Thursday, 20 December 2012

Clever Confit


Cooking seems to be getting ever-more complicated. Nobody just puts food in the oven now a days.  It must be at the very least - brined for a week, smoked for a day, braised in the Sous-vide overnight and finished on the Josper grill. Well, maybe only if you are after a Michelin star but here is a trick which is super easy and extraordinary good. And what is more is really great for entertaining because it is cooked already and all you have to do is reheat it. 

Confit is a medieval method of preserving meat by salting it and then cooking it and conserving it, by submerging it in fat. The fat prevents any oxidisation and this method was commonly used to preserve meat before the invention of the refrigerator, especially in the South-West of France. The original word "confit" was the term used for preserving fruit in sugar, hence the French word for jam - "confiture", but now refers to mainly fatty cuts of meat such as goose, duck and pork, as traditionally it should be confited in its own fat. These tougher cuts of meat tend to be the cheapest but I have to admit, as much as I love a bargain, I am not fond of lumps of unctuous fat and I usually tend to steer clear of pork belly.  The beauty about this method of cooking though, is that practically all the fat is rendered away during the cooking process, just leaving you with succulent meat and the crispiest skin you ever ate. The most important thing however, is that you start with a nice meaty piece of free-range belly. You do not want a piece of solid fat, so choose carefully. For a more Kosher option try duck legs. They are equally delicious and equally versatile to use up in Cassolet and Garbure.

I salt and flavour the meat over-night with a dry rub. Some prefer to brine it but I don't think it is necessary. This cut of meat is also immensely popular in Asia, so when it comes to flavourings, I tend to go one of two ways - classic French incorporating Thyme, Black Peppercorns, Juniper and Fennel Seeds or Chinese style with Star Anise or five spice, ginger, Sichuan pepper and Soy. Interestingly these combination of flavours, from two such diverse countries, have much in common.  Time and time again we can see that the great recipes from across the world have evolved with so many similarities, simply because they work and stand the test of time. Indeed, both countries would agree that fatty meats such as duck or pork belly are best served with a sweet/sour accompaniment to cut the fat. In France this would traditionally be braised red cabbage; in China maybe a plum sauce. 

This method of cooking is once again tremendously fashionable and a modern twist would be to serve your pork belly with smoked eel, beetroot and horseradish or maybe with seared scallops, cauliflower puree and crisp pork popcorn but whatever you serve it with I guarantee it will be amazing.  After all it has withstood the test of time.


Duck Confit
If you are wish to preserve the duck legs then you will need to salt them for a couple of days, but if you are planning to eat them imminently then 12 hours is plenty. I always chuck a few cooked new potatoes in with the duck in the oven.  Cut them lengthways and place them cut side down in the pan. They will roast beautifully in the duck fat and are ready when they are crisp and golden brown.

4 large duck legs
30g rock salt
1 tbsp Juniper, crushed
1 tbsp black peppercorns
4 Garlic cloves, sliced
4 Sprigs thyme or rosemary
800g duck fat (in most supermarkets) melted

Scatter the salt into a flat dish. Lay the duck legs on the salt, skin side down. Distribute the crushed juniper, peppercorns, garlic and herbs evenly over. Cling film, press with a weight and marinate overnight (12 hours). 

Wash off the marinade and pat dry with kitchen cloth, place the duck legs, skin side down in a saucepan. Cover with the melted duck fat and bring the temperature to 85ºC, cook for 3 hours in a preheated oven (95- 100°). You know you have reached the temperature 85/90ºC, there is no bubble breaking the surface; the fat is kept just under simmering point. I cook mine in the slow-cooker on low for 5 hours. Alastair Little says you know when they are done as it will be "showing a lot of bone as the meat rides up like a mini-skirt on a white thigh." With a slotted spoon lift the leg out of the duck fat and reserve.

In a dry heavy based pan on medium heat, crisp and colour the duck legs on the skin side 5 – 7 minutes until golden brown. If your duck legs have been in the fridge then roast the duck legs in a hot oven, skin side down for about 15-20 mins until hot all the way through and the skin is totally golden brown and crisp. 


Chinese Style Crisp Confit Belly of Pork with Caramel Sauce
You can use any herbs or spices you like to flavour the pork belly. Just decide what you want to serve it with and use complimentary seasonings.

1 piece free-range British pork belly,pork belly (skin on) around 1.25kg in weight
2 tbsp. rock salt
1 tbsp Five Spice (Peppercorns, Star Anise  Cloves, Cinnamon, and Fennel Seeds.)
Large know of fresh ginger, pealed and sliced
Small head of Garlic, sliced through lengthways
800g duck fat (in most supermarkets) melted, or pork fat if you have it.

Rub the flesh of the pork all over with the five spice apart from the skin.  Scatter a flat dish with the salt.  Place the pork skin side down on the salt and place the garlic and ginger on the top.  Cover with cling-film and press in the fridge for 12 hours. Wash off the marinade and pat dry with kitchen cloth and place the pork, skin side down in a saucepan. Cover with the melted duck fat and bring the temperature to 85ºC, cook for 3 hours in a preheated oven (95- 100°). You know you have reached the temperature 85/90ºC, there is no bubble breaking the surface; the fat is kept just under simmering point. I cook mine in the slow-cooker on low for 5 hours. You should be able to insert and remove a skewer very easily all the way through the thickest part of the meat and skin.  Remove from the fat and press once more in the fridge to insure a flat skin surface. This helps when roasting.  When ready to use, cut into strips or cubes (it is very difficult to cut the skin neatly once cooked as it is so crisp). Place skin side down in a heavy based saucepan with a little of the fat.  Start crisping up the skin, but be careful as it can spit. Roast in a hot oven until hot all the way through and the   skin in totally crisp and brown.

Caramel Sauce:
100g palm or soft brown or demarara sugar
5tbsp dark soy sauce
1 red chillies, chopped
2cm (3/4in) piece grated ginger
1tbsp Sesame oil
Freshly squeezed Lime

Put the sugar in a pan and gradually melt until boiling. When caramelised add the soy to stop it cooking.  Be careful as it may splutter. Return to the heat and add the chilli and ginger.  Heat until all the sugar is incorporated. Add the sesame oil and lime to taste.


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