Cretons

Originally posted December 15, 2009 (if you can believe that).  Re-posted today with some major corrections.  I first read about cretons in an article in The Ottawa Citizen by then-food-columnist Ron Eade.  He presented cretons as a Quebecois variation on rillette.  A while back Emmanuel (Manu) of Pied Cochon, Joe Beef, and Woodwork fame gave me the skinny on cretons, and they really are not like rillettes at all.  I am not able to find that original Ron Eade article to expose it.  Presumably someone from the lower St. Lawrence forced him to remove it as libel or lies.  Anyways.  

A ramekin of cretons.Cretons is a pork spread made by simmering ground pork and aromatics like onion, bay, and clove in milk or cream.  As with any Quebecois dish there are as many variations as there are Francophones.

Pork.  You can use regular ground pork.  Actually the pork can be quite fatty as any lard that renders into the pan will be bound up with the dairy and (in my recipe…) breadcrumbs.

In addition to ground meat, Manu also adds gryons. This is the Quebecois word for greaves (see this post on rendering lard for more info).

Usually I’m a fanatic about searing meat, even the ground meat used in chili and meat sauce.  Searing generally improves the colour and flavour of a dish, but there are a few notable exceptions.  In my book those exceptions are veal blanquette and cretons.  We want a soft texture and a light colour.

Onion.  To me onion is essential as a sweet-‘n-savoury bridge between the pork and the spices.

Speaking of Spices.  Clove seems to be the most commonly used spice in cretons.  I use a standard quatre-épices blend of black pepper, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.  These baking spices can easily become cloying, so use a light hand.

Dairy.  Some use milk, some use cream.  I use cream because it gives the final dish a rich texture but a happy, bright white colour.

Breadcrumbs.  Again, not all recipes include breadcrumbs, but I like using them to bind up any pork fat that has gone adrift and floated to the surface of the mixture.  Starch such as breadcrumb makes for a smoother, more cohesive spread.

Basically all these components are combined and simmered until the dairy has reduced and become a stodgy porridge.  At this point the mixture is potted and chilled.  It is most commonly eaten for breakfast, on toast.

Lazy Man’s Cretons.  Oftentimes when I make pie I misjudge the ratio of dough to filling, and am left with a surfeit of one or the other.  Excess pie dough is easy to get rid of (pie sticks!)  Excess filling can be a bit trickier.  If I have leftover tourtière filling, I put it in a heavy pot and cover it with heavy cream.  If you simmer this mixture for about an hour it’s hard for an Anglo such as myself to differentiate it from true cretons.  I have no idea what Quebecers would think of that, but it’s already happened so we should all move on.

Like many rustic preparations, cretons is a double-edged sword: on the one hand it’s almost impossible to not be tasty; on the other it is truly impossible to make it look appetizing in the modern sense.  It is cold meat porridge, after all.  But it’s delicious, and a great way to use up leftover ground meat.

 

Cretons

Ingredients

  • 600 g ground pork
  • 150 g onion
  • 10 g garlic
  • 1 tsp quatre-épices
  • 470 g heavy cream
  • 30 g bread crumbs
  • 1.5 tbsp kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Gently cook the pork in a heavy pot.  Do not colour the meat.
  2. Add the onions, garlic, and quatre-épices.  Cook gently until the onions are starting to become translucent.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients.  Simmer until the cream has reduced.  The mixture should have the consistency of porridge.  Roughly 45 to 60 minutes.
  4. Transfer immediately to ramekins or ceramic dishes.  Chill thoroughly.
  5. Spread on toast.

Preßwurst

Presswurst at an Austrian Heuriger.Preßwurst, transliterated “presswurst” and pronounced “PRESS-voorst,” is Austrian headcheese.

Headcheese is a polarizing preparation with a terrible name, but I think borrowing a trick from Preßwurst can make headcheese much more palatable to North Americans.

Both dishes are made from pork head and trotter.  The meat is brine-cured so it is rosy pink, then simmered until tender. The meat is strained, shredded, and packed into a mold with some of the gelatin-rich cooking liquid, which firms into aspic when chilled.  Full details on the procedure can be found in this post.

