking.

What are the Benefits of Using Sous Vide for Duck Confit?

The main benefits of sous vide for duck confit are:

  • Ability to cook the duck at the precise temperature needed to get perfectly tender meat.
  • Even, edge-to-edge cooking since the duck is submerged in hot water.
  • Infusion of intense duck flavor from cooking in its own fat.
  • Hands-off cooking for many hours unattended.
  • Easy preservation after cooking vacuum sealed duck confit. 
  • Foolproof method avoids overcooking.
  • Convenience of not having to watch a confit braise for hours on the stovetop.

What Temperature Should You Use for Sous Vide Duck Confit?

The recommended temperature range for sous vide duck confit is 165°F to 180°F (74°C to 82°C). At the lower end, the duck will be more tender while at higher temperatures the meat will be more firm. Many chefs recommend between 170°F-176°F (77°C-80°C) as the ideal temperature for tender, luscious results. Cooking much above 180°F risks drying out the duck. As long as the duck legs remain submerged in fat during cooking, they will be moist and succulent.

How Long Does It Take to Cook Duck Confit with Sous Vide?

Cooking time will vary depending on the size and thickness of the duck legs, but generally 12 to 36 hours is typical. Plan for approximately 1-2 hours per 1 inch (2.5 cm) thickness of the thickest part of the legs. Thicker legs and/or higher temperatures in the shorter range will need longer cooking, while smaller or thinner legs may only need 12-24 hours. The benefit of sous vide is that the duck will hold perfectly cooked for hours longer with no detriment to quality.

Can You Overcook with Sous Vide?

It is difficult to overcook food with sous vide, including duck confit. Because the water bath is precision controlled at your target temperature, the duck legs cannot exceed that temperature. The main risk is over-tenderizing the meat if cooked too long. However, duck confit texture should be tender enough to pull meat off the bone. Due to the moist duck fat environment, the meat will remain succulent. For food safety, refrigerate for up to 5 days after cooking or freeze for longer storage.

What are Some Side Dishes that Pair Well with Duck Confit?

Duck confit pairs beautifully with many side dishes that provide contrast in flavor and texture:

  • Braised red cabbage or Brussels sprouts
  • Wilted greens like kale or spinach
  • Roasted root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips, or carrots
  • Fresh green salad with vinaigrette 
  • French lentils or bean cassoulet
  • Polenta or creamy grits
  • Orzo or wild rice pilaf
  • Crispy roasted fingerling potatoesWith its rich, savory flavor, duck confit also pairs nicely with sweet or tart ingredients. Some examples of tasty duck confit side pairings include:
  • Poached pears or apples
  • Stewed cherries or peaches
  • Orange or grapefruit segments
  • Pomegranate arils
  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Fruit chutneys or relishes
  • Maple glazed carrots, parsnips or squash
  • Honey roasted vegetables like Brussels sprouts or sweet potatoes

The richness of duck confit can also be balanced by sharper, acidic flavors. Excellent options include:

  • Sauerkraut or pickled vegetables
  • Tomato salad with shaved fennel 
  • Sautéed greens with lemon and garlic
  • Roasted beets with goat cheese 
  • Fresh corn salad with avocado
  • Farro salad with artichoke hearts and olives
  • Arugula salad with shaved Parmesan
  • Frisée salad with poached egg and bacon lardons

Finally, duck confit makes a fantastic sandwich or taco when paired with crunchy, textured toppings:

  • On a baguette with grainy mustard or fig jam
  • Tacos with cotija cheese, pickled onions and cilantro
  • Sandwich with melted brie, apple and watercress
  • On crostini with spicy aioli and pickled peppers
  • In bibb lettuce cups with hoisin sauce and scallions 
  • On naan with mango chutney and sliced red onion

With so many options for complementary sides, duck confit can be transformed into all types of delicious meals. Get creative with your pairings!