To The Pyrenees For The Celebrated Confit!
In a marvelous 18th century former private mansion with the very unlikely name of Hôtel de Bastard in the Pyrenees village of Lectoure, you’ll find grand chef de cuisines Jean-Luc Arnaud, member of La Ronde des Mousquetaires, and craftsman of what have to be the most delectable Confits to be found anywhere. These out of the mainstream mountains on the French border with Spain receive very little foreign tourism and that is a great shame, as any Confit pilgrimage cannot be complete without savoring the remarkable delicacies of Chef Arnaud!
Although many people in North America are quite familiar with French food, many of them may never have tasted one of the staples of Southwestern France, the Confit. A Confit is a culinary term for a rather wide range of foods which are preserved by being thoroughly salted, placed in a crockpot, covered and poached or braised for up to twelve hours in their own fat at a temperature which does not exceed 250 degrees F. The fat that the meat cooks in, acts as both a sealant and preservative and results in a spectacularly velvety rich flavor.
Confit Country is the name given to the specific region of Occitan France where the primary cooking oil is actually goose fat as opposed to the olive oil which is ubiquitous throughout the entire Mediterranean region. Confit Country can be approximately subdivided into areas where a specific meat is predominantly utilized to prepare the local confit. Therefore, if you're located in the Basque or Bearn regions you will be enjoying a goose confit, while if you're in Brantome or Saintonge the bird in your confit will be a duck!
Confit is essentially a medieval long term preservation process. Remarkably, a properly prepared Confit can be refrigerated up to 6 months and it can even be kept for extended periods at room temperature, as the peasants of the Gascony area developed the Confit process especially to preserve meats without need of refrigeration. As long as the meat stays completely submerged in the fat, the probabilities of spoilage are remote.
Confit is renowned throughout French culinary tradition as a superlative base for a variety of regional delicacies: Duck, goose, turkey or pork are the meats that are primarily preserved in this method are currently considered some of the most stratospheric highlights of French cuisine as Confit meat dishes are magnificently savory, moist and delicate. Confit d’oie is preserved goose and Confit de canard is preserved duck, and there are almost infinite regional variances. In the Toulouse and Dordogne, Confits are often used as a base for the delectable Cassoulets where they are married with haricots blancs (white beans) and some of the seasoned local sausages.
Confits are truly an acquired taste as the tastebuds of many North Americans would find the high concentration of pure fat to be unpalatable. Let's face it: a Confit is basically just fat, fat, and some more fat to go on top of the fat. To the uninitiated, a confit can seem like a salty duck leg covered in lard, but to the connoisseur, it is very close to culinary paradise. Whatever you do, don’t ask your cardiologist as it will most likely spoil what would otherwise be a glorious experience.