The process requires precision, but, if anything, the hardest part of the process is pronouncing the term correctly: con-fee.
Before last year, my home cooking skills were, shall we say, basic at best. I could make a mean spaghetti bolognese from scratch, my roast potatoes rivalled those of a carvery, and if I was ever feeling particularly adventurous (read: waiting for payday), I'd even manage a homemade spice bag. But that was it. Anything else I'd eat would be courtesy of dining out or an Old El Paso kit.
Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly I was tasked with cooking every breakfast, lunch and dinner for the foreseeable future. No more picking up an apple on my way out the door to work and calling that breakfast; no more €3.50 lunch deals and certainly no more enjoying dinner at my favourite restaurants with friends. At first, I relied on those same three meals I knew how to cook and ringing up my local takeaway. But after a while, food boredom struck and I was left with no other choice than to step into my kitchen. All of a sudden, I was digging through spice racks, experimenting with unfamiliar produce, and devouring online cooking classes like never before.
Now, I fancy myself as a decent home cook. It may seem selfish to perfect fancy dishes during a pandemic, but my kitchen has been my main comfort during moments of panic. Every new ingredient I’ve purchased or dish I've learned to create has helped to distract me from panic-checking Twitter every five minutes. But as any good chef will tell you, there's always more to learn. That's why I've been inspired to create this series: One Thing Well. Each week, I'll be picking the expert brains of chefs all across the country to learn how to cook one thing well.
This week, Philip Brazil, executive head chef at The K Club, Kildare, is on hand to deliver a masterclass in confit.
What is confit?
Most foods can be improved with a little bit of oil, but confiting takes things a step further. The French word “confit” literally means to preserve. It’s a time-honoured tradition that was originally used as a way of preserving meat in the days before refrigeration, cuts of fresh meat were dry-cured in salt before being rinsed, dried and then poached very slowly at a low temperature in lots of fat, usually from a duck or goose. Although we now have fridge and freezers, confit is still a popular cooking technique used by chefs and home cooks alike. The reason being that preparing and cooking meats or vegetables using the confit technique results in a very tender, melt-in-the-mouth eating experience.
How to confit:
At its most basic explanation, confit means submerging something in fat and cooking it - which is often why it gets confused for deep-fat frying. But in actual fact, deep-fat frying and confit are drastically different. With deep-fat frying, the end-game is a crisp, crunchy surface, and the means to get there? Dehydration. Deep-fat frying uses high temperatures which results in the meat's water evaporating very rapidly and forcefully expelled from surfaces. Cooking times are measured in minutes or seconds, and as soon as the food is done, it's retrieved, and served.
A confit, on the other hand, is a much cooler affair – literally. Generally, cold or room temperature fat is poured over the item which is then placed in a relatively low-temperature oven. Meats cook and tenderise with virtually no moisture or flavour loss. Cooking times are measured in hours, rather than minutes. Low and slow versus fast and furious.
Most all ingredients cook well in a confit but the most common are duck legs and pork belly. Vegetables too are commonly cooked using this French cooking technique such as garlic and tomatoes. Most recently, we've noticed confit egg yolks popping up on menus across the country.
A simple confit garlic recipe:
Brazil's confit garlic recipe is an easy savoury winner for pasta, vegetables and breads. "Roasting the garlic first, gives the cloves a toffee-like quality, soft enough to mash up into garlic butter or simply spread across a hunk of toasted sourdough," tells Brazil. "Fold through pasta or finish freshly cooked vegetables."
- 3 heads of garlic
- 500ml extra virgin olive oil
- 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 slices of lemon zest
- 1/4 tsp harissa
- Pinch sea salt
- Cracked black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 180°C
- Break apart the garlic bulbs into cloves and place in a bowl. Add a generous splash of oil to the bowl and toss through the garlic, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Transfer the garlic to a roasting pan and roast for about 30 minutes, or until the skins have puffed and taken on a good colour
- When the garlic bulbs are soft enough to pierce easily with a skewer, remove them from the oven and leave to cool. Peel or pop the cloves out from their skins and place in the a large jar with a strong seal. Add the thyme and lemon zest, seasoning generously with sea salt
- In a separate bowl, whisk the harissa into 250ml olive oil and pour evenly over the garlic cloves to cover, adding more olive oil if necessary. Seal the jar tightly.
- Line a large saucepan with cloth and place the garlic jar on top - the pan should be large enough to comfortably hold the jar. Fill the pan with enough cold water to come up to just below the lid of the jar, then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave to simmer gently for 1 hour, topping up with boiling water from the kettle as needed
- After an hour remove from the heat and leave to cool completely before removing the jar from the pot. The sealed garlic will keep for several weeks, although once opened they are best kept refrigerated and used within one week
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