Cook Your Turkey in Duck Fat

Poaching turkey thighs in fat is a riff on the classic duck confit and produces the silkiest, most flavorful Thanksgiving bird you will ever eat. Plus, it’s make-ahead friendly.

Published Nov. 7, 2022.

Confit is that rare art form that’s as pragmatic as it is swoonworthy.

The classic French technique, which typically involves curing, poaching, and storing a duck in its own fat, and then reheating it and crisping the skin just before serving, evolved as a prerefrigeration way to preserve meat.

The advance prep works all kinds of magic on the bird, making it dense and silky and concentrating its flavor. The method is also naturally make ahead and mostly hands-off.

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Senior editor Lan Lam’s recipe for turkey thigh confit can be made more than 10 days in advance and needs little more than the crisping of the skin minutes before the meal. It will also deliver the best-tasting turkey you’ve ever had on Thanksgiving.

Why Is Confit Such a Great Technique for Turkey?

Confit keeps turkey moist. Dryness can be a typical turkey pitfall, even with dark meat. Poaching it in oil at a low temperature is an inherently gentle method and means little moisture will escape from the meat during cooking. The salt cure also helps the meat retain moisture.

Confit enhances savoriness. During the days-long cure, salt; sugar; and some water-soluble compounds in other flavorings like onions, herbs, and black pepper make their way into the turkey, seasoning it to the bone.

Confit makes turkey satisfyingly dense. After a while, during the long, slow poach, the chloride from the salt starts to denature and “cook” some of the proteins, giving the meat the satisfying firm, dense texture that is a hallmark of confit.

Is Duck Fat Essential for Confit?

Duck fat is traditional (ducks are fatty birds, so historically it made sense to use the bird’s own fat to cook and preserve it).

But the meat doesn’t absorb fat during cooking, and chicken fat or even vegetable oil also produce confit that browns beautifully and tastes similar. 

Plus, whatever fat you choose will absorb flavor from the turkey as it cooks, infusing it with flavor. That oil can then be strained, frozen indefinitely, and reused in a variety of applications: more confit, turkey gravy, and skillet-roasted brussels sprouts or Duck-Fat Roasted Potatoes.

Confit at a Glance

You’ll need at least five days to make the confit, and almost all the preparation time is hands-off.

1. Cure turkey thighs for 4 to 6 days.

Our cure is a paste made of salt, sugar, onions, fresh thyme, and black pepper that we spread over the meat. The paste gets rinsed off before cooking. 

2. Oven-poach thighs in fat or oil for 4 to 5 hours.

Cook until the meat is so tender that a metal skewer inserted into the largest thigh slips right out. 

 3. Warm thighs through on stovetop; brown in hot oven.

At serving time, all you need to do is remove the turkey from the fat (rewarmed until it melts, if you refrigerated it), set it on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet, and blast it in a super-hot oven to crisp the skin.   

Bonus tip! After oven-poaching, you can refrigerate the turkey confit for up to 6 days. This step is optional but can definitely come in handy if your days right before Thanksgiving are busy making other dishes. The waiting won’t impact the flavor or texture.

Turkey Thigh Confit with Citrus Mustard Sauce

The hands-off, naturally make-ahead confit technique transforms turkey thighs into a silky, dense, and savory revelation.
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