(I am way behind on my class updates and totally out of order in talking about the techniques I’m learning at KoF, but whatevah…)
Sounds disgusting, huh? Like most people who are even semi-health conscious these days, I’m not so big on fried foods. They’re something that I really reserve for the experts–i.e., I consider them an occasional treat to be eaten when out at a restaurant, not something I would necessarily ever do at home. And I don’t even eat fried foods that often when I go out–I mean, who doesn’t like french fries or onion rings every once in a while and sometimes you do have to get a Fried Chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty‘s just because they are sooooo good, but, like I said, fried foods are a treat, not something I make a habit of eating often.
I don’t even come from a family that really fried stuff, either. A couple of times when I was a kid, my mom decided to try making onion rings because she happened across a recipe for beer-battered rings in either the LA Times or in one of her women’s magazines (Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal), but, aside from bacon, we didn’t fry much else. I do recall those onion rings being pretty good though.
So I thought the fried foods technique class at KoF would be interesting but probably not something I would necessarily ever use at home. That is until I tried confit.
Wow. Although we learned how to properly pan and deep fry stuff, confit was a bit of a revelation. But first let’s cover off the frying stuff.
The key to frying, according to Chef O is not to let the oil get beyond the smoking point. Once the oil starts smoking (usually past 375 degrees Fahrenheit), that’s when those evil trans fats that everyone keeps hearing about start to come out and poison your food. So oil really needs to be kept between approximately 325-375 degrees for proper frying. Even though I was willing to try frying some catfish for a po’boy and some egg rolls in class, I’m still not likely to become a home fry(er).
But confit could be another story. And here’s why–one, it’s easy. Two, it’s sorta yummy. OK, I’m probably not likely to get down with the famous duck confit on my own, but there are some simple things that make pretty good homemade confit. One is tuna–Chef O make this in class and it was great. All he did was slice some fresh ahi from the Berkeley Bowl into 1-2 inch thick steaks and immerse them in a combo of grapeseed and olive oils and then add some garlic and thyme to a baking pan. You can confit either on the stove or in the oven, based on what you’re confiting or on your preference. For larger items, obviously the oven makes the most sense.
Unlike deep or pan frying, confit is a bit more like braising than boiling. To properly confit, the oil needs to stay at a low simmer during the entire cooking process–so for the oven, a low heat – somewhere between 250 to 350 degrees. On the stove, it should be medium low to low.
The big thing I learned that day was just how great confiting certain vegetables–and even fruits!–can be. The recipe we tried for the day was confit of tomato, garlic and lemon. This makes a pretty amazing spread for bread. Especially the lemon. (We sort of overcooked our tomato, so I’ll need to try that again some time.) But confit of lemon is a revelation! The entire lemon slice gets soft enough to spread, rind and all. I’ve always been a huge lemon fan anyway, but if you’re a puckery person like me, then you have to try confiting some lemons. Lemon confit makes the entire lemon slice sort of silky in texture and it removes some of the rasp of the pucker, but stays just a tad bitter enough. And it’s so easy to do–all you need to do is slice up some lemon, but it in a saucepan and cover the slices with oil. I would recommend adding some garlic, if not some tomato. It would probably be good to add some funky spices, as well, depending on your flavor palate–thyme would be really good, maybe even something like star anise if you wanted to to the Asian route instead of the Euro. Then bring to a low simmer on the stove and cook for approximately 20-30 minutes. If you do use tomatoes, keep a good eye on the mixture so that the tomatoes don’t start breaking down too much and become overdone. Remove from heat, spread on a baguette and enjoy!