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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.


One response to “Culinary term of the day – confit

  1. waiterextraordinaire February 1, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Very informative. Confit is so tender.

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