By Vanessa Greaves
Photo by Vanessa Greaves

Ever eat something so good you immediately had to learn how to make it yourself? For me it was the savory and meltingly tender confit turkey in a salad at re:public restaurant & bar in Seattle. The salad components were good in themselves — roasted asparagus, fingerling potatoes, radicchio, pine nuts, soft-cooked egg — but the confit took it to a different level altogether. I knew I had to own it.

What is Confit?

It's both a verb and a noun (think of stewing a stew). Pronounced "koh-FEE," it's a French method of preserving any kind of food by slowly cooking and storing it in a liquid. For example, duck confit, "confit de canard," is duck cooked and stored in rendered duck fat, and confit fruit is cooked and stored in sugar syrup. It was one way to safely stock up food before modern refrigeration or canning came along. For a deeper dive into the food science of confit, you can head over to Serious Eats where J.Kenji López-Alt spells it out in Ask The Food Lab: What The Heck Is Confit? In the meantime, I'm going to get right to the how-to.

How To Confit Turkey

I found a recipe from Mark Bittman that uses olive oil instead of duck fat, which sounded a lot more doable to me, even though it wasn't the classic confit method that would enable me to preserve the turkey for months encased in solid fat. I wasn't planning on keeping the confit around for long. So, armed with Bittman's basic plan, plus a load of guidance from Julia Child, Alice Waters, and Anthony Bourdain, I came up with a recipe that worked for me.

Photo by Vanessa Greaves

Ingredients

2 turkey legs
Coarse salt
Handful of fresh sage, thyme sprigs, or rosemary sprigs, or combination
6 cloves garlic, peeled
10 whole peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 quarts olive oil, or as needed

Directions

  1. Rub turkey legs with a generous amount of coarse salt. Put in a bowl with herbs and garlic, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. To cook, wipe salt off the turkey and put it in a pot with herbs, garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Add enough olive oil to completely cover the turkey. Heat to 200° F. Use a clip-on candy or frying thermometer to help keep the oil between 190° F and 205° F. (Pro tip: To get an accurate reading, don't let the end of the thermometer touch the bottom of the pot.)
  3. Cook gently for 2 hours or until the meat is very tender when you pierce it with a fork or skewer.

If you're eating the confit right away, remove it from the oil and let it cool slightly. To eat it later, you can cool it and store in the fridge with or without the oil. With oil, it will keep for a week or two. Without oil, eat within a few days. You can reheat shredded turkey confit in a pan.

Photo by Vanessa Greaves

Making turkey confit turned out to be fairly easy, and the DIY satisfaction was off the charts. Good thing, because next I want to replicate that incredible salad I had at re:public, which is what started the quest for confit in the first place.

  • You can confit more than turkey or duck. Give these a try:
  • Food & Styleshow you how to make garlic confit.
  • Michal Ruhlmandoes a salt-cured lemon confit.
  • David Lebovitzmakes a gorgeous tomato confit.
  • And check out this pork belly confit prepared byDavid Leitefrom a recipe by Thomas Keller.

If you're interested in making duck confit, try this recipe. After that, you could use it to make classic cassoulet.

Happy cooking!
(Photos by Vanessa Greaves)

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