When the temperature and humidity drop, my thoughts turn to confit - not to consuming it (although I like that), but to the process of making it. In fact, it's one of my favourite things to do on a lazy winter afternoon.
Before there was refrigeration, "confiting" was a way of preserving meat. The practice has continued because it tastes so good.
Confit is still made the traditional way, although some chefs use a sous-vide machine rather than cooking it on the stove. Because confit is now usually stored in the fridge, rather than at room temperature, we can use less salt than they did in the olden days (salt, too, is a preservative).
With confit, fatty meats such as duck, goose and pork are submerged in rendered duck, goose or pork fat, heated very slowly, and kept at a low temperature - the fat shouldn't even bubble. The meat - along with flavourings such as garlic cloves, bay leaves and whole black peppercorns - cooks in the fat for several hours, until the moisture is driven out of the meat and replaced by fat, making it very tender and moist. It is then taken out of the fat and put into a clean container, and the strained fat poured over the meat until it's completely covered. The fat, when it congeals, creates an oxygen-free environment that prevents the meat from spoiling.
Because the meat shrinks as it cooks, it's best to start out with larger pieces. Order older, larger ducks or geese from poultry specialists and cut up the birds yourself. Lightly sprinkle the pieces with salt and refrigerate overnight so the seasoning can penetrate the meat.
Duck and goose confit is almost always made only from the drumsticks and thighs of the birds, but I also cook the wings and neck (I use the carcass to make broth, and sear the breasts for a separate dish). When the wings and neck are tender, I strip off the skin and pan-fry it to make delicious crackling. Then I make rillettes by pulling off all the meat from the wing and neck, pounding it to shreds in a mortar, mixing in some of the melted fat then seasoning with salt and pepper. Pack the mixture into a ramekin, cover with more melted fat and then refrigerate.
The rillettes are delicious spread on crusty baguettes or crackers. Pork confit and rillettes are made in the same way as you would cook goose or duck; choose fatty pieces of pork, such as the belly.
After making the confit, let it ripen for a few days in the fridge. Then take it out of the fridge so the fat can soften, and carefully remove the pieces. Pan-fry the meat to warm it through and crisp the skin, then serve with potatoes roasted in the fat. Duck or goose confit is a traditional ingredient in cassoulet, a slow-cooked casserole.
The main problem with making confit in Hong Kong is the outrageous price of rendered goose and duck fat. I buy fat in large tins when I go to France. You can also use lard (rendered pork fat), which is much cheaper.
After straining the fat, it can be re-used several times for future batches of confit, although it should be discarded once it gets too salty. The delicious juices left at the bottom of the pan should be refrigerated or frozen, and used in place of demi-glace.
Truc: (tryk): noun, masculine, trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chef's secret.