The most important way in which Austrian Preßwurst differs from North American headcheese is that after being packed into the mold, a heavy weight is rested on the shredded meat and aspic.  This compacts the meat and forces excess aspic from the mold, making for a dense, cohesive texture.  Most North American’s objection (or revulsion) to headcheese is the jelly component.  When the terrine is pressed this way, there is no discernible jelly; the gelatin is simply an adhesive that binds the various elements together.

Besides changing the appearance and mouthfeel of the dish, the properly weighted Preßwurst is cohesive enough that it can be sliced very thin, like ham.

To replicate the Austrian version I use a commercial kitchen container called a 1/3 plastic insert as my mold.  Once the meat and aspic are packed inside I make a 3 kg weight by adding 3 L of cold water to a second plastic insert that rests on top of the first.  The terrine should be refrigerated for at least 24 hours, preferably 48 hours.

I realize now, looking at the photo below, that my mixture has a lot more fat than the true Austrian version above.

homemade_presswurst

 

Leberkäse

Loaves of Leberkäse Leberkäse is an emulsified sausage mixture that is shaped into a block, baked, and sliced to order.  Picture hot dog filling, only instead of stuffed into casings it’s packed into a loaf pan.

Yes: a hot dog terrine.

For the record the name literally means “liver cheese,” but usually contains neither liver nor cheese.  There is, however, a preparation called Käseleberkäse, which is Leberkäse studded with cubes of cheese in the style of a Käsekrainer.

Where would you eat Leberkäse?  Austria and Bavaria, for starters.  More specifically sausage stands, beer gardens, grocery stores, and any other place that might hot-hold food for quick service.  The loaves are baked till they have a brown, crusty top, then kept under a heat lamp until ordered, at which time a half inch slab is sliced from the end.  Leberkäse is commonly served in a kaiser roll with mustard or mayonnaise.

I didn’t return from Austria with an authentic Leberkäse recipe, but the flavour and texture of the dish reminded me so much of North American hot dogs that I have developed my own formula from a standard hot dog recipe.  The main departure is that I substitute a small amount of the beef shortrib with pork shoulder, and add a healthy dose of sautéed onion to the mix.  And of course it’s baked as a loaf.

For meals at home I slice slabs from the baked, chilled loaf, then sear them on a griddle and eat them on a crusty kaisersemmel.  Think fried baloney sandwiches.

leberkaese_plate.JPG

 

Leberkäse

Ingredient Percent (%) for 5 kg (g)  
beef shortrib 66.7 3335
pork shoulder 33.3 1665
kosher salt 1.20 60
curing salt 0.578 29
water 20.0 1000
mustard powder 0.711 36
paprika 0.489 24
coriander 0.222 11
garlic, minced 1.422 71
black pepper 0.178 9
corn syrup 2.400 120
sautéed onion 10.0 500

Procedure

  1. Combine the beef, pork, kosher salt, curing salt, and water.  Mix briefly, then cover tightly and let stand in the fridge for 48 hours.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients.  Chill thoroughly and grind through a 1/4″ plate.  (See this post for details on grinding technique.  Properly chilling the meat is especially important for emulsified sausages such as Leberkase.)
  3. Chill thoroughly and grind through a 1/4″ plate for a second time.
  4. Chill thoroughly and blitz in a food processor in small batches until mixture is a uniform paste.
  5. Line loaf pans with parchment.  Bring a pot of water to the boil.
  6. Pack the meat paste into the loaf pans.  Cover with foil.  Cook in a water bath until an internal temperature of 150°F is reached.

Pork Liver Pâté

Seared liver and ground pork

“What the hell is pâté?”

Pâté is fancy French meatloaf: it’s ground meat, bound with dairy, eggs, and bread.  The only difference is that pâté usually contains some liver, and it’s usually eaten cold.  If it’s baked in a special ceramic dish, it can be called a terrine.

Within that definition, there is a spectrum of pâtés that runs from rustic to refined. The two qualities that decide a pâté’s place on the spectrum are texture and ingredients. Rustic pâtés are coarser in texture and made with cheaper, heartier ingredients, like liver. They are often described by words like campagne (“country”), grandmère (“grandma”), and maison (“house”). Refined pâtés have a finer, creamier texture and feature meat more prominently than liver. They may also have fancy interior garnishes, like foie gras or pistachio nuts.  The following pâté is on the far rustic end of that spectrum, as it is coarsely ground and is half liver, half pork shoulder.

