Get comfortable with a classic confitBobby R. Presents Thursday, July 28th, 2011
Confit – the traditional preparation of cooking proteins such as pork or (more traditionally) duck underneath fat – may at first not seem like the most appropriate topic in the months of bared mid-drifts and love handles but, as with most classic techniques in modern foodie vogue, it is now associated with anything cooked under low temperature oils for long periods of time.
This process can be applied to the produce available now at the farmer’s market and with a little patience will produce delicious condiments for the tops of toast or as an accompaniment to your dinner protein.
Pronounced “kohn-FEE,” this traditional method of preservation with salt and fat is associated with Gascony, France and the final product will last up to six months in the refrigerator. Once the process is substituted with olive oil, the shelf life decreases to about one month but greatly reduces the fat content. More sturdy market produce holds up best such as garlic, citrus rinds and root vegetables but once you experiment a little bit, you may choose to try other items such as tomatoes.
The basic technique using olive oil is very straight forward. Enough oil is brought to a simmer that covers the product and is allowed to cook for one hour. Once cool, you can aliquot the portions in airtight jars and store in the refrigerator. The contents can be stretched out by adding more oil if necessary and gives you two separate food products. The tender contents of the jar and the oil that is now infused with the essence of the contents that can be used as a garnish on soup, a drizzle on fish or used as the oil for a simple vinaigrette.
Garlic is the simplest form of confit to execute and is a great example because it is available year round. Simply peel 24 cloves of garlic and place in a deep sauce pan with enough olive oil to cover (about 1 cup) and allow to simmer for an hour. This garlic is so soft it can be used as a spread on toast or included with caramelized onions on top of a grilled pork chop.
Southern California supplies a large diversity of citrus that can be used for confit and especially so in the summer months. I like to use Meyer lemons when available but regular lemons, oranges or even grapefruit will do. There are two specifics to keep in mind when preparing the citrus for confit. First, when peeling, be sure that you are peeling the strips thin enough that you are only getting the zest and not the pith (the bitter white underneath). The second is to blanch the rinds three times so that they do not lose their color. To blanch the rinds, submerge them in boiling water for ten seconds then plunge them in an ice bath then repeat twice more. The rinds should be long strips of the zest peeled with a vegetable peeler. For four lemons submerge the strips in 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup canola oil, two tablespoons of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and one clove of garlic brought to a simmer. Allow to cook for one hour and serve as described before. This lemon confit is great as a salad topping that is tossed using a vinaigrette made with the oil the lemon is stored in.
Another item at the farmer’s market that lends itself to confit is fennel. Once the stalks and fronds are cut from the fennel, julienne the bulb and submerge in about 1-1/2 cups olive oil with 2 strips of the lemon zest reserved from the previous paragraph, the shavings of 2 carrots and a pinch of cayenne. These vegetables are small enough that they will be done after 20 minutes of simmering under the oil. This is best served as an accompaniment to fish or as a garnish to a cold soup.
The oil method is great to preserve this produce longer than they would last on the counter but also works as a lower fat and more cost effective method on proteins. Duck legs and fat can be very expensive while a pork shoulder and olive oil can be purchased reasonably when on sale. Use the recipe below to try your hand at creating tender morsels of meat in between following the suggestions in this column. Have fun learning this classic cooking method and don’t forget to say “kohn-FEE.”
Pork shoulder confit
You’ll want to start this recipe at least two weeks in advance so that it can sit under the oil an appropriate amount of time.
1 pork shoulder (4 pounds)
6 crushed bay leaves
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
2 teaspoons crushed black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 sliced onions
8 cloves peeled garlic
6 fresh sprigs of thyme
1 fresh sprig of rosemary
1 quart olive oil
First, cut the port shoulder into three inch cubes with all the fat left on the meat.
Combine the bay leaves, kosher salt, Herbes de Provence, black pepper, thyme, sage, coriander and allspice. Toss the cubed pork in the dry mixture and allow to sit, chilled, overnight.
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
Place the onions, garlic, thyme and rosemary in the bottom of an ovenproof pot with lid (shallow is best). Add in the pork and pour in enough olive oil to cover the contents by one inch (about 1 quart depending on the depth of the pot). Place the pot in the oven and allow to cook for four hours, turning the contents every now and then, always ensuring it is covered with oil.
Once tender, remove the pork with a slotted spoon and place in a storage container. Strain the olive oil and pour over the pork so that it covers it by one inch. Seal the container and store at least two weeks (and up to two months) in the refrigerator. Reserve and freeze the rest of the olive oil for a later use (such as pork cassoulet).
Reheat the contents and remove from the oil with a slotted spoon when ready to serve on a toasted roll, perhaps topped with some cold fennel confit.
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