The word confit comes from the French verb confire, to preserve, which in turn is from the Latin conficere, to complete, do, finish, make or prepare. Most foods can be preserved as a confit by cooking at a low temperature for a long time in oil, fat or sugar water. Meat is normally seasoned and salted first and after the cooking (between 160–230 °C), cooled and submerged in the fat or oil to preserve it. Something conserved in this manner can keep for months in a cool dark place – the salting and cooking kills live bacteria and the lack of oxygen inhibits it’s regrowth.
The most common examples of confit meat are duck and goose legs cooked in their fat. This is typical of the Occitan (South West of France) where the meat is used in the regional cassoulet, a stew of pork, duck/goose, sausages and white beans. In Provence, food is more likely to be preserved in olive oil. In Spain, pork is often preserved in pig fat and in Cataluña they even cook pig trotters en confit – know as peus de ministre, minister’s feet! Vegetables can be treated in the same manner. Whole or sliced fruit can be cooked in syrup (sugar water) and taking the process a step further there’s jam, which is called confiture in French.
In France, confit is synonymous with preserved duck and goose – chicken or other meats preserved in goose fat are called, en confit – in confit. A feature of the confit process, is that meat can be flavoured with herbs during salting and the slow cooking softens muscle and connective tissue, with collagen being broken down to form gelatin. This makes the meat quite tender. Since preservation in fat, oil and or vinegar was known to the Romans, one would imagine that this method of conservation dates back at least several thousand years.
Rabbit en Confit recipe (serves 2):
1 wild rabbit (jointed)
20 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
5 sprigs rosemary
250ml extra virgin olive oil
2 dessertspoons plain flour
300ml dry white wine
sea salt and cracked black pepper
the juice of half a lemon
Joint the rabbit and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Leave out of the fridge for a couple of hours to come to room temperature (half that in late spring or summer). Since I was cooking this with regard to eating it when done, I didn’t cover it in salt, as per preserved duck legs.
Dredge the rabbit in flour and brown in hot olive oil. Do this in a couple of batches, so as not to crowd the cooking pot.
When the rabbit is browned, put it back into the cooking pot with 20 unpeeled cloves of garlic,
all the remaining olive oil, wine and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Bring the heat up slowly.
Poach the rabbit gently for 2 1/2 to 3 hours (with the lid partially on),
or until the meat is just about falling off the bone. The liquid should have reduced considerably.
Pour off any excess oil, which can be used to cook some sliced potatoes, or roast potatoes on Sunday. Check the seasoning, squeeze on the juice of half a lemon and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with the sliced potatoes and allioli.