Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Learning the basics of French Bistro (pt 1) - Onion Confit

While I was watching Thomas Keller the other day demoing a recipe for Mediterranean Sea Bass on Martha Stewart live, I reminded myself that I should try to learn more of the basics listed in the back of the Bouchon Cookbook to get a head start on culinary school. Today, I've decided to start my first in a series of posts on the basics of French Bistro fare: Onion Confit. I chose Onion Confit for 2 reasons: I have a surplus of humongous Spanish onions that I bought from Costco that I can't for the life of me use and because I like saying confit (kon-FEE)... confit, confit, confit. I can tell you from my Food Lover's Companion book that I got for my birthday that confit is a specialty of Gascone, France where meat is slowly cooked and salted in its own fat, most often duck or goose. Although confit is mainly done to duck, the Bouchon Cookbook has a lot of different varieties of confits - garlic, onion, tomayto, tomahto, potayto, potahto - OK I got carried away. Here's my recollection of the recipe from the book: 

1 pound of Spanish onions (2 or 3 large ones)
8 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of water
1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 bouquet garni
1 parchment cover

1. Half the onion lengthwise then cut into 1/4 inch thick slices (Note: the book goes in detail about cutting a v-shaped wedge at the bottom of both halves and removing any flat pieces of onion - presumably the older pieces that are going to sprout?? - just goes to show how meticulous Thomas Keller is with his ingredients)
2. In a medium skillet over low heat, warm the water and melt the butter, use a whisk to aid in the melting
3. Add the onions, salt, and bouquet garni to the liquid
4. Cover with the parchment paper
5. Stir every 20-30 minutes, more often the longer it has been cooking
6. The onions will take about 2 hours to cook and be very sweet and soft, but not fall apart
7. Remove the parchment cover and bouquet garni and let cool in its own liquid
8. Transfer the confit to a plastic container and pop it in the fridge

Onion confit is very versatile. The confit is used all over the Bouchon cookbook, but it can also be used simply as a topping on things like steak, flatbread pizzas and crackers. I decided to make Potatoes Lyonnaise, another recipe courtesy of the book, with my leftover potatoes from Thanksgiving. They were pretty much a fancified French version of country potatoes. In the words of Rachel Ray herself, they were "YUMMO."

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