I have a confession to share with you. The last dinner party I threw I took a crazy shortcut that I learned about. All my guests were wowed. They said that the meal “knocked their socks off.” What they knew was that I treated them to a French-inspired menu with unctuous textures, beautiful flavors, and luxe ingredients. What they didn’t know was that I made it a week ahead of time.
That’s the magic of confit. There’s a little labor required in the beginning. But once you’ve got everything going, confit is incredibly low maintenance. When I was researching it, I discovered that you can even make it up to a month ahead. That was it. For me, make-ahead recipes are the be-all and end-all of entertaining. Add that to the culinary wow factor that comes with French cuisine and I’m all in.
Types of confit
Before I planned my menu, I took a deep dive into the history of the cooking process. I was surprised to learn that the term describes two ways of preserving food. The first involves cooking meat or vegetables “low and slow” in its own juices and fats. Then you store it in a jar, submerged in its fat. It can stay that way for up to one year. There’s also another confit that involves preserving food in oil, vinegar, salt, or sugar. Sweet confit includes candied roses and candied fruits. In France, they sell fruit confit, which is popular during the holidays.
Savory confit can be preserved in vinegar or another acid or preserved in fat. Pickles and sun-dried tomatoes are a type of confit — I was surprised to learn that. But the confit that had me dreaming of an amazing dinner party is duck confit, or “canard confit.”
History of confit
Preserving food isn’t a practice specific to France. Pickling — preserving food in acid, sugar and/or salt — has been used for millennia. Ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Romans used vinegar to help preserve food.
The confit that I always think about when I hear the term originated in Gascony, located in the Southwest of France. It enabled the population to slaughter and preserve locally raised ducks toward the end of summer while preserving the meat to last all winter long. Because there wasn’t any refrigeration, it was an essential technique for keeping the larder stocked during the cold, long winter months.
My introduction to confit
I used my KitchenAid food processor to grind up fresh herbs to mix with freshly ground peppercorns and sea salt. I rubbed the duck thoroughly, layered it in a resealable bag with whole cloves of garlic, and let the whole thing chill for 24 hours. When I was ready to start cooking, I simmered trimmings and duck fat with some water for around 30 minutes. I rinsed the salt from the duck, got rid of the garlic, and patted everything dry before popping it in a roasting pan and pouring the hot duck fat over everything.
I cooked it covered for a little shy of four hours. When it was done, I let it cool and stored it covered in fat until the day of my party. Then, just before my guests arrived, I removed the duck and scraped the fat off. I seared the duck in a skillet for about a minute before putting it back in the roasting pan and roasting it for 15 minutes to crisp up the skin.
My dinner guests couldn’t stop raving about the flavor and tenderness of the meal. My next foray into confit will be trying my hand at using the method for vegetables. I’ve heard that confit garlic is next-level amazing. What will you confit?