It’s January and time for returning to basics in many ways. After holiday extravagance, I am in the mindset of taking stock and stocking up. The cold makes me turn to low, slow cooking and the cozy, melting, flavorful results, which explains my obsession with confit. You could say that my poaching everything from garlic to onions and fennel, to cod, to turkey legs in deep pots of oil or butter is an attempt to get, well, “confit cozy” this winter.
Bad culinary jokes, aside (did I really say, confit cozy?) confit is one of the oldest methods for cooking and preserving foods. Salting and slowly poaching meats, root vegetables, or fish in fat allowed them to be held, sealed in fat, for months at a time without refrigeration. The fat protects the product from being exposed to the air and bacteria, which leads to spoiling. Today, with modern cooling available, we don’t use confit for preservation as much as for the exquisite flavor and texture this method develops. I’ve been smudging up my pages of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Cookbook recently, (actually it’s Tot who wrinkled and puckered page 313 by jumping on the counter and sitting on it with rain-soaked paws), but staying to the back of the book where there is a section called Building Blocks.
Keller provides recipes for these confit staples that he uses to start other more complex sauces, soups or sides, or to perfectly complement a main protein. With their relatively long fridge-shelf-life, I started thinking that it would be great to have some quart containers of these beautiful building blocks around for myself. In the next few posts I’ll cover the onion confit, onion and fennel, and a surprising turkey leg confit, but here I just want to give you the garlic, because if you are going to do any confit at all, really, you should do the garlic. It’s going to become something you just want to have on hand all the time, because these spreadable garlic cloves, soaked in this beautifully infused oil will spoil you forever. And as Keller says in Bouchon, “it’s such a great flavoring device for everything from shellfish to mashed potatoes. or to be stirred into soup or spread on a baquette…the oil the garlic is cooked in can be used as well.”
You can start by grabbing about 25 heads of garlic and sitting in front of the TV catching up on your DVR’d shows, while peeling and trimming about 60 cloves. I have a box of medical supply gloves under my sink that I pull out for just such tasks. Or you can make it easy on yourself and buy a bag of already peeled garlic, which is available in most grocery stores or big-box stores these days. You may still have to trim off the knobby little root end, but starting with these cuts down the prep time by a zillion minutes. Just the same, I’ll give you a quick trick for peeling a lot of garlic at once: take the separated, unpeeled cloves and put them in a large plastic container that has a lid…or a metal bowl that you can cover with a plate. Holding down the plate to the bowl, or snapping on the lid tight, shake the heck out of those cloves of garlic, banging them around for 30 seconds or so, against the sides of the bowl and each other. When you open the lid, about 70% or more of the cloves will have their peels off or loosened in a way that will make them easy to peel.
The rest is easy. A cup of canola oil. A cup of extra-virgin olive oil. A pot. Very low flame, so low just the tiniest bubbles appear but hardly break the surface. Forty minutes later you have tender, lovely pearls of flavor. Gorgeous Garlic without the bite, or the burp. (I’m one of those people who loves garlic but my stomach doesn’t. This gently rendered version is much more subtle and easier to digest. And you can always just use the oil for the hint of garlic you are craving. Think popcorn.)
When it’s done, it will keep for a month or more, covered in oil, in the fridge. The oil may become somewhat solid when cooled, but you can just spoon it out, along with a few cloves, throw it in a warm pan to melt, or briefly microwave. Use anywhere, on anything.
Building Blocks: Garlic Confit
Adapted from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller
Garlic Confit can be used in any recipe that calls for garlic. It is a great way to keep fresh garlic on hand and it’s infused oil on hand for flavoring everything from shellfish to mashed potatoes, or to be stirred into soup or spread on a baguette for a crostini or sandwich. The oil the garlic is cooked in can be used as well.
1.5 cups peeled garlic cloves (about 60 cloves)
1 cup canola oil
1 cup olive oil
1. Cut off and discard the root ends of the garlic cloves. Place the cloves in a small saucepan and add enough oil to cover them by about 1 inch. None of the garlic cloes should be sticking up out of the oil.
2.Place the saucepan on a medium-low flame/heat. The cloves should cook gently: very small bubbles should come up through the oil, but the bubbles should not break the surface. The oil should not “boil”. Adjust heat down to achieve this temperature, or move the pan slightly to the side, off direct heat, as necessary. They shouldn’t brown at all, just soften.
3. Cook the garlic for about 40 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the cloves are completely tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the garlic to cook in the oil.
4. Refrigerate garlic in oil, in an airtight container, for up to one month.