Charcuterie, Meat Recipes

Duck and Cognac Rillettes

January 29, 2009


I got a few requests in both comments and emails for recipes from the meat party that we just hosted.

Some of the recipes are on my blog already, but some are new.

This little bad boy of a rillette is new. So new in fact that I had never cooked it before I did for the party. Heck, this was actually my first time making duck confit.

So what is a rillette? If you ask me it is possibly the best potted food. EVER. The basic rule here is that you take some slowly cooked meat, shread it, and then beat it together with some fat, and often top it with fat (helps seal it you know…). Lets be honest, it is already sounding pretty good.

The traditional rillette is pork. Normally a slow braised pork shoulder is used, and some of the braising liquid and lard as the fat. Nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. I have eaten plenty of pork rillettes in my day – some traditional, and some pushed more modern (think braised pork with star anise and ginger..). That is perhaps one of the great things about rillettes though – flavor combinations are endless.

Duck rillettes are also reasonably traditional. Because duck is pretty fatty, it makes sense to use a slowly cooked duck leg, and some duck fat as the rillette base.

One thing I love about duck is just the wealth of flavoring options you have with it. If you are stuck in the 80s you have orange. Duck is big across the world – from the far East to the West – pick your country, and you pick your flavors.

For me I stuck my feet in France. A very simple pairing of duck with a generous helping of cognac. I always like to use a form of brandy when cooking rich, fatty meats. Calvados goes great with pork, and I like cognac with duck.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to making a rillette. You can cook you meat either in a stock (either braised, or fully covered), or as a confit (in fat).

If you ask me, the confit sounds like it is going to add a lot more flavor. You cook something in fat, especially flavorful duck fat, and flavors are going to get enhanced – especially duck flavors.

So lets think about it for a second. Take a tough, flavorful (fatty) piece of meat – like a duck leg, cook it in fat. Let it cool in fat. Store it in fat. Strip off the meat, and mix it with fat. Mix it with brandy, and top it with fat.

Holy crap. That sounds pretty darn good. Especially when you consider how darn tasty duck fat can be. (and.. whilst we are on it – duck fat is actually really pretty healthy too – almost up there with olive oil – blimey… duck rillettes are health foods!!!!!!!!!!!)

Next comes your choice in duck legs. Sure, you can run down your local market, and pick some up. If you were smart you would pick up a whole duck, sear the breasts, confit the legs, and use the bones and giblets for stock. That is if you only want to make a small amount of rillettes.

Me, I needed to make a lot. I ordered in 8 rather special duck legs. Legs from  moulard ducks to be precise. The moulard is a cross between a Pekin and Muscovy – the same breed used for foie gras.

So, you have some pretty large, pretty darn flavorful duck legs. Perfect.

Rub them in some herb salt, and let sit for 24hours in the fridge to cure a bit.

I then simmered these for 11 hours in 3lbs of duck fat. That could have been a bit excessive – I was following Thomas Keller’s directions from the excellent Bouchon cookbook. Matthew Amster-Burton over at RootsandGrubs did some duck confit about the same time as me, and followed a different recipe, which called for 3 hours. He said they turned out great – and I believe him, that guy has a great palette.

You then want to let them cool in the fat, and sit in the fat for a few days to ripen. Any longer than that and you are going to want to take the duck legs out of the fat, strain the fat through a sieve, making sure not to get any of the confit jelly (save that though) – as that can turn a confit sour over a long period of time. Then put the legs in a container and pour the fat over – making sure to cover the legs completely. Bung em in the fridge, or a really cold cellar. This ripening stage helps with both texture and flavor. They can keep like this for a long time. Months.

From here we strip all the meat off the legs, and shred it. This I have to say took for sodding ever with 8 large duck legs. Once shredded we start beating in some of the duck fat, and some of confit jelly. The idea here is to create an emulsion that is creamy but not greasy. The trick is to add the fat slowly, beating it in completely before adding more. Taste constantly. Tread lightly with the confit jelly – it is very rich, and very salty. You don’t need much.


The beating can be done two ways. First is using an electric stand mixer, with a paddle attachment. The second is using a wooden spoon and some elbow grease. Personally I prefer the latter. A mixer is fine, but it does result in a really pretty smooth rillette – and if you ask me this should be reasonably course – you should still be able to see some strands of meat in it. It actually doesn’t take that long.

