Confit – noun – /kon-FEE/ – a method of food preservation in which meat is slowly cooked at a low temperature in it’s own fat.
Once exclusively a mysterious noun that has in recent years morphed into a popular verb, confit’ing is an effective preservation technique—derived by our refrigerator-less French ancestors—that relies on fat to protect the delicious prize inside. A liquid viscous enough to solidify at room temperature and provide a protective seal to block oxygen, fat prevents bacteria from proliferating in the meat and also renders what could otherwise be a regular ol’ chicken thigh ultra-tender and delicious.
To some, the term confit can illicit confusion. From its definition, this cooking method seems quite similar to the all-time-favorite cooking technique of deep-frying, in which meats are similarly cooked in liquid fat, but confit’ing employs one very important difference: temperature. Deep-fried chicken is cooked at scorching temperatures (like, in the mid-300’s to mid-400’s) for a short period of time, whereas confit employs low heat (we’re talkin’ 170° F) and lengthy time periods (we confit our chicken for 12 hours).
Think of it this way: confit is to deep-frying, as smoking is to grilling. The latter is fast and hot, while the former is slow and lowww.
Before the days of refrigeration, meats that had been confit’ed we preserved by being packed into containers and covered in—what else?—more fat. Said fat would eventually solidify as its temperature lowered, thus shielding the meat from oxygen and subsequently, preventing contamination. Stored in a cool and dark room (or basement), this fat-sealed meat would keep for a number of weeks and best of all, continue to tenderize.
Today, confit meat can be stored in the refrigerator (whether submerged in its fat or not) and can last up to a number of months.
As a means of further aiding in bacterial prevention, generally meats that are confit’ed are cured prior to their long, luxurious bath in a warm vat of fat. Traditionally, “cure” is made of roughly equal parts salt and sugar, a mixture that is rubbed on the outside of the meat before it sits for a period of time (2-3 days). So not only does this salt-n-sugar scrub additionally protect the meat from a bacterial infection, but it also aids your taste buds by bringing a flavor dance party to your tongue. Can we go ahead and give a big high-five for confit?
Clearly, aside from the shelf-life benefits, there are taste-bud bonuses that come along with confit’ing foods, as well. While the meat sits in said bath of fat, the connective tissues and muscle fibers have the opportunity to slowly break down (kind of like braising), which leads to incredibly tender, melt-in-your-mouth meat, that is juicy, moist, and has a lovely coating of fatty flavor. Plus, because of the low, low temperature at which the meat is cooked, there isn’t enough heat available to produce steam, which means the meat retains much of its moisture and flavors, making it the utmost delicious. Huzzah!
So what gives? What are you supposed to do with the chicken [or goose or duck] once it’s done marinating in this warm fat-bath?
You eat it. Duh…
There are lots of options for utilizing and enjoying confit chicken (we’re going to stick with chicken in this scenario since we sell chicken at PRB regularly and do not regularly sell duck or goose), and as a basic rule of thumb, you can treat it the same way you would roast chicken: it can do almost anything.
Confit chicken is tender, juicy, flavorful, and in some cases (like here at PRB) tastes kind of like bacon, since our preferred submerging-fat-of-choice tends to be of the bacon variety. Because, bacon-flavored chicken. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
Give your confit chicken a quick zip in a hot pan or simply bring it to room temp and there’s no limit to what you can do: mix it with olive oil, tomatoes, and plenty of fresh herbs to bring your summer pasta salad to life; layer it into your white lasagna to ensure everything stays moist and full of flavor; use it alongside kielbasa and pork shoulder in an almost-classic cassoulet; whip up you’re your best-yet chicken salad by mixing it with walnuts, celery, dried cranberries, and plenty of mayo; or toss it with some peas, carrots, and gravy and turn it into a comforting chicken pot pie.
Both Porter Road Butcher locations have plenty of chicken confit ready for the taking and ready for the making. All you have to do is figure out down which culinary road you’d like to travel! (And pssst – we’re happy to give suggestions!)