Wild Food Lab Projects:
Salted Fish in a Day
Wild Food Lab
Preserving Meat in Fat - Making Confit
Preserving meat in fat is a very traditional method of preserving food. It was very popular in the 1600s and 1700s. While some of the methods used at the time may have created some health hazards, with a modern understanding of food preservation and done properly, it is a safe preservation method. The principle is very simple, the meat is cooked in fat for a long period of time which kills any potential pathogens/bacterias. It is then placed in pots/jars surrounded by fat which provides an oxygen-free environment. In this example I'm making something which could be served in a very upscale restaurant (Quail Confit in Duck Fat) but you can preserve all kinds of meat this way. In fact you still buy products created using this method under various brand news such as SPAM, Armour Potted Meat, etc...
This is how the final product will look like, in a cool place (fridge or basement) the fat will solidify and preserve the meat in an oxygen-free environment.
The first thing you will need is fat. You can use all kinds of fat (pork, cow, deer, etc...) and because I have in mind some specific fancy dishes, in this case I'm using duck fat for it's wonderful taste. You can either procure the fat yourself (hunter) or, if you're presently a city dweller like me, you can purchase it from a local butcher. I believe organic is important (the fat can contain hormones, drugs, etc...) so make sure you know where the animal was sourced.
This is a step that a lot of people miss. It can take a long time to render large pieces of fat, hours in fact. In order to speed the process, you can use a meat grinder to reduce the fat in little chunks. You need to do this with fat that is nearly frozen or even frozen otherwise you would end up with a gooey mess.
The next step is simple, add a little bit of water (I had 4 pounds of fat and used 1/2 cup of water) and start heating the fat with low heat. If you didn't grind the fat this process could take several hours. By grinding the fat, it took me an hour for the fat to melt. In less than 2 hours the water had evaporated and I had pure fat. Just make sure you don't let the fat go to a boil and burn (turns dark). Some people place the fat in an oven at 300 degrees and my friend said it took him a couple of hours too.
Using a sieve lined with a cheesecloth, I strained it into a jar and you end up with this beautiful amber colored fat.
Once placed in the fridge overnight, the fat solidify. To liquify it again, I simply place in my dehydrater (130 degrees) to 10-15 minutes. You can do that in the oven too.
Next you need the meat! Quails in my case. Again, make sure the meat is of the best quality possible. If you don't hunt, purchase your quails from the local reputable butcher.
The next step is to salt cure the meat. I use around 1/4 ounce of salt for one pound of meat. I also mix other spices with the salt. Being a wild food instructor I like to source most of my spices from the wilderness. In this case I used white sage, California bay leaves, peppers from a local California peppertree, regular pepper and dehydrated garlic powder from the garden. You can simply use store-bought spices such as thyme, bay leaves, etc...
I mix and crush all my spices together. You can also use a coffee grinder to make a powder if you want.
For the quails I just used the legs and the breast. The rest is used for making soup stock (nothing wasted). I sprinkle the salt/spices on both sides.
Once this is done, cover it with a plastic sheet and place it in the fridge. The amount of time you let it cure is really depending on the size. For quails, 5-6 hrs is enough. For larger animals (duck, chicken, etc...) I would let the meat cure anywhere from 12 hrs to 48 hrs.
After 6 hrs, the salt has already extracted a lot of moisture. The salt cure is used to enhance the flavors but it is also used to destroy a lot of the bacterias that can spoil the meat. So it helps with flavors and preserving.
Rinse the meat briefly to remove the salt and pat dry using paper towels.
Place the meat in a pan
Cover the meat with the fat
Place the pan on your stove and bring the fat to a simmer. While you do this, also preheat the oven to around 190 degrees.
Not a must but so in some traditional recipes you can also add garlic to the fat and other spices such as bay leaves (dont' add powdered spices though or you may not be able to remove it from the fat later on)
Place the pan in the oven and let it cook for around 4 hrs. You need more time for larger pieces of meat. For chicken legs or breasts I may use 7 hrs. Basically the meat must be completely tender.
Place the legs and breasts in a container. In this case I use jars. Make sure the meat is submerged in the fat and there are no air bubbles. In a fridge or cold basement this will keep for at least 2-3 months.
To serve the confit, let the fat soften and place the legs/breasts in an oven preheated to around 400 degrees. It took 10 minutes to have perfectly golden and tender quail legs/breasts.
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