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Confit - from duck to garlic and everything in between

"oil diffuses heat better than air, which is why meat confined and cooked under oil is so tender and almost velvet-like, rich but, surprisingly, not fatty." Rachel Roddy

When you say confit, you usually think of duck. Well anyone who has been to France, and particularly central and south-western France would. It's on every restaurant menu. This rather wonderful photograph is from my semi-anonymous The Cooking of France, and shows those duck legs being removed from their jars of fat. They were previously slow cooked - very slow cooking in their own fat with herbs and other flavourings, then when extremely tender placed in jars, or crocks covered with the fat and kept in a cool cellar or - today - a fridge. It's an ancient method of preserving. 'Confrire' is the French verb that means to preserve. 'Confit' means preserved. And I'm pretty sure that I have dealt with duck confit before. Yes I have - miraculously it popped up when I was doing a search for the salmon confit, for some reason. You can find it here - and I see I used the same photograph to head the article. Well, it's a good photo.

But today my starting point is this short article in this month's Woolworths Fresh Ideas Magazine on how to confit salmon. It is such a simple process. Woolworths first lightly cures the salmon by rubbing in a mixture of herbs, lemon zest and salt, rinses that off, lays it in a baking dish with a couple of bay leaves and peppercorns and bakes at a very low temperature (100ºC/80ºC fan forced) for around 20 minutes. Drain and serve, however you fancy. Mostly people either serve with a sauce, a salad or a salsa. Maggie Beer has an even simpler version - maybe even a touch too plain as only salmon and olive oil are involved and she cooks hers on the stove-top rather than in the oven - Poached salmon in olive oil but honestly it couldn't be simpler. I did try it once, and it was indeed very succulent.

A fancy start and finish to this otherwise simple dish is Greg Malouf's Confit salmon 'tarator' with coriander, walnuts and tahini - the fancy start is a cure in a mixture of spicy seeds - then comes the comparatively simple cook, followed by the fancy finish - a topping of walnuts, coriander, sumac, onions, chilli and tahini. Apparently he made it on one of Maeve O'Meara's programs and she pronounced it 'the best salmon she had ever tasted.' Well she would wouldn't she? She's nice like that. Still it's very probably worth trying.

As I said, there are endless ways of finishing off the basic dish on the net. You can also find recipes for tuna, hake and for cod - so I guess you could do the same thing with any fish such as ocean trout, or barramundi. This a very fancy looking Confit cod with egg yolk and saffron from Nuno Mendes. I think the egg yolk is cooked in the same way.

But then I came to a bit of a halt, because there didn't really seem to be much more to say. Yes I knew that you could use the same technique for other meats, such as pork and goose and rabbit - even chicken. And Rachel Roddy has a good recipe for Confit chicken (Pollo sott'olio) - so it's obviously an Italian thing too. But I thought that was it until I did a Guardian search on confit - and discovered that the same technique can be applied to all manner of things, and yes, I'm afraid that Yotam Ottolenghi is the real leader of the pack here. I guess it's the love of olive oil. But it does indeed seem to be a Middle-Eastern thing and not just French and Italian. But here the tendency is to do it to vegetables. He is obviously a fan of this method though and says of it:

"Slow-cooking in fat, or confiting, to use the fancy term, is usually associated with meat (or for preserving fruit in sugar syrup). For me, however, vegetables are the biggest winners from a long, warm bath of oil and aromatics. In the process (which isn’t actually that long with veg), they tenderise and soak up a bunch of flavours that make them rich, unctuous and delicious. It’s a total transformation of something mild and humble into something rich and luxurious. All they then need is a spot of acidity or a touch of heat, and you’ve got glorious vegetables, reimagined, on the table." Yotam Ottolenghi

The first of these that I noticed, and which made me search further was his Confit celeriac with orange and dill but he has others - Confit leeks with lentils, lemon and cream; Confit tandoori chickpeas - now that's a bit tantalising and others have tried that one; Portobello mushrooms with chilli oil and butter bean purée; Brussels sprouts, chestnuts and grapes; and last but not least, because it may well be the one I try first - if I can get past the price of parsnips - Grilled confit parsnips with herbs and vinegar. I love parsnips.

With these as starters in the confit experimentation process I'm sure you could improvise with virtually anything else.

To finish - three outliers: Confit garlic from Tom Hunt; Lemon oil from Chris Morocco of Bon Appétit and Tomato confit from Nigel Slater. There are other versions of these on the net, and I'm pretty sure you could do the same with onions.

The tomatoes are shown in before and after mode, and being Nigel Slater - he waxes lyrical about them:

"The tomatoes are skinned and seeded, then cooked slowly in deep, green oil with spikes of rosemary, peppercorns and thyme. They will keep in the cool – I put them on the top shelf of the fridge – a squirrel store for the first frosts. ... fat-bellied jars of orange, red and yellow fruits to use during the winter months."

For yes, these last three are really condiments rather than meals in themselves like the other vegetables on show above. The kind of thing you keep in the fridge for adding that final tasty touch to a piece chicken, some pasta, or a pork chop.

I'm guessing that confit is becoming a trend. It ticks all the boxes of preserving, vegetarianism - even veganism, and sustainability, whilst provided flavour bursts to fridge raid food. Now if only I had a bigger fridge. Ours is beginning to collapse - well the door is - under the pressure of it all.

And I discovered today that I have used up all my Bon Appétit free recipes, and so I now need to ponder on whether to pay for a subscription or not.


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