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The science of confit

The science of confit

Do you know that this culinary technique derives from the verb "confire", meaning "to preserve"? Discover the secrets behind the perfect confit cooking method.

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“Confit” is a sort of magic word ready to transform any dish into a gourmet delicacy. Just think, for example, how often you have heard of “cherry tomato confit” being used as a garnish.

It is such a close association that you tend to think of the tomatoes themselves rather than the cooking method. In fact, you may or may not be aware that “confit” refers to a cooking technique whose scope is certainly not restricted to ubiquitous and somewhat boring cherry tomatoes (with all due respect to cherry tomatoes!).

The French term actually derives from the verb confire, meaning “to preserve”, which partly explains the cooking method, based on a temperature that is relatively low but sufficient to kill off bacteria, and the presence of a liquid.

Is that all? Well, yes, but it must be understood that we already have several parameters to juggle with.

Confit Cooking Method

The first parameter is temperature, a factor of considerable importance. We often see confit recipes being placed in an oven at 160 °C, but this is totally wrong. In fact, this cooking method requires a lower temperature, somewhere between 85 and 95°C, according to the type of ingredient we are dealing with.

On one hand, this prevents the food from frying, when also using fats (more about that later), while on the other hand, when the right temperature is applied, we obtain a perfect result which preserves aroma and flavour intact.

As mentioned above, to make this happen, there must also be some liquid. There is no general rule regarding the best sort of liquid for confit recipes. Usually, syrup is preferred for fruit, and fats - such as olive oil - are chosen for vegetables and meats. At this point, many of you will have formed the idea that confit dishes are for serving straight away, but this is only partially true. What makes confit so special, in fact, is that it lends itself – as its name suggests – to making preserves.

Therefore, we can choose whether to serve up the fruits of our work immediately or to cover them in their cooking liquid and store them in the fridge for days or weeks. It may surprise you to know that many confit recipes are appreciated all the more for being preserved at length. The legendary confit duck leg is a perfect example, when carefully preserved in a jar after cooking.

The best ingredients for Confit Recipes

How to get them so tender and tasty, while preserving all the meaty flavours? It is here that temperature comes into play. You are well aware that, when in contact with high temperatures, the water content of food will evaporate and if immersed in fat, a great quantity of bubbles will be released.

When using the confit method, this effect must be avoided, partly because you need to retain the moisture contained in the food and partly because you wish to avoid the well-known Maillard reaction.

Of course, we like the flavour it creates but, in some cases it alters the original taste of the ingredient. For this reason, despite covering the food entirely with the chosen liquid, we are going to work at a temperature of around 120 °C, so that the main ingredient will never exceed 95 °C. In this way, the collagen melts and the meat cooks without going dry.

Compared to frying, we need to prolong the cooking times: for chicken and duck legs, the best meats for confit recipes, we are talking about three hours, which is why you will need a meat thermometer, a sous vide cooker or a slow cooker. Furthermore, I advise you to use duck fat instead of oil.

And what about cherry tomatoes? I often see confit tomatoes cooked in an oven. If you wish to adopt this method, it is important to moisten them well with a mixture of oil, salt, pepper and a spoonful of brown sugar. Then pop them in the oven for two hours at 130 °C, until the skin is almost burnt. Alternatively, cover them in this mixture and slow cook the traditional way at 120 °C.

 

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