Great cooking is 100 percent about technique. Over the past few months, I’ve explained several basic cooking techniques, emphasizing that the proper execution of these techniques results in ridiculously delicious eats.
In addition to the basics, there are many specialty techniques that professional cooks employ. Most are not really practical for the home cook, at least not on a regular basis. However, with a little streamlining, they can make for a fun project.
The ones that come immediately to mind have to do with charcuterie. Yeah, I’m talking sausages, pâtés, terrines, confits, etc. The main objectives of charcuterie are to preserve and transform lesser quality meats into sublime treasures. Most involve a large investment of time, specialty equipment, skill and passion, but some are quite easy and can be performed at home with just a little attention to detail.
The confit technique is one of those esoteric-sounding French terms that’s widely misunderstood by most foodies. Confit at its most basic is simply a way to preserve a product. Most of y’all likely associate it with duck. Yes, DUCK CONFIT! Even writing the name makes me drool. Definitely on my Top 10 list of the most incredibly sumptuous dishes ever created.
The confit technique utilizes preservation techniques and low and slow cooking to tenderize products by gradually breaking down the cell structure. The process for duck legs begins with a quick cure; our friend “salt” is the star of this sequence. Other seasonings and aromatics can also be used. This cure can take anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days.
Next, brush off any whole spices and excess cure and submerge the duck in melted fat. This is like a hot tub for the duck, a duck sauna, a duck spa day, just hold the facial. Gosh, the lucky ducky, I’m jealous.
Anyway, the cooking temperature should be around 250°-300°F and the cooking should last about six to eight hours. The result, well — let’s just say it beats getting my two front teeth for Christmas. But, once again, it’s a big pain for the home cook. Just finding duck legs is a project and what do you do with all the extra duck fat (besides eating it with a spoon)? Fortunately, other proteins can benefit from this technique, as well as vegetables.
So here’s a streamlined version that uses very little fat. We’re going to Chef-up pork butt and make the best carnitas ever!
Chef Bill’s Pork Carnitas
• 3 pound pork butt, cut into 2-inch pieces
• 2 onions, cut into sixths
• 6 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
• 1/2 orange, quartered
• 1 lime, quartered
• 1 lemon, quartered
• 1 tbsp. chipotle powder
• 1 tsp. cinnamon
• 2 tsp. coriander
• 3 bay leaves
• 2 tbsp. salt
• Vegetable oil to cover
1. Mix the chipotle, cinnamon, coriander and salt. Toss the pork pieces with the seasoning and allow to cure for several hours.
2. Place the cured pork in a baking dish just big enough for the pork to fit snugly, with sides high enough to avoid overspill.
3. Snuggle in the onions and garlic.
4. Squeeze the juice from the fruits and snuggle them in as well.
5. Add the vegetable oil, just enough to cover the pork. Wrap with foil and bake at 275°F for three to four hours, or until very tender.
6. Cool, strain and shred mixing in some of the drained fat.
7. Spread out and broil until crispy on the top.
Until we cook again,
Chef Bill Thompson
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, the owner of the Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Fernandina Beach, at [email protected] to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!