Confit taste without the labor

From The Deluxe Food Lovers Companion, you’ll find that the term “confit” is the from the method of cooking meat slowly, at low temperature. This (in South-West France) is frequently duck or goose.Yes–you read that correctly: it’s cooked in fat after being salted and seasoned, and is stored in fat. Before refrigeration it was a method of preserving meat–duck or goose, or pork in their own fat.  Cooking killed microbes and sealing in fat and sealing in the fat (similar to putting paraffin over jam or jelly) prevented exposure to additional microbes. The temperatures usually given for traditional confit are below boiling (212°F or 100°C) but high enough that the internal temperature of the meat will be over 140°F (60°C)–usually around  160 °F to 180°F (60 °C to 80°C) leave the confit more tender (McGee).

If you’re thinking g “Ewww, fat”, not to worry. Fat does not penetrate into the meat. I’ve seen suggestions in several blogs that you can get the same effect by braising in liquid very slowly, and then rubbing fat onto the meat afterwards. I’ve not tested this; I know that the texture and flavor of confit (e.g. tuna) is very special, so I’m not likely to change my method anytime soon. Either way, we are not taking fast food here, at least until after we get the confit made). We are talking long, very slow cooking.

If you’re adding the traditional salting/seasoning, then we’re talking even longer–requires planning several days ahead. Then there’s the aging of the confit–the flavor does mature as it stands, and I, personally, would hate to lose that really great flavor and the lush texture of the traditional method. Time well spent, in my opinion.

Note that the image here is thanks to NPR, the salt website.

A friend recently emailed me a link for Counterfeit Duck Confit (NPR) since she knows that I like that sort of thing–in other words, I like a peasant cooking. I’ve not tried this recipe yet–weather is just too damn hot to even think of turning on the over or even having a burner on for very long (induction cooking is a help) but my appetite isn’t set for duck yet–later when the weather is cool. Despite my lack of appetite for duck confit right now, this is a recipe that I do want to share and that I’ll be making when the weather is cooler.

You’re asking why I’m sharing this if I haven’t tried it?  Well looks like an excellent recipe to me, and it’s from David Lebovitz–I pay attention to his recipes, since I’ve never made on that was anything but excellent. My reservation is that although the duck legs are going to taste very good, that I will not measure up to traditional duck confit.  It’s my excuse to get a bunch of duck legs (which I almost always have to special order so it’s a lot of duck legs) and taste this side-by-side with my traditional confit. The caption is a link to the NPR site and the full recipe and the commentary.  You’ll note that this is still not fast food, though is easier than the traditional method.

One of the important things for the texture of confit is “slow and low” cooking. While this is slow (3 hours probably begins to qualify for “slow”), I don’t think it qualifies for the “low” as the temperatures used are 300 °F for 2-1/2 hours of the baking, and 375 °F for 15 minutes.  I have no doubt at all that these duck legs will taste wonderful–but as Lebovitz stated–it’s not true confit. Some serious comparisons are in order here–but pleasurable since I love duck!

. . . .a son goût

Cabbage with juniper berries

I’ve always liked cabbage–slaw, steamed, and even boiled if it was not cooked to mush. I’ll even just nuke a wedge with a little olive oil and salt sprinkled over it and call it a vegetable dish. It’s a good keeper that doesn’t get foul if it stays in the crisper for a while–especially if you just peel off the leaves from the outside of the head as you need them, instead of cutting the head in pieces.

Cover of book

Nigel Slater’s “Tender”

I’ve read a lot of Nigel Slater lately (Kitchen Diaries, Ripe, and Tender). I like his style: very descriptive of the garden, and the kitchen–almost makes me feel that I’m right there with him. I’m anticipating the followup volumes for Tender and Kitchen Diaries; his website is also well worth checking out.

Tender is a vegetable cookbook (as well as a gardening book)–not a vegetarian cookbook, though most recipes could be pretty easily adapted if you’re of the vegetarian persuasion.  The discussion of each vegetable includes cooking as well as growing information, and most delightfully, a discussion of seasonings for the vegetable.

His recipes are simple, designed to make the most of excellent fruits and vegetables without being at all fussy.  Quantities are rather loosely given, which makes it ideal for my improvisational style of cooking for myself (and the cat). I’ve found all sorts of thing I want to try, but here is one that particularly caught my fancy–perhaps because it’s fall, or maybe just because I had a head of cabbage in the crisper.

One of the seasoning he mentioned for cabbage was juniper berries. I’ve used juniper berries for other dishes, but can’t honestly say that I’d ever thought of trying them with cabbage.  Here’s what I did to try this out.

Cabbage with juniper berries

Ingredients

  • About 6 leaves from a medium head of cabbage
  • 3 juniper berries
  • dash of red pepper flakes if desired for spice
  • dash of salt to taste
  • small pat of butter

Preparation

  • Flatten the leaves on a cutting board and cut into bite-size pieces
  • Add crushed juniper berries, (see note below.), chili flakes if desired, and salt.
  • Toss the cabbage to distribute seasonings.
  • Add butter and 1 tablespoon of water.
  • Cover and microwave for about 4 to 6 minutes, until cabbage is still bright green, but tender (See NOTE).
  • Serve.

Cook’s notes

  • Though I used white cabbage, I’m sure this would be fine with red or savoy cabbage as well.
  • The juniper berries are very oily, so I did not put them in my spice grinder–I used a mortar and pestle that could be cleaned easily.
  • The microwave really seems to bring out the heat in the chili peppers, so add less than you might were you just going to sauté the cabbage.
  • The amount of water needed will depend on whether the cabbage is just washed and still wet, and/or how tight the cover is. I don’t usually use plastic wrap, but Pyrex bowls with vented covers, so I do lose some steam.
  • Sauté or steam-sauté would work as well–I just didn’t want to wash another pan when I was preparing this after a day of indexing work.

I’ve tried it now–right up there with caraway seeds.The combination is a winner–I’m not sure I can easily describe what the juniper berries do for the cabbage, but it certainly puts it in a different class from “boiled” cabbage that I grew up with and what is typical of “southern” cooking. I think it adds background earthiness and complexity to the flavor. It was no longer “just” cabbage!

It was a side for roast turkey thighs, but I can easily see this as a great side for pork, or most particularly for duck legs or duck confit.  I’ll certainly make it again–probably on many occasions.

I didn’t use extra virgin olive as I normally might with cabbage because I just could not get the flavors of that and the juniper berries together in my head. (Cabbage with a little extra virgin olive oil is excellent, though.) If I were making this to go with duck, I make it with duck fat instead of butter.

bowl of cooked cabbage

cabbage with juniper berries

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