Although this recipe seems lengthy, the beauty is in the fact you can make an abundance of it at once, and it will keep for weeks as long as the legs are airtight under a seal of solidified fat. Confit itself is a classic dish from southwest France. The duck legs are marinated in coarse salt, which completely changes their texture and flavour, then cooked very slowly in its own fat. If the fat boils, the wonderful texture of the meat will be spoilt. For the beans, of course pre-cooked tinned beans can be used - which will speed up the process, but cooking from dry has to be tried at least once - the difference is astonishing.
For the duck legs
4 large organic or free range duck legs
30g rock salt
1 tblsp black pepper corns, crushed
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 fresh bay leaves, sliced
4 fresh sprigs of thyme, finely chopped
800g duck fat, melted
For the flageolet beans
250 g dried flageolet beans, soaked in cold water overnight
½ onion, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved, and 1 garlic clove, crushed to a purée
100g smoked streaky bacon, rind removed, diced
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
about 900 ml water
2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
A small handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lay the duck legs on a baking tray, flesh-side upwards, and distribute the rock salt, crushed peppercorns, garlic, bay leaves and thyme evenly over. Cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight. The next day, rinse the marinade off the duck legs and pat them dry with a cloth.
Pre-heat the oven to 140ºC and put the duck legs in a large flameproof casserole, cover with the melted fat and, on a gentle heat, bring the fat to just below simmering point. Transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered, for about 2¼ hours, until the duck legs are very tender. Leave to cool (you can easily leave the legs in their cooking fat in the fridge for between 2 days and 2 weeks, which will further improve their flavour)
Drain and rinse the soaked flageolet beans, then put them in a large saucepan with the onion, halved garlic cloves, bacon, herbs, cloves, water and 1 tsp of freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil, skim away the impurities from the surface and them simmer on the lowest possible heat for about 50 mins, until the beans are tender. Taste to see if they are perfectly cooked; they should be soft and melting, not powdery. Season with salt at this stage, and add any extra pepper you feel they may need, finally stir in the olive oil, parsley and crushed garlic.
Take the duck legs out of their cooking fat. Over a medium heat, in a dry frying pan, crisp and colour the duck legs on the skin side for 5-7 minutes, regularly pouring away excess fat. To serve, divide the beans and some of their cooking liquid between 4 soup plates, top with the crispy duck legs and drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil.