Turkey Leg Confit (Fancy Dinner, Cheap Ingredient)

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America’s obsession with breasts goes far beyond the pages of Maxim magazine; it’s readily apparent in the poultry section. A large chicken breast for two now costs as much as a whole chicken. And a turkey breast can run as much as $15. America: stop your obsession with cleavage and lower your head a little. See those legs down there? They’re just as meaty, ten times more flavorful and very, very cheap. How cheap? Look how much I paid for these two enormous turkey legs.

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That’s right: $5.96.

Sure, they’re not super fancy, farmer’s market, massaged turkey legs, but the package does say free-range and that counts for something, right? (Actually, most likely, that counts for nothing.) Still: the point is, you’re getting the best part of the turkey for way less than the over-inflated breast. The only question is: what to do with it?

I turned to Twitter last week and a very nice person told me I should make turkey leg confit. Turkey leg confit? Whoever heard of such a thing?

Well I’m here to tell you, it’s a brilliant move. Using a Food & Wine recipe I found online, all you really need is time, thyme, and fat. First you make a seasoned salt with garlic, thyme, lemon zest and pepper:

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Mix that up and rub it all over your turkey legs. Let them sit for 30 minutes.

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At this point, you preheat your oven to 325 and get ready to confit. What does that mean? It means you cover the turkey legs in fat. Now the Food & Wine recipe says to use a combination of duck fat and vegetable oil; I didn’t have duck fat, so I used a combination of vegetable oil and olive oil. This is where the recipe could get expensive, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s ok to use the really cheap stuff. Buy the cheapest olive oil you can and then cover those legs (I transferred to a smaller pot so I didn’t have to us as much).

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You simply transfer that to the oven (drop a few more garlic cloves into the oil first), uncovered, and cook like that for two hours. That’s all there is to it. The health-conscious among you might be grossed out by all the fat, but it’s not like you’re eating all that fat. You’re just cooking the turkey legs in a warm fat bath which allows the meat to sort of fall apart without drying out. And the best part is that it’s a preservation technique so when those two hours are up and you let the turkey legs come to room temperature in the fat, you can refrigerate afterwards (in the fat) and they’ll be great for a week or more.

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But why wait a week when you can eat them now? To serve, all you do is heat a cast iron skillet. While that was happening, I cooked cauliflower in olive oil in a wide skillet, allowing it to brown on high heat, then tossed it all around and continued to cook until it was golden brown all over and cooked all the way through. Towards the end I added some sliced garlic and at the very end chopped parsley. When the cast iron was good and hot, I put the turkey legs in there to sear on the outsides.

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This is just a cosmetic step, not a “kill the germs, finish the meat” kind of step. So it’s just about developing that beautiful golden crust. The end results speak for themselves:

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So enough with the breasts already, America. To rephrase a John Lennon lyric: give legs a chance.

Recipe: Turkey Leg Confit

Summary: Based on a Food & Wine recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 to 4 turkey legs (you can even do more, just make more seasoned salt and use more fat)
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
  • Zest of a large lemon
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • About 4 cups olive oil (depends on the size of your pot)
  • About 4 cups vegetable oil (again, depends)

Instructions

  1. Make the seasoned salt by mincing 4 of the garlic cloves with the salt and the thyme and the lemon (do it all on the cutting board). Stir together with the ground pepper (about a teaspoon) and then season the turkey legs. (You don’t have to use all the salt; depends how seasoned you like it.) Let them sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325. Place the turkey legs in a pot that will allow you to use the least amount of oil (so a stock pot is a bad idea, a medium pot is a good one). Cover the turkey legs with a combination of olive oil and vegetable oil or, if you don’t want to use vegetable oil, you can use all olive oil. Or duck fat. Or schmaltz. It’s just about covering it with fat. Drop in the remaining two cloves of garlic.
  3. Pop into the oven and cook for 2 hours, turning the legs with a pair of tongs every 30 minutes (though I didn’t do that; it was fine). After 2 hours, test the meat with two forks: you should be able to pull it apart easily. Leave the legs in the fat and allow to come to room temperature.
  4. At this point, you can refrigerate the whole pot with the fat and the turkey legs and pull them out when you’re ready or you can serve right away by heating a cast iron skillet and searing the legs until golden brown on the outside and warmed in the center. Serve with your favorite vegetable, sprinkle with parsley and there’s a fancy dinner for ya from a cheap ingredient.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 2 hour(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

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25 comments

  1. nice recipe but I’m mind-boggled at how I’d put that potful of turkey & herb-infused oil/fat to use afterwards (and pack rat that I am, I’d hate to just throw it out.)

    And yeah, free range means very little – according to USDA, it means the birds have at least 5 minutes of open-air *access* each day.

  2. Breasts are my least favorite thing to cook. In all honesty, real honesty, I’ve made breasts in the last year (once) less than I’ve cooked lamb tongues (four times). I don’t get the breast obsession either.

  3. Great idea. Dark meat turkey, with its slightly gamey taste, is an excellent substitute for the more traditional duck or goose. I look forward to trying it.

  4. MMMMMMM I can’t find duck fat easily -but I do save bacon fat- do you think that this would work blended with vegetable oil?

  5. I like this idea. But I really don’t like turkey or chicken dark meat. It’s too strong a flavor for me (I don’t even like how it smells while cooking!). So, (grimacing and wincing as I ask this), would the same technique work for breast meat? Thank you :-).

  6. Nope! It’s sort of like braising in that the long cooking time allows the tough meat to break down. Breast meat is too lean to yield these same results: it would just be really overcooked and dry. Sorry!

  7. Turkey legs are always more enjoyable if you pull out the tendons before cooking them. Just cut them at the foot end and yank each one out with pliers. It is a little more work but well worth it.

  8. Love turkey legs and thighs! I recently made some braised turkey thighs and it was an absolutely delicious dish, and very inexpensive.

  9. Another chef here: Great idea, and you are correct that we should all become more interested in the legs. I do use lard to make confit and I strain the fat after it cools to use later for another batch. I also do this with chicken drumsticks and serve one to each guest as an appetizer. Serve with some salsa, balsamic reduction or other inspired garnish.

  10. There is actually a recipe for turkey breast confit on another website, Foodnetwork.com. It’s also a restaurant quantity and wants a gallon of duck fat. BTW, you can render off quite a bit of fat from 2 ducks, and can re-use it and save it for potatoes and other wonderful things. All this being said, I am breaking down our turkey this year and the legs & thighs will be confited. Can’t wait to try this recipe!

  11. I know that duck fat keeps for months in the refrigerator. It is marvelous to use to cook potatoes, to saute things, just about anything where you might use butter or other oil. You can also freeze it and it will last for a year at least. If you freeze, you want to do so in smaller quantities, so you can use smaller amounts without having to thaw a quart of fat. Enjoy!

  12. Very easy way to cook the turkey legs.
    The recipe is
    simple the dish took no.
    Hard effort
    except I never got it well in microwave.
    I tried it on
    the cook top it was fine though.

  13. wow, finger licking good!
    lovin the crusted skin with a fork tender meat……..
    i just purchased a couple of turley leg and i guess i’m gonna made this for sure…..
    Dedy@Dentist Chef

  14. The fat or schmalz you get from this confit is good to use to saute vegetables in or to use as a base for a rioux. Kept free of water in the refrigerator or freezer and it will stay good for months.

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