If you’re hesitant to work with liver, this is the dish for you.  You still get a clear idea of what liver tastes like, but it is somewhat tempered.  The slightly grainy, pasty texture is smoothed out by the presence of pork fat.  This dish is your gateway to liver enjoyment.

A heavy ceramic terrine
Special equipment.  Besides having some way to grind the meat and liver, the only special equipment required is a baking vessel.  I use a traditional a terrine.  You can make a terrine out of any cooking vessel, but the heavy, ceramic versions are best because they retain and evenly distribute heat.

Pâté has a delicate, almost spreadable texture.  There is a bit of egg, a bit of bread, and a brief mixing period, but the majority of the binding is going to be done by weighing down the pâté after baking.  For this I use a 2 kg brick wrapped in tin foil, and a piece of cardboard, roughly the size of the terrine, also wrapped in foil, to evenly distribute the weight of the brick.

Some things to keep in mind.  For the best texture, we want to absolutely minimize leaching fat.  As with sausages, or really any ground preparation, the meat, fat, liver, and grinder parts must be super-chilled.  Once ground, mixed, and packed into the mold, the terrine is baked to an internal temperature of 150°F, or medium-well.  There should be a faint blush of pink in the centre.  Overcooking will tighten up the meat and leach fat from the meat, yielding a dry meatloaf.  Finally, weigh the terrine heavily and chill for at least 24 hours before cutting.  Cutting with a serrated knife will help keep the terrine’s shape.

 

Pork Liver Pâté

Ingredients
  • 500 g pork liver, large dice, chilled thoroughly
  • 500 g pork shoulder, large dice
  • 25 g kosher salt
  • 4 g black pepper, finely ground
  • 30 mL canola oil
  • 60 g onion, fine dice
  • 60 mL apple brandy or schnapps
  • 2 stale white buns
  • 125 mL whole milk
  • 60 mL heavy cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • fresh thyme and summer savory to taste

Procedure

  1. Heat a heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the canola oil.  Sear the liver aggressively, without cooking the interior.  Remove the liver from the pan.  Quickly sauté onions, then deglaze with the brandy.  Add onion mixture to liver then chill thoroughly.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300°F and put a pot of water on to simmer.
  3. Form the panada by combining the buns, milk, cream, and eggs.
  4. Grind the chilled pork shoulder through a small die.
  5. Combine the chilled liver mix, the ground pork, the panada, salt, and pepper.  Grind through small die.
  6. Add herbs and mix in stand mixer for about 1 minute.
  7. Line the terrine with plastic wrap and pack tightly with farce.  Avoid air pockets.
  8. Put a folded dishtowel in a high-sided roasting pan.  This will keep the terrine from resting on the bottom and help the pâté cook evenly.  Place terrine on the towel and fill the pan with the simmering water so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the terrine.  Bake in oven until centre of pâté is 150°F, maybe one hour.
  9. Remove from oven.  Remove terrine from water bath.  Press with 1 kg weight overnight in fridge.

Slices of pork liver pâté on a charcuterie board

Potted Rabbit

This is one of my favourite rabbit recipes, and I think a great way to kick off Easter dinner.  This is essentially a rabbit confit, made into a rillette.  First I break up my rabbit.  Then I take all the meaty bits and marinate them for twenty four hours in the following, adapted from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie.  Rub every kilo of rabbit with:

  • 20 g kosher salt
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 5 g crushed fresh ginger
  • zest of 1/2 orange
  • 2 crushed black peppercorns

The pulled rabbit meat

After a day the meat is rinsed and patted dry, then covered with lard and gently cooked in a 180°F oven overnight.  The cooked meat is cooled slightly and pulled from the bones.

Mix the shredded rabbit with a bit of the fat in which it was cooked.  Taste and adjust the salt content as necessary.  Finally press the mixture into ramekins and seal them with a bit of the lard.

The most important thing to know about potted rabbit is that it must not be served cold!  First of all the flavour will be muted when the meat and fat are cold.  Second, the congealed fat will ruin the mouthfeel and appearance.  Leave the ramekins on the counter for a few hours before you serve them.  Once the fat has softened the potted rabbit will be yielding to the knife, and it will glisten very slightly, but not so much as to remind the diner of grease.

Eat with toast or crackers.

