moking, curing and drying have been used to preserve food supplies since prehistoric times. Before eating seasonally became a trend, it was a necessity. Game meats were only available in season, and domesticated animals were slaughtered before winter came, to save on feed and to fill the larder. So a method to preserve meat before the days of refrigeration was a vital development in culinary history. Confit is a cooking term for a variety of foods, but most commonly meats, cooked and preserved in their own fat.
Confit is the past participle of the French verb confire, "to preserve." In this method, meats are cooked in fat for a long time, sometimes days, at a low temperature. This renders tough cuts, like duck legs, more tender and palatable. The meat that has been through this cooking process is also called confit, as in duck leg confit, or confit of goose.
In the days before vacuum packing, confit meats were placed in crockery pots or jars filled with duck fat, then covered with pork fat and stored in a cool cellar. This impenetrable top protected the confit throughout the long winter and on into the spring. In the southwest region of France, Gascony, you’ll still find many small jars filled with confit stored in the cellars. Since the entire small container can be used at one time, the confit isn’t exposed to the outside air for long and can’t spoil.
Duck leg confit is a favorite of Gascons, and is a vital ingredient in the classic cassoulet from the region. Because it is so tender, duck confit can be shredded and served over salad, in stews or on bread. But confit can be made from any part of the bird. Legs, breasts, giblets and even foie gras can be salted and simmered, then preserved in fat.
Another secret of Gascon cooking is garlic confit. The slow simmer in duck fat takes the punch out of garlic, rendering mellow and flavorful cloves that are delightful when spread onto bread or whipped into potatoes. They add flavor in any savory dish, and can replace fresh garlic in many recipes.
“A Gascon will fall to his knees for a good confit,” goes an old saying. And it’s true that confit meats will add a dimension to any dish in which they are used. Many feel that cassoulet cannot be made without some confit in it, and garbure, a regional stew, usually contains confit. The texture of confit is nutty and delicate, and essentially fat-free, because so much of the fat is rendered out in the slow cooking.
Confit trivia: When Henri IV, who hailed from Gascony, was king of France he sent for whole barrels of confit from home, since nobody in Paris made it!