Sous Vide and Confit
Did you ever think you knew the definition of a word or term simply because you have seen it so many times and assumed you knew what it meant? It happened last week when my husband asked me what Confit meant on a menu. We were on vacation in Jamaica and I noticed that this particular menu had Confit listed as a style of preparation for a number of different dishes, and what I thought it meant, did not make any sense to the food descriptions. This menu had not only Duck Confit, but pork and lamb confit, too. Normally, I have only seen Confit associated with duck; the duck meat is chopped into tiny cubes and tossed with colorful vegetables- so I thought Confit was a style of serving the meats diced with vegetables. So we decided to ask Google- Google knows All! “Confit as a cooking term describes when food is cooked in grease, oil or sugar water, at a lower temperature, as opposed to deep frying.” Wikipedia. Wow! That was a huge revelation. We had no idea. Now we were intrigued. How is it possible to cook in grease, oil or lard and not end up with greasy food? Well, because of the low temperature, roughly 200 degrees F for a long period of time, the food actually is poached keeping all the juices and flavors within the meat. Originally it was developed as a method of preservation for meats and is a specialty in Southwestern France; in modern cuisine it is more commonly known as a long and slow method and style of cooking. I found a few good articles to help me understand the process, so please feel free to follow the links to learn and enjoy. The first one from Seriouseats made the process easy to understand. Before refrigeration, meats and fruit needed to be preserved and the oil created a bacteria free environment for the meats to be prepared in. Before the food could be immersed in the oil, it was usually soaked in a brine and herbs to further create an environment not favorable to bacteria. Today that tradition is continued in order to enhance flavors. Generally meats that were somewhat tough were best suited for the Confit method, such as duck legs. Once the process is complete, the meats and fruits can be “shelf stable” for months- if they last that long! Normally, when we hear “low and slow” we think barbecue. Now you have to think twice- is it Confit? So how is it that the food is not greasy as opposed to deep frying? Interestingly enough, when you deep fry the oils are at 450 degrees F, and any natural water in the meats is evaporated or dehydrated out rapidly, creating the boil or bubbles that we see in the pot. That dehydration serves to create the crisp that we all crave. In Confit, the fat merely coats the surface and does not penetrate deeply as the liquids remain in the meats.
So once I understood the actual definition of Confit, I realized it reminded me of another cooking term, that is very popular today, Sous Vide which is also a style of Poaching. Wow! Who knew? In Sous Vide, the food is sealed in vacuum sealed bags, and then cooked slowly in water that is kept at the desired temperature of the cooked meats. Restaurants use Sous Vide a lot to ensure the proper temperatures of meats and food are attained, and then the steak or chicken can be thrown on the grill for grill marks and the desired amount of “doneness” is assured. But most of us would not cook at home that way, many people use Sous Vide as a way of keeping moisture and flavor and tenderness in their food while also keeping the cooking style clean and low calorie. Food can’t be overcooked because the temperature of the water never goes above the desired temperature for doneness. Pretty ingenious! To round out the styles, and bring poaching/Confit and Sous Vide together, I could not think of a better recipe or example than Butter Poached Lobster Tails by Thomas Keller to round out my story to you. If you have never had this delicacy, I suggest you add it to your bucket list! It is amazing. Lobster season is just around the corner, too! Poaching the lobster yourself at home can be challenging to keep the temperature even and prevent the butter from breaking. Have you tried any of these techniques yourself? Feel free to reply and share your experience or favorite recipe. The hospitality team at Events by Marylee are always up for learning something new and are happy to share their experience with you. Don’t forget to Spring Ahead!