Cool weather inspires cooking! Something warm and cozy–confit as a “pantry” staple for a starting point for multiple dishes. With the weather a bit up in the air I decided to make something that would give me lots of possibilities even if Matthew decides to visit.
Confit was originally made as a method of preserving meat–often duck or goose, but it’s a method that can be applied to other meats, fish, and seafood–e.g. tuna which I love for summer salads and cold meals but it’s a great starting place for cool-weather meals too. The traditional method is to poach meat in fat (oil) at low temperatures which yields meat that is intense in flavor, and absolutely luscious in texture. If you’re wondering, it’s NOT greasy! The Science of Cooking addresses many of the questions often asked about confit.
With cool weather here I decided to opt for my favorite meat–pork–and to try a slightly different method of achieving the end results. This inspiration sprang from finding country-style spare ribs on special at my local Harris Teeter market. Since the weather wasn’t quite cool enough for me to want to have the oven on for hours, I decided to use the my multi-function pot in slow-cooking mode to make pork confit.
Since country-style spare ribs have a lot of fat on them I decided that I didn’t need to submerge them in oil–the fat would render from them as they cooked in the slow-cooker. From experiments when I was trying to do monk fish sous vide, I knew that the slow-cooker mode would keep the temperature at 185ºF. Most confit recipes suggest temperatures between about 190ºF and 200ºF. I thought 185ºF would be workable (especially since the confit will be refrigerated after cooking) but will be covered with the rendered pork fat.
I took my country-style spare ribs and salted them liberally over night–e.g. “dry brine”, then rinsed, and patted them dry. Because of the fattiness of this cut, I added only a couple s tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of the cooker and packed in the meat. I didn’t add seasoning other than the previous salting so I have a flavorful (but kind of “blank” canvas) to build other dishes. I set the cooker for eight hours and went on to do other things–like hive inspections.
The liquid which (intensely flavored broth/gelatin) was separated from the fat that was rendered and will ultimately make its way into soup or as “au jus” with the confit. The meat is now tucked away in the fridge sealed in the fat. Since this was originally a method of preserving meat, now with the addition of refrigeration, there is a long shelf-life if you separate the broth/gelatin liquid from the fat and then “seal” the meat in the fat. Old method, but useful in modern cooking.
This cooking method works with any meat–a favorite in this household is confit made with chicken (especially leg quarters or thighs). I think that this fall as “turkey” season rolls around I will try to find thighs to cook this way. It might improve my attitude toward turkey given the flavor and texture changes that result from the confit process.
The result? Absolutely as good as if I had done it in the oven though requiring less added fat than I would have added for that method. Enough fat rendered to submerge the meat about three-quarters of the way up the sides. Even without additional seasonings the meat is luscious immediately after cooking–pure unadulterated pork flavor.
What’s on the menu for supper? Well, I’m thinking cabbage steak (done under the broiler) with pork confit that has been quickly reheated and browned (also under the broiler) but with the tahini sauce replaced with the juice from the confit process.