Sealing up the pots of pulled rabbit

A tasting board: potted rabbit, dried fruit crackers, Smoky Valley Valencay with honey and black pepper, and Sylvan Star mild gouda

Pâté with Pork Tenderloin and Morels

Pork pâté with morel and tenderloin inlayI like to make pâté around Christmas. This year I wanted to try a terrine with an inlay. Inlays are usually pieces of lean mean, like a pork tenderloin or duck breast, that are set in the middle of a terrine, surrounded by forcemeat, so that each slice of the terrine has a cross-section of the lean meat. At left you can see a rosy pork tenderloin cooked to medium.

Winter is a reflective season, and nowhere is this more true than with food, as many of the things we eat in December were by necessity harvested in September, or earlier. The special significance this pâté has to the past year is the garnish studding the forcemeat: morels. This was a remarkable year for mushrooms. These morels are a small portion of the hundreds of pounds picked by Chad and Thea out near Devon early in the summer. Most were dried, and I’m sure many are now being enjoyed at kitchen tables around Edmonton.

As you might have guessed from the shape, this pâté wasn’t actually cooked in a terrine. I pressed the forcemeat around the tenderloin, then wrapped the whole assembly in plastic and poached it in the oven. I hoped it would keep its round profile, but obviously the meat settled, producing the oval shape you see above. I guess I should invest in some proper terrines. (Christmas gift hint.)

Headcheese

I remember Gramp butchering a pig once and there were a lot of people around. This was in the wintertime and there was a big steel barrel full of water that had a huge bonfire under it to heat the water. They killed the pig and then heaved it in the barrel and pulled it out again and all the guys started scraping it with knives. I later learned they were shaving the bristles off it and that the hot water made the job easier. I remember Granny then made headcheese.

-Marvin Streich, in The Streich Family

 

A pig's head from Nature's Green AcresThe above quote is from a family history that my mom wrote. Marvin, her eldest cousin, penned several pages of his earliest memories for inclusion in the book. Since he was born in 1934, and his Granny died in 1942, the abovementioned slaughter must have taken place around 1940.

I nearly fell off my chair when I first read Marvin’s memories. I grew up visiting that same farm, where at one time pigs were killed and boiled and shaved and made into headcheese, but by the time I was born these traditions were defunct, and the recipe and appreciation for Granny’s headcheese had been lost. Marvin’s childhood memory of the pig was like a passing reference to a kingdom now sunk beneath the sea. These days, reading about headcheese in Larousse or Henderson is a strange, semi-academic exercise, but only sixty years ago my great grandparents were making it from their own pigs.

Headcheese is a simple but ingenious preparation. The head is cooked in simmering water, so the low, moist heat can break the tough connective tissue into gelatin. After cooking you are left with very tender meat and very rich broth. If you reduce that broth, the gelatin is so concentrated that it sets when chilled (at which point it could be called an aspic). The meat and reduced broth are mixed together, packed into a mold, and chilled to set. The headcheese can then be sliced and eaten.

Recipes tend to be dead simple, usually just a pig’s head and aromatics. Often trotters are added to boost the flavour and gelatin content of the broth. Curing the pork in a brine before cooking will make for rosy-pink headcheese.  A bit of acid during cooking helps break down the connective tissue and improves the final taste. Since abattoirs split pigs in half along the spine, my recipe is for a half head.

Headcheese

The Brine

  • 4 L cold water
  • 350 g kosher salt
  • 350 g sugar
  • 42 g curing salt (6.25% sodium nitrite)

The Headcheese

  • half a pig’s head
  • one trotter
  • one carrot
  • one stalk celery
  • one leek
  • one head garlic
  • parsley stems, thyme, bay, peppercorns
  • splash of vinegar

Brine the head and trotter for three days.

Pig heads are awkward, with bulky jowls flanking a long snout. They’re a bitch to store, which is why Kevin throws them into the oven while he butchers, a simple solution that I think is becoming a beloved tradition. Even working with half a head, my stock pot was nowhere near big enough. I had to break the head into pieces so that it would fit in my two biggest pots. I boned the head so that I could work with the relatively slender skull and a large slab of meat, which could be cut into manageable pieces.

Combine all the ingredients in a pot (or pots…) and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, skim, skim, skimming the whole time. Lots of grey foam will form on the surface of the water. After roughly three hours, test the tenderness of the meat. A sharp knife should easily pierce the jowls.

