Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Month of Food Blogging (13 of 28) : Crockpot confit

Confit is a word that conjures visions of French bistros, long conversations over wine, espresso at 9 PM. It's not a ticket to Paris, but it's at least a nice reminder. As with most French cooking, it takes a long time to make, but most of that time is spent waiting around, working your way through the collected works of Molière and sipping wine.

As I mentioned in my last post, the magic of confit lies in the salt and the low temperature cooking. A long salting process breaks down the muscle and pulls the water out of the cells, making it very tender. Then the low temperature allows the meat to cook without causing the muscles to tighten and dry, and the oil drives out any remaining water.

Originally, confit was a way to soften and preserve the very tough legs of ducks. Once the meat was confited, it was left to cool in the duck fat. Between the salt and the fat, it could be kept in a cool dry place for months, making it a good way to put meat by for the winter. (Assuming, of course, that you didn't develop botulism in the anaerobic conditions under the fat, as occasionally happened.) These days, we have refrigeration, but it's still a great way to make meltingly tender meat. Here I've used chicken thighs rather than the more traditional duck, and it's still delicious. You can also swap out the duck fat for olive oil or other fats, if you just cannot get your hands on duck fat. If you do get duck fat, it can be reused several times, until it gets too salty, at which point, I recommend using it for potatoes Sarladaise.

Once you have made confit, it's very versatile. You can serve it atop cassoulet, as I'll do in my next post. You can shred the meat and use it to make a very fancy macaroni and cheese, a la Calafia Cafe, or put it in ravioli. You can certainly just re-heat it and eat it straight. It also freezes really well, again, because there's very little water in it.

Crockpot confit

Servings: 2
Time: 10 minutes of prep, 1-2 days salting time, 8 hours cook time.
Planning Ahead: Must be salted at least 8 hours in advance and then cooked for 4-8 hours.
The Funny Stuff: Duck fat.
Virtues: Very little effort
Downsides: Lots of fat
Calories: Depends on how much fat the meat soaks up. (I have no idea.) Minimum 150 calories, max, 200?

2 chicken thighs or duck legs
2-4 cups duck fat, enough to cover your chicken in the crockpot (can be strained and reused)
2 tsp kosher salt
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic

Set the chicken thighs in a bowl, or baking dish. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken thighs with salt, trying to cover them as evenly as possible.

Crush the garlic, and sprinkle it and the thyme over the chicken. Cover the dish, and set it in the fridge for at least 8 hours, and up to 48.

The next morning (assuming you are aiming for dinner), take the chicken out. There should be little to no salt left on the surface. Some people brush off the thyme and garlic at this point, because it makes the oil messy, but I like the flavor it adds to the oil. Pop it in the crockpot. Take your duck fat, and warm it up a bit, so that you can pour it, or at least spread it.
Pour it over the top of the chicken, set your crockpot to low, and walk away.

Come back 6-8 hours later. Voilà. You have confit.

Here it is over some cassoulet. (Sneak preview of the next post!)

Photo credits to Aleatha Parker-Wood.
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