Bung in the booze, and mix again. Add some parsley if you are feeling sexy. This is mainly just for looks to be honest – little specks of green just add some visual interest. The parsley taste is slight, and can easily get lost with the heavy duck and cognac flavors. Season with some pepper, and taste. It shouldn’t need any salt – what with the confit fat, the meat and legs

This then gets turned into some ramekins, and topped with more duck fat to seal. This will last a while in the fridge – two weeks to month easy. I do recommend covering each ramekin with some foil though. Light can turn fat rather rancid after a while.

So what comes out is fantastically rich, spreadable ducky, booze dream emulsion. Spread it on some bread, or crackers. Heck, if you are Matt Armendariz put it on some tortilla’s. I also like to serve it with something acidic – shallots pickled in red wine vinegar and herbs works for me.


Duck and Cognac Rillettes

4 duck legs – preferably moulard (magret)

2lb of duck fat

6 tablespoons Kosher salt

Parsley, chives, chervil – chopped – about a handful total

1 bay leaf


handful of chopped parsley for the rillettes

These can be made weeks ahead (and are in fact better that way) and stored in the fridge.

In a food processor, blitz together the kosher salt and herbs (except the last handful or parsley in the list), till thoroughly mixed.

Trim any large loose bits of fat from the duck legs. Render this fat if you like.

Rub the salt mixture into the legs, and put legs in a dish, flesh side up. Cover the dish and put in the fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 180F. Put in a decent oven thermometer. You don’t want the oven to go over 200F, otherwise the fat can spoil and taint the flavor of the confit.

Melt the duck fat in a saucepan. Rinse off the duck legs, and dry very thoroughly with paper towels. Put the duck legs in an oven proof dish. You can pack them tightly, but not more than two legs deep. Pour over the melted duck fat. Cover, and transfer to the oven.

Cook for 10 hours, or until legs are tender when poked with a pairing knife.

Allow the legs to cool in the fat.

Once completely cool, transfer to the fridge (covered). These will keep this way for a week. If you wish to let them ripen for longer than one week, strain the fat, remove the confit jelly (reserving), put the legs into a clean container, and pour the strained fat back over, and refrigerate that. They will keep for months this way.

When you want to make the rillettes, take the dish containing the duck legs out of the fridge about 3 hours before you plan to make the rillettes. This will let the fat soften enough for you to be able to remove the legs without them falling apart.

Remove the meat from all the legs, and place in a bowl. Using two forks, shred the meat well.

Into this bowl and 1/4 cup of the confit fat. Also add 1/8 cup of the confit jelly (this will be at the bottom of the confit pan). Using a wooden spoon beat this fat and jelly into the meat. This will take some work. Once this fat has blended with the meat, give it a taste. It should taste rich and creamy. If it still tastes a bit dry, and some more fat, beat again, and taste again.

You want to stop adding fat just before it tastes creamy enough. The cognac we are about to add will help with the moisture level somewhat.

So, add in a good glug of cognac. Mix, and taste. Can you taste the booze? You should be able to taste it, but still have the duck as the main flavor. Add more if you have to.

Finally add in the chopped parsley. Spoon this mixture into ramekins, and pour a little of the duck confit fat over the top – just enough to cover the mixture. Cover these ramekins with foil, and store in the fridge until required.

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  • Kairu January 29, 2009 at 6:24 am

    That sounds awesome. Having just survived three days of pork (four if you count Sunday, which is when we celebrated Chinese New Year a day early) it will be a little while (well, maybe a week or two) before I can face any form of pork again, so it might be fun to experiment with duck instead.

    What I did when I made pork rillettes was that I first tried breaking up the braised pork with two forks, which got old really fast, and then mashing it with a wooden spoon, which was just as boring, so I dumped everything in the food processor and pulsed it very gently and very briefly, just enough to break up the meat but still leave it in shreds.

  • Hank January 29, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Nice one! Reminds me that I need to make snow goose rilletes, as we shot three last weekend. I use Armagnac and rue instead of cognac and parsley, but then again I’m like that.

    Oh, and Matt? We managed more than a quart of delicious WILD duck fat this season. As I sous vide my confit, this will be more than enough to last until summer, when olive oil reigns. Jealous? Hee hee hee…

  • matt wright January 29, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Kairu: I wish I had thought of that at 1am when I was making these things.. that would have saved some time!

    Hank: Yes. Of course I am Jealous! I have yet to sous vide anything. I am still a little troubled as to the idea of cooking anything in plastic.. even if it is meant to be “heat safe” or not…. Gotta love the taste, but maybe not all the chemicals leeched into the food (allegedly). And yes, you are like that, but that is what makes you great.

