French farm cooks have a secret. It's confit.
Preparing confit both preserves and tenderizes meat. Basically, it involves salting the meat, rinsing off the salt, cooking the meat slowly to tenderness in its own fat, then storing it under a layer of the rendered fat.
Since Western households rarely have to deal with an overabundance of geese or ducks, it's the first few steps of that process that we explore here. Meat coated with salts "cures" and changes in character. The redness of the flesh is intensified; when cooked, fatty and less-tender meats are juicier, more succulent, and have richer flavor than their uncured counterparts. The taste difference is comparable to corned versus uncorned beef, but confit can be less salty than corned meat and does not involve other preservatives.
Compared to traditional French methods, we have used smaller quantities of salt, included herbs, and shorted the "curing" time because our objective is to develop best flavor, not preserve the meat. We tested a wide selection of meats and poultry, then settled on the cuts of lamb, beef, pork, and turkey shown at left because they gained most in flavor, tenderness, and moistness.
The cooking of confit is a gentle process. Low heat draws out the fat and juices; the juices cook down and brown, sticking to the meat as it develops an appealing color.
When the French serve confit hot, they liberally top it with raw or cooked garlic (or both) and lots of chopped parsley. We propose a significant amount of garlic as well. Accompany with mounds of hot, crisp French-fried potatoes or boiled beans, bread, and a bold red wine.
Cold confit, sliced and mostened with an oil, vinegar, and mustard dressing, makes a salad to serve plain or with cold cooked dried or green beans; or use plain sliced confit in sandwiches. Confit of Lamb, Pork, Beef, or Turkey
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon each cracked bay leaves, dry rosemary leaves, and dry thyme leaves
4 to 5 pounds cracked lamb shanks, lamp breast (in large sections, also called riblets), or boned lamb shoulder; boned pork butt, leg, or loin shoulder or end, in one piece; individual lean beef short ribs; or whole turkey thighs (unskinned)
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 to 3 pounds freshly cooked or hot, frozen fried French-cut potatoes
Combined salt, bay, rosemary, and thyme; rub mixture all over every surface of the meat. If meat is boned and rolled or tied, remove and discard the netting or string. Place meat in a heavy plastic bag or a noncorrodible container such as glass or stainless steel. Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours (for lightest salt flavor, let chill the minimum time).
Thoroughly rinse meat under cold running water, rubbing lightly to extract as much salt as possible. Drain meat, then pat dry. (If made ahead, meat can be covered and chilled for 1 to 2 days; rinse and dry again before cooking.)
In a heavy 12-inch frying pan or 5- to 6-quart kettle (choose one with a tight-fitting lid) over medium-low heat, arrange the piece or or pieces of meat as flat as possible. Cover and cook slowly until meat is very tender when pierced and is richly browned, about 2-1/2 hours; turn occasionally to equalize cooking. As the fat cooks out of the meat and the meat begins to brown, you will hear it sizzling; from this point, check meat frequently and turn more often for even browning.
Lift meat from pan, drain briefly, and arrange on a large serving platter; keep warm. Pour off fat in pan; discard. Add garlic to pan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until garlic is soft. Add the 1/2 cup water to pan and bring to a boil; stir to free browned particles. Blend in parsley and serve this sauce spooned onto meat, or from a small bowl to add to individual portions. Mound hot potatoes alongside meat. Cut or pull meat apart to serve. Meat with bones serves 4 or 5, meat without bones makes 7 or 8 servings.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 1984|
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