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Daily Archives: January 31, 2010

Culinary term of the day – confit

Confit, roughly pronounced cone – FEE, is an old French technique for preserving game like duck, goose and other fowl and pork. A specialty of the Gascony region of France, but found in other regions as well, this was the way for a household to preserve meat over the winter. The confit would be stored in earthenware vessels and put in the root cellar for overwintering (obviously, once refrigeration came into play, it could be stored that was as well).

Usually, the breast of a duck or other fowl would be reserved for other uses, while the legs and thighs would be cooked in the confit fashion. This involved salting the meat, sometimes adding garlic and herbs, and chilling overnight to prep for cooking. The legs would then be rendered of their fat, which would be retained for cooking. The legs would be removed from the garlic and herbs and put in a baking dish and covered with the fat (if there wasn’t enough to cover the legs, additional fat would be added).

The cooking vessel would then be put in a slow oven for several hours, allowing the meat to slowly poach in its own fat. The meat would then be put in sealed earthenware vessels completely covered in the fat, which would harden into a lard-like substance and would keep oxygen away from the meat. The meat would last through the winter and be able to be used in the spring, although it could certainly be used anytime before then as well.

This method of cooking is perfect for fowl dark meat because it completely tenderizes the meat and makes it really savory and  “fall-off-the-bone” tender. It’s used for pork as well, using extra lard if necessary. The “big two” confits are duck and goose. The French traditionally differentiate between these two confits and other birds and meats prepared in this manner. Goose fat is more commonly used in these cases, as ducks are smaller and don’t generate as much fat as a goose.

In modern kitchens, duck confit is a popular addition to many menus. It has an advantage that it can be made for a week’s worth of service. What doesn’t get used gets put into the walk-in along with the fat, which then congeals, ready to be removed later and rewarmed. One nice pairing that I’ve seen is a confit, shredded and served on top of something like a grit cake or polenta along with a dollop of nice berry/chili jam. It can also be used in soups, bean dishes like cassoulet or any place where pulled meat is useful.

Modern chefs have extended the confit metaphor to vegetables as well, especially red bell peppers. Even preserved lemons are a form of “confit”, especially when olive oil is used to cover  lemons that are submerged in sea salt (basically a form of maceration). Basically, if you’re talking about cooked veggies, you use a similar cooking technique to traditional confit technique using olive oil to replace the fat and then slow cooking the veggies over low heat until tender. Rarely, confit is used to describe candied fruit, but we in the US usually don’t see such “preserved” fruit described as confit.

If you search Google, you’ll find many good confit recipes and places to use various confits. Try it out. It’s easy to do and delivers savory meat which is just as good dug out of the fat and eaten as it is used in some hoity-toity dish.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

So, we got about 4 inches of snow here Friday afternoon through the early hours of Saturday.

For many folks, that’s a laugher of a snow storm. For us, it was the most snow we’ve had since one freak afternoon about 7 years ago, we got 7 inches in an hour (we were told by the experts that we got more snow in that hour than they get in the Rockies). We usually get a dusting or two every year and, every other year, we might get an inch or two that sticks around.

This snow was a bit unusual as it was good fluffy, powdery snow followed in the evening hours by light, but steady amounts of freezing rain and sleet. This meant that we ended up with a nice crust on top of the snow. Thankfully, we avoiding the major ice accumulation that others in the South got.

So, in the morning, I decided to see how the roads were and I went for a spin to the local MAPCO to get coffee and a nuked honey bun. Folks, I couldn’t even get out of my driveway! And my driveway is flat. I was spinning my wheels and creating little troughs of brown ice. Fortunately a couple of neighbors came by and gave me a push and off I went.

Having lived in Colorado for a year with an 1979 RX-7, and having driven a lot in Nothern Germany where black ice is a constant concern, I felt confident that I wouldn’t literally be going for a spin. The streets were bad but if you took your time, it was passable…barely. the thing is, I have a very similar car to the RX-7 (which isn’t the best car to have in such driving conditions). It’s a small, 2-seat convertible that only weighs about a little over a ton…rear wheel drive to boot. In Colorado, you’re driving on packed snow a lot, which was easier than driving on hardened mounds of snow topped with increasingly congealed ice.

But I made it without incident.

I called to see if we were going to be open and, sure enough, we were. About half of our staff called out, so we were down to an 8 man floor. Still, I wasn’t expecting a lot of business because our city was almost completely shut down.

But I wasn’t counting on the fact that many of our guests have 4-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles, and surprisingly, apparently know how to use them. I say surprisingly because most of the vehicles have only seen off-road and bad conditions on Lifetime disaster movies.

We actually still had 110 on the books. And we ended up doing probably over 150 easily (at the end of the night, I didn’t look).

What surprised me was that I got hit with two really bad tips, both just a hair over 11% post tax (maybe 13% for the pre-tax). Service was just fine. Kitchen held up their end just fine. People were “nice”. In fact, tips in general were lower than usual until the end. I didn’t see 20% until one of my last tables, but I did get three of them by the time the night was over. You have to understand that only a few of my tables generally tip 15% or less. Tonight, it was the majority.

It’s weird – maybe this is like what valets talk about when they bitch about rainy nights. They aren’t bitching about the conditions, they’re bitching about the tendency of people to be cheap. It’s counter-intuitive. You’d think that people would appreciate valets having to run around in the rain, but many people apparently don’t. You’d think that people would appreciate waiters who risked life and limb to serve their sorry asses. heck, I only hit 1 curb as I drifted helpless to one side of the road when I hit solid ice. In fact, I was stuck there until someone happened by and gave me a push.

But I had the last laugh of the tables that gave me $30 on $311 (post tax) and $25 on $250 (post tax).

Thanks to the volume, I grossed $310 and walked $290. You might have sucked, but I didn’t, bitches. and I still averaged about 19% on my post tax sales (about 3 % points lower than usual).

So there!

Oh, PS, thanks to the two Canadian girls from London, Ontario who tipped me 17.5% pre tax! In cash!

Not “in cash!” because I didn’t have to claim it (I did and I claim all of my cash tips), “in cash!” because they actually had to count the money out and figure out how much they were going to leave me. They weren’t just writing in a 10% or 12% credit card tip like we are used to Canadians in this part of the country doing. For me, a 16% post tax tip from a Canadian is like a 20% tip from someone else, so ladies, I appreciate your generosity a long way from home.