Thursday, December 17, 2009

Turkey Confit...In a Rice Cooker!

I’m always looking for new ways to cook stuff, partly from curiosity, partly because my oven sucks. I was speaking with the chef at one of our restaurant accounts and got interested in confit. Confit, which is French so the “t” is silent for some reason (to get the pronunciation just right you should slur like you’ve just polished off a sixer of chu-hi), is an old-fashioned way to cook and preserve meat. Traditionally you salt the meat and then cook it in it’s own rendered fat, duck leg confit is a staple on the menu at most French restaurants.

Even though confit is cooking in oil, it’s different than frying, it is slow cooking at low temperatures for several hours. I’m not really good at doing anything that takes several hours, both my attention span and memory are so short that the last time I tried to make regular coffee as opposed to instant, the pot sat for two day before I remembered to turn it on. However, I am really good at chucking meat at a heat source and turning up later to see if it’s ready. It turns out that I have an appliance in my kitchen that is perfect for this sort of thing—the rice cooker!

The way a rice cooker works is that it does three basic things. First it brings the pot to a boil under pressure to capture the steam, next it holds that temperature for about 15 minutes to allow the rice to absorb the moisture, then it goes into a “warm” phase to keep it hot. So it quickly heats to 100°C, then drops down to around 50 or 60°C, hot enough to cook and kill any bacteria, but too cool to fry, perfect for confit.

I started with a nice little 7 pound turkey that I had laying around and a pulled out the timer and the plastic thing that holds the legs together, you don't want to cook these in oil.

My rice cooker is not so big so I cut it up into pieces, if you have a large enough cooker, you could do this with the whole bird, that would require a lot of oil. I broke the bird into the leg and thigh portions, wings, back, and breast. There is not much meat on the back so I threw that part into the soup pot along with one wing that wouldn’t fit.

Next I scored it so that the spice rub would penetrate into the meat, then I rubbed it all over with some of our Almighty Spice (oh so very mighty!). This bird was pre-brined so I didn't really need to do much more. If you are working with a bird that has not been brined, then you should generously rub some salt on it as well and let it sit for 10 or 20 minutes.

Pack it into the pot of the rice cooker and fill it full of olive oil. Theoretically you could use a differrent type of oil, but olive oil adds some flavor without greasiness and doesn't produce any bitter aftertastes.

Normally when cooking rice the cooker needs about 10 or 15 minutes to heat up, then it switches into warmer mode. Because I had the bowl totally filled with turkey and oil it took about an hour for it to heat up. I then got drunk, went to a nudie-bar, got kicked out, passed out on the sidewalk, got a lift home from a scooter-gang, and stumbled in to see that my rice cooker had been warming for 6 hours. You can do whatever you want while it cooks, you don't have to do what I did.

I had the munchies somethin' fierce so I pulled the turkey out of the cooker and let them rest on some racks for about 10 minutes. You need to let it rest because the turkey gets tired after all that cooking, and you should probably give yourself a little break as well. You deserve it!

After a little rest, just start carving. This bird came out perfectly done. The meat could be pulled off the bone but it wasn't flaky. It was not greasy or oily AT ALL! The herbs and spices really penetrated and the only way I could tell that it was cooked in olive oil is that the fruity flavor of the oil was infused throughout the meat. This was, by far, the best tasting turkey I've ever had! I recommend you give it a try.