Cooked in its own fat sounds unappetising in the absurd world of “healthy” food but rephrased as confit and its worthy of consideration.
The process of cooking and more importantly preserving food for storage and avoiding waste is a worthy and traditional technique. The added value of salt and slow cooking is that it creates a wonderful flavour and texture which can be enhanced further by herbs and spices. As many of the deeper flavours of many spices are fat soluble oils the gentle cooking extracts unique characteristics.
The classic confit de Oie or Canard is firmly set in the classic French cuisine of the Southwest. Usually the legs of the birds are salted and then very slowly cooked in their own fat and then potted whole and stored in a cool place. The usual now of course is sealed in a kilner jar or canned stored. When added to a cassoulet or simple extracted from the fat and put on a shallow tray in a hot oven, crisped up, served with pomme sarladaises, a crisp salad and fresh bagette is a convenient yet luxurious reminder of sunny days and fine wine.
The technique is by no means unique to either legs, birds or to France. Fruits cooked in sugar are confiture but that is for another discussion. Gesiers, the gizzard of a duck or goose may sound odd but these nuggets of firm hardworking meat sliced into a salad of frisee, with walnuts, croutons and a sharp mustardy walnut oil dressing must be one of the finest salads described.
Pork is another great meat that suits the confit treatment although it is usually shredded and turned into rillettes.
Italy has the description of cooking termed is sott’ollio or under oil. The technique commonly apples to vegetables and mushrooms but can be applied to meats.
The term confit has become one that restaurants have added to menus more and more with everything from salmon , tuna, garlic, onions and even egg yolks appearing.
We could get all fancy about confit but recently a less than conventional approach struck me.
Whilst at the supermarket I was attracted to some chicken legs. Plump free range legs, yellowish skin from a feed rich in corn, with a surprising amount of subcutaneous fat (probably why they were still on the shelf).
I already had a food plan sorted for the next few days so rather than freeze them I decided to confit them.
I’ve made confit many times but never chicken. My first question was what fat to use.
I had some chicken fat in the fridge, not really much but I save all the chicken fat I can and clarify it (not really schmaltz but something close).
Even with these chubby chicken legs I needed more. The Italian technique described by Rachel Roddy the oil is olive. In the new classic cajun cookbook – Chasing the Gator – chef Isaac Toups uses lard. Brain Polcyn recommends duck, chicken, lard or olive oil.
The legs are dry brined by rubbing with Maldon coarse sea salt, thyme and cracked black pepper for around 6 hours. The salt is brushed off then the legs are then submerged in a pan under the oil (my meagre jar of chicken fat is added).
The heat is applied at the lowest (no.1) setting on the stove top and the oil is allowed to heat to a point of small bubbles rising but nothing more. A gentle bath for the chicken legs for the next 2 hours. A pyrex dish in a very low oven works well .
If fully submerged they will look anaemic and the skin soggy an unappetising. That’s fine, they are supposed to.
They need very careful handling at this stage. The meat is so soft and fragile they will fall to bits. Ideally dont handle them at all.
Let them cool. Let the fat become opaque. Unlike duck fat or lard the oil will not solidify.
If you are feeling impatient you can have them straight away but a better option is to cover them and put into the fridge for a few days to a week.
When you are ready to use them carefully lift out of the fat (this can be used to fry potatoes like goose fat). The legs are placed on a shallow oven tray and placed in a hot oven.
The skin will become golden the edges may crisp up.
They are already cooked so its a matter of heating and making them perfect.
The uses are wide. Whole can be served (and cooked) over garlicky beans. Chunks can be pulled apart and served on a taco or tossed into a salad.
The texture asks for some crispy leaves and/or crunchy nuts. The richness for acidity – fruit, pickles or dressing.
It can either be a centre piece showstopper or a hidden treat. Either way its easy, cheap and impressive.