Ever wondered about the difference between a braise and a confit?
We made some pork confit for the first time, and it was amazingly luscious and delicious. It was tender, flavorful and simply fantastic. It got us wondering about the difference between braise and confit. Confit, by it’s very definition is ‘to conserve’ or preserve. It’s an ancient cooking technique, most traditionally done with duck, i.e. duck confit. The duck (generally duck legs) seasoned for several days with salt and seasonings, then slowly simmered in their own fat with some aromatics (onion, garlic, bay leaf, carrot) for 4-5hours at low heat (275F) until tender. The duck at this point can be keep in a cold place covered with it’s own fat for weeks or months (the ‘conserve’ part). Today we have refrigeration and freezers, and don’t require the antiquated long term storage technique, but can still enjoy the luscious results of the cooking method. The duck can be taken from the duck fat and then fried in a bit of fat, to crisp the skin. The result is melt in your mouth beautifully textured tasty duck.
Fast forward… I tried the same thing with baseball size hunks of pork shoulder, seasoning beforehand with salt… then slow roasting in the oven with aromatics (onion, garlic, thyme, carrot, bay leaf) and covering with the more accessible than duck fat – pork fat (or lard). I simmered it ever so gently with the cover on for 4 hours at 275F. It was melt in your mouth delicious. It still had a nice texture, was juicy, flavorful (meaty), and fried to crisp the outside, without being greasy or fatty.
The engineer in me couldn’t resist the challenge and I performed the same task on another set of baseball size hunks of pork, with the same technique, but instead of ‘confit’ and covering the pork and aromatics with pork fat…. I covered them with water. I left the cover off, and baked for 325F for 4 hours. The reason I left the cover off and raised the temperature is that I didn’t want the pork liquid to boil, as it would release the moisture toughening the pork. If I had put the cover on, the liquid inside would boil. By leaving the cover off I was assured the liquid could evaporate keeping it at a gentle simmer without boiling and releasing it’s moisture. I rather expected the same result – luscious pork without the fat. What I got surprised me. The pork was very tender, maybe even more so. The confit pork had been more toothsome and meaty while being tender and luscious (which I preferred). The braise pork was tender and fall apart, but it lacked that luscious texture and meaty flavor. While it was tender… it was dry and not at all juicy. I crisped it just as I did the confit, and it made wonderful taco filling. The pork confit was more suited to a fine dinner, while the pork braise a taco covered with distracting condiments to juice it up.
To look at them, you couldn’t tell which was which. But to taste them, the result was clear. The fat covered confit wins this battle of braise vs. confit. Not that I won’t braise again. But I found it a fascinating experiment with surprising results.