Strain the mixture, reserving the liquid. Discard the vegetables and herbs. Return the broth to the stove and reduce by about half. To test your aspic, put a few tablespoons of the broth into a small bowl or cup and refrigerate. It should set firm and break clean when a finger is dragged through.

While the broth is reducing, pull all the edible bits from the head, which, by the way, doesn’t separate conveniently into bones and meat. There are all kinds of other substances, like the snout, which I think is cartilage, but takes on a fantastic, yielding, buttery texture after boiling. Make sure to include stuff like that. When I refer to “meat,” below, I am referring to all edible bits collected from the head.

I cut the jowl and tongue into tidy cubes that were white and red, respectively, while shredding the rest of the head meat.

Seasoning is a bit tricky, because the pulled meat and reduced broth have to be salted separately, and because the finished headcheese is served chilled or at room temperature. Season agressively, as the lower eating temperature will mute the salt.

Pack the meat into a terrine or loaf pan lined with plastic wrap. Pour the aspic over the meat. Gently push the meat down to release any air pockets. You can see that this produces a headcheese with a higher meat-factor and lower gelatin-factor than the commercially-produced kind languishing in your supermarket’s deli. Let the terrine set in the fridge overnight.

Slice with a serrated knife. I prefer to bring mine to room temperature before eating. I finished with black pepper and dried savoury, as I know those flavours were common in Granny’s farmhouse. It also benefits from an acidic sauce of, say, chokecherries or highbush cranberries.

Headcheese, straight from the terrine

 

Blood Terrine

This cake is based on a recipe from Fergus Henderson’s book The Whole Beast. The procedure and recipe are almost identical to those for blood sausage:

  • sweat onions, garlic, and spices in butter;
  • add blood and heat to thicken;
  • add cornmeal in a steady stream, stirring constantly to prevent clumping;
  • heat the mixture until it thickens;
  • add diced backfat;

the only difference being that the mixture is cooked in a loaf pan in a water bath instead of casings.

This cake set beautifully. It was tender, but held up to slicing. This experiment reinforces my theory that there was too much moisture in the other blood sausages. (The cornmeal in the cake was cooked directly in the blood, while the oats in the blood sausage were cooked in water first.) Henderson’s recipe would make a fantastic stuffing for blood sausage. Maybe a polenta, fennel, and chili blood sausage…

Slices of seared blood terrine

Duck Liver Pâté

This week I made a pâté dish featuring two products from Greens, Eggs, and Ham. The main component of the pâté was duck livers from unfattened ducks (ie. not foie gras, just normal livers). The pâté was then served with sour cherries from the same farm (several of which are apparently languishing, unpicked, for want of labourers).

The recipe was adapted from that for pâté grandmère in Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. Duck livers can generally stand in for chicken livers.

1: Season the pork and liver (separately), with salt, pepper, bay, and thyme. Leave the mixtures overnight in the fridge.

The pork and duck liver, seasoned and left to marinate

2: The next day, chill the meat grinder and mixer parts. Ice water is particularly effective. You can also preheat your oven to 300°F.

Chilling the grinder parts in ice-water

3: After removing the bay leaf and thyme, sear the livers quickly over high heat. This is done strictly to enhance flavour and colour. Remove the livers from the pan and add minced shallots. Sautée briefly, then deglaze the pan with brandy to capture the sweet, sweet fond. Add the shallots and brandy to the livers and chill the mixture thoroughly.

Mise en place for browning the livers
Searing the livers
Deglazing the liver pan with brandy
The finished mixture of shallots and browned livers

4: Searing the livers reduces the meats’ willingness to bind and form a cohesive pâté. To help the liver and pork bind properly, a “panada” is added. This is exactly equivalent to the egg and bread crumbs our moms add to meatloaf or hamburgers. This panada is made of milk, cream, egg, and crustless white bread. Simply mix all the ingredients together with a fork.

Mise en place for the panada
The panada

5: Once the liver mixture is thoroughly chilled, combine the pork (bay and thyme removed), liver mixture, panada, and parsley, then pass through the meat grinder with a coarse plate. The plastic wrap in the picture below is draped over the grinder plate to prevent splatter (the livers are still bloody inside).

