Confit: Practically anyone who has the vaguest interest in food and cooking has probably heard this word used (and misused) more than a few times.
Many people, even experienced cooks, may be a little hazy about the meaning of the term. Is it a dish or a cooking method? Is it French or, heaven forbid, “fancy?” Does it make you feel uncomfortable and ignorant when your food snob friends use it casually in conversation?
Let’s see if we can clear up some of the confusion surrounding this key, but often misused, term which plays an important role in both classic and modern cookery. As Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”
The origin of the word “confit” is indeed French, coming from the French verb confire, which literally means “to prepare or preserve.” In cooking terminology, the usage of the term has evolved with the times, but at the most basic level, it remains an age-old method of preserving food, particularly by cooking it in fat. In the days before refrigeration, many foods, especially fatty meats like duck and pork, were preserved by simmering them in rendered fat. The cooked meats were then packed into clean jars or pots and were sealed by pouring a thick layer of the liquid fat over the top. After the fat cooled and solidified, the cooked meats were protected from harmful bacteria which could cause spoilage – not unlike the canning processes which we use today.
A great number of the classic dishes of European cuisine, including the famous duck confit, pork rillettes and many others, are still made using this ancient technique today. However,the goal now is not preservation, but the rich, yet delicate flavors that this time-honored technique produces.
Confit, however, can also refer to a condiment or preserve of foods other than meats, including fruits or vegetables – or mushrooms.
These days, it’s not uncommon to see restaurant menus dotted with ingredients such as “Meyer lemon confit,” “red onion confit,” “tomato confit,” or “garlic confit.” These condiment-like confits are intended to offer an intensely flavorful balance of sweet, sour and savory elements that complement & enhance the main dish.
The chanterelle mushroom, the “Queen of the Forest,” whose delicate, fruity, yet spicy flavor is so-well suited to many dishes, seemed to be an ideal candidate for the confit method. With some experimentation, the following recipe slowly evolved. It’s wonderful on its own as a spread for crusty rustic breads, as an ingredient in sauces, as a filling for stuffed pork chops and chicken breasts, turnovers and ravioli.
Here is our basic recipe for Chanterelle Confit and just two of the many ways to use this amazingly delicious preserved mushroom condiment. Now go ahead and come up with your own ideas – just be sure to share them!
- 1/2 pound fresh chanterelles or other wild mushrooms
- 1 large onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 oz dried apricots
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup dry sherry
- 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 Tbsp raw sugar (substitute light brown sugar)
- pinch crushed red chili pepper (optional)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
Brush any dirt or grit from the chanterelles. If any dirt is difficult to remove, give them a quick rinse under cool running water and pat dry. Roughly chop the mushrooms into 1/4 – 1/2 inch pieces.
Peel and dice the onion. Peel and mince the garlic cloves. Coarsely chop the dried apricots. (Hint: brush or spray cooking oil on the blade of your knife to help keep the dried apricots from sticking.)
Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan over medium-low heat. Add the chanterelles, onions & garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes or until the onion becomes translucent and the mushrooms have begun to soften. Add the diced apricots, sugar, salt, pepper and crushed chili (if using), then add the dry sherry and chicken stock.
As soon as the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid has reduced and the resulting mixture is thick and jammy, about 40 – 60 minutes. Adjust salt & pepper to taste, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Put the confit into a glass jar and pour a tablespoon or two of olive oil over the top. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month. Freeze to store the confit for up to 6 months.
Wonderful with grilled meats, chicken or fish, on omelets or savory crepes.
Welsh Rarebit with Chanterelle Confit
Pre-heat the broiler of your oven.
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk into the melted butter. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the dark beer and whisk until the mixture is smooth and thickened slightly. Add the grated cheese, mustard powder, paprika and cayenne and stir until well incorporated. Add the chanterelle confit and stir in. Adjust seasonings to taste and reduce the heat to very low.
Toast 2 thick slices of rustic bread and place one slice each on oven-proof plates.
Spoon or pour half of the cheese and mushroom mixture over the top of each slice.
Slip the plates under the broiler for a minute or two until the mixture bubbles and browns, but does not burn. Serve immediately.
Crispy Chanterelle Confit Turnovers
- 8 – 10 prepared eggroll wrappers (found in the produce section of the grocery store)
- 2 cups Chanterelle confit (see recipe above)
- Olive oil or melted butter
- Coarse sea salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper.
Place an eggroll wrapper flat on a work surface with one corner pointing toward you.
Spread 1 – 2 Tbsp of Chanterelle confit on the bottom half of the wrapper closest to you. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with water. Fold the top half down to meet the bottom, pressing the edges firmly together to seal them to form a neat triangle. Gently press the sealed packet to evenly distribute the filling.
Place the finished “turnover” on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all eggroll wrappers are filled.
Brush the turnovers with olive oil or melted butter. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Place the baking sheet into the preheated oven for 10 – 12 minutes, or until the edges of each turnover are crisp and golden brown.
Suggestion: use smaller square or round packaged wonton wrappers for a bite-sized version, perfect for appetizers or parties.