Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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In ancient times, cooks from central Asia to western Europe learned that cooked meat could be preserved by burying it under a thick, airtight seal of fat. Today the best known version is the southwest French confit of goose and duck legs, which became fashionable in the 19th century on the coattails of foie gras—which may in turn have been an accidental by-product of cramming geese to get the fat for unfashionable farmhouse confits! The French confit probably began as a household method for preserving pork in its own lard through the year following the autumn slaughter. The confit of goose and duck seems to have been developed by makers of salted meats around Bayonne in the 18th century, when local maize production made it economical to force-feed fowl and generate the necessary fat. In the age of canning and refrigeration, confits are still made as a convenient, long-keeping ingredient that lends its distinctive flavor to salads, stews, and soups.