Grinding the meat and livers

6: Mix the pâté. This develops a protein called myosin that gives the pâté a firm texture. Mix until the pâté develops a slightly sticky feel.

Mixing the forcemeat to develop myosin

7: Quenelle test. Fry a small sample of the pâté to make sure it’s properly seasoned. Since the pâté will be served at room temperature, the seasoning of the fried meat should be aggressive, but not overpowering (seasoning is easier to detect in hot food…)

Cooking a small portion of the forcemeat to make sure it is seasoned properly

8: Shape and bake. A pâté like this would traditionally be packed into a terrine lined with plastic wrap, like the one below:

A ceramic terrine, lined with plastic wrap

At the last minute I decided to bake my pâté in individual ramekins. Regardless of your cooking vessel, pack the meat tightly so that there are no air bubbles. Cracks and pocks mar the presentation, especially in smaller molds.

Place your ceramic vessel in a high-sided roasting tray. Fill the tray with hot water, up to the the level of the meat. I covered my pâté with plastic wrap with the idea of inhibiting browning and moisture loss, though I’m not sure it did anything.

The ramekins in their hot water bath
Cook in a low oven. For standard terrines, 300°F is ideal. Since my pâtés were so small, I lowered my oven to 250°F so that they would cook gently, and slowly enough that I could monitor them and pull them out at just the right time.

The internal finishing temperature should be about 150°F. With a standard terrine this is easily measured by a digital thermometer. Unfortunately a thermometer would not work with these small pâtés. Most digital thermometers detect heat more or less along the whole length of their probe (or atleast the first couple inches). My pâtés, being only an inch deep, would not offer reliable measurements. I judged the doneness the old fashioned way: gently poking the surface of the pâté to test the firmness of the meat. Also, the pâté will be just, just starting to pull away from the sides of the ramekin once the meat is cooked.

9: Serving. I popped the pâtés out of their ramekins and seared them in a hot pan. This is emphatically not traditional, but the liver takes well to the browning flavour, and the crust is a good contrast to the creamy interior. Plus the sear reminds me of Mom’s meatloaf.

The sauce was just sour cherries and simple syrup. Serve with toast.

The finished pâté, served with toast and sour cherry sauce

Fatty Ducks and Geese: The Skinny on Rendering Fat, Confit, and Rillettes

Ducks and geese are fatty little creatures.  Historically even fattier than they are now.  Especially in southwestern France, where they are usually fattened to make foie gras.

This is a goose from Greens, Eggs, and Ham.  It weighs about eleven pounds.  We’re going to render some of its fat.  We’re also going to confit the breasts and legs, then turn them into rillettes.

Greens, Eggs, and Ham goose

First we cut the breasts and legs from our goose.  For a description of this process, see Poultry Cutting.

The breasts and thigh-legs

Rendering the Fat

Even though the choice fat around the breasts and legs is going into our confit, there is still lots of fat to be rendered from the goose. Look for fatty trim around the neck and the opening of the cavity: these scraps can be rendered into pure fat.  What do you do with pure goose fat?  Any cooking that you now do with canola can be done with goose or duck or pork fat.  That includes frying potatoes.  Confit, described below, requires a lot of fat. The exact amount depends on the size of your cooking vessel and how tightly you can place the meat within.  Expect to use about three quarts.  There will not be enough fat from this one bird to make the confit; you’ll have to supplement with fat from another source.  I typically save trim from a few birds before I render it down.

The fatty trim:

The fatty trim pulled from the goose
Chop the scraps into very small pieces.  Running it through a grinder is very effective.  Put this trim in a stainless steel pot with a quarter cup of water. The water helps to evenly distribute the heat. It will slowly evaporate, but by the time it’s gone there will be sufficient liquid fat to take over the role of heat distribution.

Set the pot over very low heat. After a few hours there should be clear liquid fat, and little pieces of skin and connective tissue. Strain the liquid, which will settle into two distinct layers. The top is the fat, and the bottom is essentially a highly reduced stock. The stock can be used to fortify a sauce or braise. If you leave the mixture at room temperature, the stock, being high in gelatin, will solidify, while the fat will stay liquid. At this point you can simply decant the fat.

