What Is Confit; Understand Basics Of This Preservation Method
Image Credit: Bakes By Brown Sugar/Cheryl Norris

The technique of confit involves slow-cooking, almost poaching a fruit, vegetable or meat in oil, until the fat seeps into the ingredient and makes it tender and flavourful. Essentially involving a reaction of the pre-existent moisture in the ingredient and the hot oil, confit as a technique transforms the texture and composition of food, almost in a way that can be equated to preserving techniques. An ancient preservation technique, confit was used before the advent of refrigeration to extend the shelf life of meats and seasonal vegetables.Typically used for meats like duck, tuna, turkey or pork and vegetables like tomatoes, garlic and carrots, confit is a way to add complex texture and flavour to a recipe using fat as the key medium.

One of the key components in the confit process is salt as it helps to draw out moisture from the ingredients, which is important for preservation. Additionally, salt acts as a flavour enhancer, helping to season the meat or vegetable. It also interacts with proteins and fibres in the meat or vegetable, altering their structure and making them more tender. Another critical and the most important element of confit is the fat medium. Most times, meats like duck or pork are cooked slowly and gently in their own fat and vegetables are typically cooked in a neutral oil like vegetable or olive oil. This slow cooking process breaks down tough collagen fibres in the meat, resulting in tender and succulent end product. The layer of fat on top of the meat serves as a barrier that helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, contributing to preservation.

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In the case of vegetables, the fibres are broken down, making it soft on the inside and caramelised on the outside, giving it a depth of flavour and leading to an incomparable soft mushiness. Confit is usually cooked at a relatively low temperature, typically around 80-95°C. This slow-cooking at a low temperature allows the collagen in the meat to gradually break down into gelatine, which gives the meat its characteristic tenderness, similar to the vegetables. The low temperatures also help to preserve the ingredients without overcooking it.

The slow-cooking process of confit can take several hours, often around 3 to 4 hours, or even longer depending on the volume and size of the ingredients, and the temperature at which it cooks. This extended cooking time allows for the gradual breakdown of collagen and the infusion of flavours from the herbs and seasonings used in the cooking process, which penetrate the primary confit ingredient with time.