Can You Use a Turkey Fryer to Confit?
“Confit.” You’ve likely seen this word on restaurant menus, possibly associated with duck, and usually at an impressive price. Confit is really simply the method of cooking a meat slowly in fat—which actually is a lot less fattening than it sounds. The key is a technique that involves curing the meat a bit before cooking, and between the words “confit,” and “cure,” many home cooks use the words: “I’ll skip this.”
However, it doesn’t have to be a restaurant technique that stays in the commercial kitchen, and to prove it, we asked Chef Matt Bolus of 404 Kitchen in Nashville, Tenn., to break down the steps for us on his day off.
He’s an expert at applying fine techniques to seasonal ingredients, and as someone who cooks even on his day off, he understands the challenges of a home versus professional kitchen. Therefore, his secret weapon “home confit” method was a turkey fryer and a gallon of canola oil. That’s right, that assumed once-a-year Thanksgiving tool and the grocery store staple combine for gourmet cooking at home. In fact, having a quality fryer as part of your outdoor kitchen can help you produce decadent gourmet meals.
Here’s how Chef Bolus did it.
Choose your meat.
Although it’s possible to confit seafood, avoid choosing it for your beginning attempts. Instead, choose something from the supermarket meat case, whether it’s chicken legs, beef ribs or pork shoulder. “Really, you can go with whatever looks good,” Chef Bolus explains. “I went with turkey legs because they were meaty and easy to eat once cooked.”
Place meat in a shallow pan and cure overnight.
Chef Bolus used a mix of two parts salt to one part brown sugar for his cure. “You want to cover it with the cure and let it sit,” he says. He added some fresh sprigs of thyme on top but generally kept the mixture very simple. Adjusting the ratio is personal preference—adding more sugar will brown the meat faster—as is using white sugar instead of brown sugar.
Rinse off the cure and lightly pat dry.
You do not want the cure to muddy the oil, so when you’re ready to cook, rinse off the sugar and salt mixture and lightly pat the meat dry.
Bring oil and meat up to temperature at the same time.
“I used the basket that came with the fryer to place the legs in the bottom,” the chef instructs. “I poured canola oil over it to submerge the legs, and only then did I ignite the gas and heat everything up.” This method is not only safe, but assures that the meat will not cook too rapidly.
Cook low and slow, and keep an eye on the flame.
Bolus cooked his turkey legs for about two and a half hours at 225 degrees, and he kept tabs on the temperature with frequent thermometer readings since it was a little windy and the flame went out a few times. (The fryers are built to cook at higher temps.)
“Because of the canola oil, the temperature in the fryer was easy to maintain even if the flame went out for a moment,” Chef Bolus said. “The amount of moisture in the meat and the size of the turkey legs determined how long these cooked until done, but it was generally easy to tend.”
Remove meat from oil and sear to finish.
Once meat is cooked through, give it a “chef touch” by searing in a cast iron skillet or sauté pan to create a crispy crust.
For Chef Bolus, the results of the challenge were good enough that he now has plans to add the meat to the 404 Kitchen menu. “The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender, and I really just dressed [the turkey legs] with a little fresh arugula and parsley and served as is,” he says. “I can see doing this at home by the grill, too. Treat it like a celebration, not a chore, and this would be a great addition to that backyard party.”
Stephanie Burt is a culinary expert who writes for Home Depot on all things food, from how to grill mac and cheese to unique recipes ideas to use in your outdoor kitchen. She is also the host of The Southern Fork, a weekly podcast featuring interview culinary conversations with Southern chefs, farmers, distillers and more.