  • Ben January 29, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    God that looks good. I feel a trip to my favourite butchers for some duck! I’ve also been reading some recipes for the preparation of calves brains, so the trip may result in capacious purchasing!

    All the best.

  • rachel January 29, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    I am inspired.
    This is a fine fine post but that is nothing new for your frankly wonderful blog (I still don’t like that word, maybe because it sounds like slog or jog, 2 things which don’t agree with me.)
    Now, is that a real tattoo of the pig/salmon on your bicep or did you wash it off after the photo ?

  • Y January 29, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    I ADORE rillettes! At a place I worked in, we always shredded the meat by hand, but then again, I guess it’s easy to say that when you have a lot of apprentices working for you! 🙂

  • brilynn January 29, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    That sounds soooo good. Definitely something I need to get into making…

  • Joe Randazzo January 30, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    The rillette was DELICIOUS and I dream of eating it again! I might attempt the recipe (I’ve never done it before!) but fear having that starting at me in the fridge everyday. 🙂

  • Traca @ Seattle Tall Poppy January 30, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Holy hell…man, that was some good stuff! Thank you.

  • Hank January 30, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    OK, Matt, you have inspired me to make my snow goose rillettes this weekend. Will let you know how they come out.

  • matt wright February 2, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Rachel – Photoshop is a wonderful thing! One day though for sure
    Y – by hand certainly is the way to go!
    Brilynn – less typing, more rillette making!!!
    Joe – Glad you enjoyed it! It really isn’t “that” bad for you.. most likely slightly healthier than pate..
    Traca – Glad you enjoyed it too!
    Hank – let me know how it goes mate!

  • brittany February 2, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    And I am still dreaming of those rillettes…
    and the kampachi…
    and the pate, which despite your own critisism was out of this world.

    Two weeks later, and I am still totally high from your party. Just now got around to publicly thanking you and Dani on my blog…..I’ve had an extremely LAZY couple of weeks ; )

  • Rebecca February 2, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Matt–this is just beautiful! Your photos have me drooling!

  • White On Rice Couple February 6, 2009 at 4:48 am

    You’re so right, cognac and duck…heaven! It really bloody sucks to see in detail what we missed out on. Crap-ola.
    The smoothness of your rillette, but still having the strands looks really fabulous! We LOVE that photo with the layer of beautiful fat. We’ve kept our rillette for over 2 weeks and they still tastes great.

  • mycookinghut February 18, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Fantastic!! I love rillettes!! But never attempted!

  • colloquial cook March 25, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    Hmmm, the pickled shallots look like they have a lot of mojo going on – is the recipe somewhere on your blog?

  • matt wirght March 25, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    Here is the recipe for the shallots – on my blog a while back.. I really need to get the archives in order..

    It was a lovely little pork belly recipe.

  • Peggy Jellie June 6, 2009 at 12:26 am

    Just wanted to suggest adding a hint of Vanilla to a duck liver pate sometime when you make one.. I have done it and customers at our restaurant just loved it.. I have also done a citrus chicken liver mousse. Great ideas for the spring!
    I cant wait to try this rillette!

  • graZOR October 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Looks delish. May try your recipe shortly.

  • Wayne Slaughter October 9, 2010 at 2:18 am

    Googled “rillettes” and came up w/your duck experience. Mine was similar but more accidental. Had some frozen Muscovy breasts and some goose fat left over from the Christmas bird that were being generally in the way, so a simple confit seemed a good way to free up freezer space. Now what to do with the product. Asked a local chef for an idea. Brought him around with some smelling salts and promised never to use breast meat for confit again. Once mollified he suggested rillettes, offered a general description of the preparation and sent me on my way. It was more sublime than anything I’d ever tasted and I still use the breasts (sorry, chef) because they’re easier to come by than legs and Muscovies are the catfish of the domestic waterfowl industry anyway. Besides, the price is not that big an issue for something that tastes this good. BTW, if you’re short of goose or duck fat, I’ve used up to 20% olive oil and it’s fine.

  • Gert January 5, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I have by acident stumbled on to your blog today, while searching for a dry cure recipe to cure some norwegian salmon fillets. I tell you i have been reading for the last 3 hours, you have done a fabulous job about it and the food looks amazing!!! i am so hungry now 🙂
    The recipes are easy to follow, as i am no butcher!
    You have here captured another dedicated reader and i will be trying out the Lamb pancetta, as I also am adicted to LAMB!