Chicken Confit, AKA Chicken ConFAT

Confitnoun – /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.

Chicken from Porter Road Butcher

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…

Confit Chicken Salad Sandwich from Porter Road ButcherThere 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!)

Putting Porter Road To The Test

Sean Martin - a Porter Road Butcher RegularA lifelong fan of excellent food and a self-proclaimed “food snob,” Sean Martin has been a fan of Porter Road Butcher since the get-go but he only became a “regular” when we opened our West Nashville doors almost a year ago. “I occasionally made it over to the East side,” he said, “but when they opened up on the west side of town I was able to get into the habit of going in at least once a week.” Sean was there the day our doors opened.

Growing up in southern California with parents who were restaurateurs, Sean’s first fine dining experience came at the age of 10 when he went to Wolfgang Puck’s LA flagship, Spago. From there it didn’t take him long to discover the difference between just food and great food. He soon began comparing the two.

As a young kid Sean enjoyed setting up blind taste comparisons, where he challenged himself to taste the difference in different food items. He experimented with a variety of bites, ranging all the way from different types of salt, to local versus imported tomatoes, even to a variety of bottled water brands.

After his inaugural visit to Porter Road Butcher East, during which he merely picked up a steak and a bone for his dog (an unexpected bonus), Sean said he was hooked: “The guys there were awesome—so friendly—and my steak was noticeably better than any I’d ever had before.”

That’s how his old hobby crept back into play.

Sean has been comparing our Porter Road products to meat from both upscale grocery stores and regular ol’ supermarkets for over half a year now, and his findings make excellent evidence to prove that our products really are superior. It’s not just because of the high price tag 😉

Italian Sausage - Supermarket vs. Porter Road Butcher His research ain’t no joke.

Not only does Sean take photographs to compare the color, texture, and overall appearance of the meat during each culinary experiment, but he also takes detailed notes about the entire experience from start to finish.

In the past year or so that he’s been conducting these carnivorous comparisons, Sean has used the following products: beef (ground beef, sirloin, filet, and NY strip), chicken (cut, whole, brined, and un-brined), pork (chops and bacon), eggs, and sausages (kielbasa, bratwurst, and Italian).

Here’s how it works.

The first step is coming into the shop and taking a look at what we’ve got in the case. Once he picks a Porter Road product that looks especially enticing, then it’s off to the other two stores to find what would be considered an equivalent. For upscale groceries, Sean shops at Whole Foods and Fresh Market, while the likes of Kroger, Costco, and Harris Teeter lay claim to the supermarket category. This way, by using three sources for meat, he is able to evaluate the entire spectrum of meat quality. Once he hits the kitchen, salt and pepper are generally the only seasonings that touch the meat, thus allowing the flavor of the meat to truly tell the tale.

“One of my favorite experiments was probably the whole chicken,” he said, after thinking it over for a moment. To Sean, the difference between Porter Road and Harris Teeter poultry was tenfold. In the eye of an average American who is used to this phenomenon of more, the Harris Teeter chicken likely looked better: it was bigger, plumper, fatter. The PRB chicken was comparable in size of circumference, but looked a little lackluster in muscle volume.

But remember, friends: bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to food.

Even though the supermarket chicken is larger and looks like a better “bang for your buck,” in reality that added weight and heft comes from unhealthy and unwanted additives: hormones, steroids, salt, and water. But although he is neither a scientist nor a professionally trained chef, Sean was easily able to see and taste a huge difference.

Upon cutting off the breasts, the PRB chicken look denser and more solid, and additionally our Jolly Barnyard bird held together better when it was both cut into or bitten. The supermarket bird, on the other hand, had a flakier and looser texture, which made it break apart easily.

The most prominent difference though, was the flavor. “The Porter Road chicken had a noticeably stronger and more pronounced chicken flavor; it was super juicy, and the juice literally tasted like chicken stock,” said Sean. “The other chicken had a much weaker flavor and tasted pretty watery.”

Porter Road's chicken is on the right; it's a little smaller and tighter - not swimming in sodium solution.

Porter Road’s chicken is on the right; it’s a little smaller and tighter – not swimming in sodium solution.

Fun fact! Since the water content of PRB chicken is far smaller than that of the supermarket chicken—ours has zero added water—the meat is able to better soak in the flavor of a brine, sauce, marinade, seasonings, or whatever you so choose. And, as previously stated, this lack of water lends the chicken to a more concentrated, delicious chicken flavor. Sean was able to notice the flavor difference using just a simple brine on both birds.

Now…steak? When it comes to beef, he says the filet test holds a soft spot in his heart.

“With the filet you could tell the difference from a combination of the texture and the flavor” said Sean. “When you get a filet at a nice steakhouse like Fleming’s or Ruth Chris, you get that tenderness and buttery-ness and obviously that familiar steak flavor. But when you get a PRB filet, you’re met with a superior butter-like texture, and then surprised by a deep, delicious, robust, kind of sweet flavor of the meat—it’s almost akin to baked butter. I kind of can’t describe it; it’s just so big and distinct.”

Indescribably good? We’ll put that in our pipe and smoke it.

Comparing Steaks  with PRB

Check out the deep purple hue to our steak on the far right

In the realm of sausage experiments, Italian exhibited the largest difference. The texture proved superior, the color more vibrant and appetizing, the flavor more pronounced and fresh, and overall the sausage excellently complimented each dish he tried without overpowering or overwhelming. The grocery store brand however, didn’t perform so well.

When it came to pork chops, he was delighted with the fat cap that his butcher suggested he leave on—something that people often times shy away from due to fear of the word “fat”—and additionally surprised by its sweet and almost spreadable nature. “In the past I might cut off the fat because of that tough, grisly texture that no one likes,” he said, “but the fat on my PRB chop was delicious: sweet and almost syrupy.”

On the bacon spectrum, Kroger’s high-end Wright® Brand bacon, running at around $10 per pound, tasted mostly like salt and had little of that savory-sweet pork flavor. Additionally, it fell apart more easily and somewhat disintegrated in the mouth. Our David Byler bacon on the other hand has a subtle sweetness to it and a whole lot of delicious smoke. With a soft chew and a bold flavor, it’s easy to realize that this is what bacon should really taste like.

In every experiment that Sean has conducted so far, our meat proved supreme. Not to brag or anything buuuut…. Just sayin’.

Of course, with so many experiments under his belt and so many different meats under his critical lens, it would take far too long to go into each test in detail, but that doesn’t mean you wont be able to notice the differences on your own.

Maybe you don’t have enough time, money, or friends to cook three times the amount of meat each time you fire up the grill or cast iron skillet, but the difference in our products can be distinguished while standing solo. And aside from the taste, we here at the shop can tell you all about what makes our products so delicious and distinct.

Plus, doesn’t it feel good to eat good meat? 1) It tastes better, 2) You can rest easy knowing the animal lived a happier life, and 3) You aren’t pumping additives and drugs into your system. Not to mention you get to hang out with us for a minute or two. THAT sure doesn’t suck.

If Sean’s findings didn’t convince you or you’re still a little skeptical, then we challenge you to try it yourself! Come on in, pick up some meat, and go home and cook it. We’re sure you’ll notice a difference in both what you taste and how you feel.

How ya like that for a sales pitch?