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What Is Confit?
The French word “confit” literally means to preserve. It’s a time-honored tradition used by home cooks and chefs to salt and slowly cook an ingredient in fat. A confit is a technique traditionally used to preserve meats by cooking them in their own fat. The best-known example is duck confit. But the term “confit” can be used to describe any ingredient, including vegetables, that has been slow-cooked in fat at a low temperature.
The Origins of Confit
Before refrigeration, humans needed a way to preserve food so it did not rot. Hunters and cooks dating back to the fifteenth century made an early confit by heavily salting the legs and wings of birds before submerging them in fat and storing them in a cool, dark place to ripen for months. What started out as a form of food security turned turned into a highly-regarded culinary technique used by French chefs, who then exported confit around the world.
Essential Elements of Making Confit
Meat, particularly poultry, is the most common item made into a confit, though vegetables and fruit can also be used in a confit.
The Salt Cure
A true meat confit includes a salt cure, which is massaged into the meat, then sealed and aged for at least one hour. Salting draws out the moisture–replacing the water with oil–making the meat ingredients more tender and adding depth to the flavor. The meat should be pat dry with a paper towel before continuing the confit cooking process.
The most important element of a confit is fat, as the slow rendering in grease makes it difficult for bacteria to grow, but special attention should be paid to the temperature and storage during the preservation process.
Common fats used in a confit include:
- Olive oil
After the meat or vegetable is submerged in fat, it is cooked at a low temperature in the fat for a few hours. In the classic example of duck confit, the duck thighs are arranged skin side up over a salt mixture of salt with garlic cloves and herbs, refrigerated for a period of time, then simmered with duck fat in the oven for two to three hours.
The end result can be used to add dimension to dishes and ensure you always have a versatile ingredient on hand to shred in tacos, enhance vegetables, add to spaghetti, or whip up regional specialties like a rillette.
What Can You Confit?
Ingredients that best fit the confit process follow the flavor profile and physical structure of foods like fatty meats, starchy vegetables, and citrus and stone fruits.
- Vegetables and herbs (such as Chef Thomas Keller’s eggplant and garlic confit)
- Meat (most often made from the bird’s legs)
- Fruit confit (like candied citrus and preserved cherries)
- Condiment confit (commonly onion and chilis)
What Are the Different Methods of Confit?
Methods of cooking confit can vary based on your accessibility to appliances, but it’s achievable with the basic elements: fat, salt, proper storage, and cool and consistent temperatures.
- Salt cure with herbs and spices (black pepper, garlic, leeks, parsley, thyme, bay leaves).
- Submerge in fat (duck, goose, chicken, olive oil).
- Sous vide, vacuum seal, or put into a sealed container.
- Store in a cool, dark place at 55ºF for up to four months.
- Cook in a 200ºF oven for at least three to six hours.
- Heat on a stovetop low flame without allowing the oil to bubble.
Does Confit Meat Need to Be Cooked?
A meat confit needs to be heated very slowly before storage or further preparation. Despite the “longer the better” rhetoric of this almost-ancient process, overcooking can happen after about 12 hours, resulting in a mushy, gelatinous product.
Learn more about cooking techniques with Chef Thomas Keller here.