In the old days before refrigeration, all those trendy rustic preserved things you see on menus these days — cured meats, preserves, terrines, rillettes, all foods pickled and/or fermented — were a matter of necessity. With the fall harvest came too much of everything. And with the desolation of winter around the corner, you figured out ways to preserve all the extra meats and fruits and veggies and grains.
Fast forward to the era of refrigeration, microwave cooking and frozen entrees, and these foodstuffs became quaint reminders of a more difficult epoch. Perhaps it was nostalgia or the recognition of the enduring deliciousness inherent in many preserved… but as the pace of life grew ever quicker, preserves made a roaring comeback, trailing their salty sour tails like comets into the modern era. And that’s a really good thing.
Of the many preserved things, one of my favorites — right alongside cured guanciale pork jowl and salted bottarga mullet roe — is confit. An old French method, it involves cooking things long and slow in their own fat. Most often you’ll see it referring to duck or goose, although in today’s kitchens, you’ll find everything from fatty pork belly to garlic to figs to ahi tuna given the confit treatment (that latter we used to just refer to as “tuna in oil” in our own “old days”.)
While duck and goose are undoubtedly the finest confits, I also enjoy employing this technique with chicken — which can be an unbearably boring meat when not given the proper attention. Cured 24 hours in salt, and slow cooked at a low temperature in a bath of olive oil, the best characteristics of the meat are illuminated. It keeps for weeks in the oil in the fridge, the taste getting better with each passing day. Pull a thigh out to quick-brown under the broiler and serve over rice pilaf, or shred and toss over a Caesar salad. I like to throw in a whole bunch of cloves of garlic while the confit is cooking, too. Not only does it give the chicken a lovely flavor, but voila! you’ve made garlic confit, as well — just like the trendy restaurants!!
Oh, and the oil when you are done is really delicious and flavorful — save for sauces, rice pilafs and pastas!
* * *
1 chicken, cut into 10 pieces (each breast can be cut in half) on the bone
1/2 cup salt
3 cups olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1 head garlic, broken into individual cloves with the skin left on (optional)
You can buy a chicken pre-cut up, or have the butcher to it. Or if you have a good knife or poultry shears, roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.
The day before: sprinkle your chicken liberally with salt, making sure to get all 10 pieces. Place in a bowl or tupperware container in the fridge and let cure overnight.
Place chicken pieces in a medium dutch oven or deep saucepan. (They can be crowded around the bottom.) Place garlic cloves around the chicken, if using. Cover the chicken with the olive oil. Place on a low flame on the stove and cover. When the oil has begun to bubble slightly, add the butter.
Cook on the lowest flame possible, covered, for 2 hours. Remove from heat and serve, or cool to use later. Confit will keep in the fridge, covered in the oil, for several weeks.