Confit is an umbrella term used to refer to food items prepared with the method of 'confit,' a way of preserving food items by immersing the food item in another substance for flavor and preservation. Food that has been preserved with a confit method can be sealed and stored for a period of several months. The term confit means "preserve," "produce" or "make" in French.
Not much is known about the exact origin of the dish but nearly every culture has some variety of this food preservation technique in their repertoire. In France, the confit method of preserving food first originated in the Gascony region but nearly every locality in France has its own special method of preserving meat with the confit method. Hunters in the region shot down game during the peak summer season. However, this meat has to be preserved for consumption during the winter. To preserve the meat, it was salted and then packed into a crock pot and covered with its own fat. The meat was slowly poached in its own fat creating a soft, tender, flavored cut of meat due to the fat. The meat could then be preserved for six to ten months and lasted through the long winters. Game meats like duck, goose, partridge and quail were commonly preserved by this method. Over time, this same preservation technique was used to poach and pot vegetables and fruits too.
Ingredients and Technique
The confit method was traditionally used to preserve meat. Poultry, meat or game was salted and seasoned with herbs for a day or two. It was then immersed in a thick layer of its own fat or in olive oil which completely covered the meat. The meat is slowly poached in the fat or oil and then allowed to cool in the oil. The meat confit so prepared, is then stored in the same fat it was cooked in. Pork, duck, chicken and game are commonly converted into a confit with this method. Fruit and vegetable confits were also made. Fruit confits are made by poaching whole fruit or fruit peel in sugar. Traditionally, whole fruit was immersed in sugar and poached slowly till the sugar infused into the fruit. However, as the process is labor intensive and lengthy, cooks now use sectioned fruit to create the same results. Vegetable confits are used as condiments as the vegetables break down quickly into the oil or preserving liquid. This forms thick jammy liquids which are used as sauces or condiments along with food.
The meat confit is removed from the fat and excess fat is scraped off. Traditionally, the meat is pan seared quickly again in its own fat and served immediately. Pommes Sarladaises is a popular side dish in which boiled potatoes are seared in the same fat in the pan and served warm. Other popular side dishes include red cabbage and green beans.
- Duck confit is the most popular version of confit that is produced in France. It is referred to as confit de canard and is a specialty of the Gascony area of France. Duck gizzards may also be preserved in the same way and are a very popular dish in the region. Turkey and pork is also commonly prepared in the same way. Confit of goose is referred to as confit d’oie and is popular in the Toulouse and Dordogne area of France.
- Fruit confits are popular in France and Italy. Small fruits like cherries are preserved whole in sugar and are referred to as confits whole while larger fruits are referred to as fruit confits. Apple confit is made by poaching cooking apples like Granny Smiths, Northern Spy, Rome, or Golden Delicious with sugar, butter and herbs.
- Vegetable confits usually contain acidic ingredients to preserve the vegetables along with the oil. For example, tomato confit is made by simmering tomatoes with sugar, oil, herbs and vinegar to make a thick paste like jam. Garlic confit is made by slow cooking garlic cloves, thyme, bay leaves, red chilies and sage in pure olive oil.
“Confit Country” is a term which is used to refer to a region in Occitan France where duck or goose fat is preferred as a cooking medium instead of olive roil. Confit country is quite large with Béarn and Basque regions preferring to use goose confit in their specialties of cassoulet and garbure. However, the regions of Saintonge and Brantôme commonly use duck confit that is served with par-boiled potatoes and truffles.