Whether you're cooking confit or grilling goose, brining duck beforehand makes for juicier meat. Brining doesn't increase moisture within cells, however; it does the opposite. Duck meat contains less sodium than brines do, so the moisture in its cells flows out during brining. The fat, of which duck as a lot, stays in place, where it goes on to lubricate the meat during cooking -- which also occurs in un-brined duck, but on a smaller scale. You can brine duck legs two ways: dry-brining, the method used for duck confit, and wet-brining, the technique used before smoking.
Things You'll Need
- Bone-in, skin-on duck legs, separated into two pieces
- Paper towels
- Baking sheets
- Parchment paper
- Coarse kosher salt
- Fresh herbs, such as thyme and rosemary (optional)
- Aromatics, such garlic and shallots (optional)
- Wire rack
- Cheesecloth and kitchen twine (optional)
Place the duck legs on a plate and let them reach room temperature. The salt gets to work faster with room-temperature meat.
Pat the legs dry with paper towels and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Coat the legs with a generous pinch of coarse kosher salt, enough to cover them on all sides, or about a 1/8-inch-thick cover of salt all over. Place the legs on the baking sheet. Mix freshly chopped herbs, such as thyme or rosemary, and aromatics, such as minced shallots or crushed black pepper, and pour it in an even layer on the baking sheet before placing the legs on it, if desired. The legs will pick up the flavors and aromas during the curing process if you do.
Sprinkle herbs and aromatics on top of the legs, if desired. You can match what you layered the pan with or add additional flavors. Crushed juniper berries, star anise and crushed bay leaves all go well with duck.
Position a second baking sheet on top of the duck legs and weigh it down with a few pounds. Unopened cans, 4 or 5 pounds of bricks, or a few short stacks of plates work well.
Place the baking sheets of duck legs in the refrigerator. Dry brine the duck legs for at least 24 hours but not longer than three or four days.
Take the duck out of the fridge after brining and rinse the salt from the legs. Pat the legs dry with paper towels and place them on a wire set on top of a baking sheet. Return the legs to refrigerator and let them dry for about four or five hours.
Make a sachet d'epices to flavor the brine with. A sachet d'epices, or whole herbs wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with kitchen twine, can contain any herb you like. The cheesecloth sack helps you fish them out of the brine easier. Thyme, sage and rosemary, to name a few, all go well with duck legs.
Mix a saltwater solution in a stainless-steel pot and place it on the stove. A basic brine comprises 1 gallon of water to 1/2 cup of salt. Add the sachet d'epices to the pot and submerge it, although it might float back to the top.
Add aromatic ingredients to the brine, such as crushed garlic, diced shallots, cinnamon sticks, star anise, allspice berries, Chinese five spice, bay leaves and grains of paradise.
Bring the water to a boil and let it stay there for about 30 seconds. Turn the heat off and let the brine reach room temperature. Let the brine cool on the stove if you have gas burners. If not, transfer the pot to a heat pad and let it cool there.
Place the duck legs in the brine and place a stack of plates on them to keep them submerged. Place the pot in the refrigerator. Transfer the brine and duck legs to a food-storage container if a pot doesn't fit.
Brine the duck legs for about two hours per pound and remove them from the brine. Rinse the legs before cooking.
Tips & Warnings
- You can brine whole or separated duck legs. If you want to separate them, crack them at the joints and cut through them where the thigh connects to the drumstick. Cut off the portion of cartilage connected to the drumstick knuckles.
- Photo Credit Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images