The rendered goose fat and the solidified jelly

Confit

Confit is a French word that means “preserve”.  It usually refers to a specific method of preserving from the region of Gascony: lightly cured meat, usually duck or goose, is completely submerged in fat, usually duck or goose, and cooked very gently for several hours. The meat is then cooled, still in its pot, still covered in fat, and can be stored for several months. To eat, the meat is dug out of the fat and heated, usually seared so that it has a nice crispy exterior. The most common cuts of meat to be “confited” are the legs.  Breasts can also be used, though they won’t be as moist as the legs.  In modern restaurants all kinds of items are “confited,” including tomatoes and potatoes, which is ridiculous.

Classic confit spice rub contains salt, black pepper, thyme, garlic, cloves, bay, and allspice.

Seasonings for Greens, Eggs, and Ham goose confit

Pulverize the spices in a mill, then rub them onto the goose bits. Place the meat in a non-reactive container, cover, and refrigerate for two days.

Seasoning the meat
After two days, rinse all the spices from the meat. Dry the meat thoroughly with paper towels.

Heat the goose, duck, or pork fat (or some combination thereof…) until just liquid. Pour over the meat.  The meat must be completely submerged.

Covering the seasoned meat with fat
Cover the cooking vessel and place in a 180°F oven. This can be tricky in home kitchens, because even though the lowest setting on the dial might be 150°F, ovens routinely lie to their owners. Our oven, for example, runs 50°F-100°F hotter than the dial setting. This doesn’t affect the outcome of most home-cooking, but it can most certainly taint a batch of confit.

Water boils at 212°F. By making confit at 180°F, we coagulate the proteins and break down connective tissue without boiling off any of the moisture. The result is an impossibly tender piece of meat.  Invest $20 in a good oven thermometer to ensure your cooking temperature stays below 212°F.

Cooking times for confit are long, usually eight to ten hours. I leave mine overnight (hence the dismal lighting in some of these pictures).

After cooking, the meat will be tender and the fat will be clear. If your meat is bubbling under the fat, then your oven was too hot. You can still use the meat, it just won’t be as moist as it should be.

The finished confit
Let the meat cool in its cooking vessel, still submerged in the fat. It can be stored in the fridge for up to a month.

To use the confit, let the vessel come to room temperature, then dig out the meat and wipe off the excess fat.

On Pulling Meat from Confit Duck and Goose Legs

One very important thing when stripping the meat from confit legs.  You need to find four items in each leg:

  • a thigh bone
  • a knee cap
  • a leg bone
  • a death bone

The bones of a duck leg

“Death bone” is not a term of common parlance.  I invented it.  The death bone is a bone that runs alongside the leg bone, and is shaped like a pin.  If somebody unwittingly chews or swallows it, they might die.  So I call it the death bone.

The death bone is why I invented the two-bowl inspection method for confit legs.  Put two bowls in front of you.  Put the whole confit leg in one bowl.  Break apart the meat.  Locate the four items listed above and transfer them to the second bowl.  Once all four intact items are in the second bowl, the leg has been successfully cleaned.  The meat is ready to be consumed until you have located the four items.  Once found, you can discard the four items, or save them for stock.  Make sense?  The two-bowl inspection method is designed for use in commercial kitchens, where one prep cook could be cleaning dozens off duck legs at once.  Obviously at home you should just be careful.

Goose Rillettes

Rillettes are a French style of potted meat.  Meat is slow-cooked in fat, then worked into a soft paste and stored in ramekins.  Pork, goose, and rabbit or hare are the traditional meats.  Rillettes are not traditionally associated with the confit, as confit is a Gascon method of preservation, and rillettes are a charcuterie item popular in Tours and Anjou.  Regional origins notwithstanding, confit makes a fantastic rillette.

Remove the skin from the goose confit. Pull the flesh into strands.

The pulled goose confit
Mix the pulled meat, slowly adding some of the cooking fat. The pieces of meat will start to come together and form a coarse paste.


Mixing the pulled confit, adding some of the cooking fat
The coarse paste
Pack the paste into ramekins so that there are no air pockets. Refrigerate to set.  A layer of fat should float to the top and form a kind of seal.  If you want a tidy seal you can pour some of the cooking fat over the surface. The meat should be submerged by about 1/8″ of fat.

Rillette with bread and mustard on a charcuterie board

Eat with toast. I don’t know why, but plain bread doesn’t work. It must be toast.