The culinary term confit means “to preserve”; its earliest usages point to the process of preserving meat for storage, first by salting and then submerging completely in fat, usually its own.
The French confit de canard is the epitome of this art. It’s usually a leg-thigh quarter, seasoned, salted and slow-cooked, that embodies the reasons for such dedicated effort. Moist, unctuous and falling-off-the-bone, and accented by shards of oven-crisped skin, it doesn’t require much beyond simple greens or other vegetables.
The process also has been employed to transubstantiate onions, garlic, tomatoes, squash, peppers and even potatoes. Animal fat isn’t necessary; olive oil is an acceptable substitute.
The recipe here began as a paean to a so-close-you-could-touch-it spring that the weather gods tease us with. It started out as a humble chicken confit in olive oil — not that I am anti-schmaltz but as homage to the Mediterranean-facing France of dreams.
But then, it’s never done till it’s overdone. I planned to serve it on a bed of legumes but stumbled upon a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe for herbed confit of leeks with lentils. Thinking spring and sunshine again, what possibly could be the harm in adding a few artichokes?
To serve, mound it on a bed of fresh spinach, although rice or another grain, polenta, pasta, or roast potatoes will also work. A quick blender sauce, also via Ottolenghi, of reserved leeks confit and the garlic cloves they were cooked with, mellowed with cream or yogurt and brightened with lemon and mustard, may seem like overkill but it does complete the fantasy.
You can separate this into distinct recipes: the chicken can be kept on hand (and frozen) to be warmed and crisped for a quick meal. The leeks, artichokes and lentils (with or without the sauce) make a satisfying vegetarian main or side.
Confits of Chicken and Leeks, with Artichokes & Lentils
(and a Lemon-Mustard Cream Sauce)
For the chicken confit
(may be prepared a day or two ahead)
- 4 to 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- 1 lemon, sliced into thin rounds, seeds removed
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, cracked
- 1½ teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, chopped
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 to 4½ cups extra-virgin olive oil
For the leek confit, artichokes and lentils, and lemon-mustard cream sauce
- 5 medium leeks, about 1½ pounds, trimmed and washed, white and light green parts cut into ¾- to 1-inch thick rounds
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1½ teaspoon dried thyme
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces frozen quartered artichokes
- ¾ cup dried green French Puy lentils (lentilles du Puy)
- ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 2¼ teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 2 medium lemons)
- 3 tablespoons each fresh parsley, dill and tarragon, chopped roughly
- For serving, baby spinach (and/or cooked rice, pasta or polenta)
For the chicken confit
1. Toss chicken thighs, lemon, garlic, fennel seeds, rosemary and 2½ teaspoons salt in a large bowl; season generously with black pepper. Place in a large zip-close bag and chill, 12 hours or up to 1 day.
2. To cook, bring chicken to room temperature. Preheat oven to 275 degrees and place rack in middle of oven. Transfer chicken and spices to a loaf pan, scraping in stray seasoning; arrange thighs, skin side up (it will be a tight squeeze) and pour 4 cups olive oil over all. (It should come to just over the top of the chicken; if the pieces aren’t submerged, add the additional ½ cup oil.) Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and place on middle rack of oven. Roast for 2½ hours, until meat is tender but not falling off the bone. Remove from oven and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Note: If finishing the recipe in the next couple of days, keep pan covered and refrigerate. Bring the chicken to room temperature. Let pieces drain off most of the olive oil and place on a wire rack on a foil-lined roasting pan or baking sheet. Reserve until needed.
For the leek confit, artichokes and lentils
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees; add the leeks, garlic, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper to medium-sized casserole (with cover). Pour oil over all to cover. Bake, covered and unattended, for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and gently turn the leeks. Push the softer leeks over to one side and add the still-frozen artichokes. Lightly salt them, re-cover the casserole and return it to oven, cooking unattended for another 35 minutes.
2. While the leeks and artichokes cook, prepare the lentils: Fill a saucepan about 2/3 full of water and bring to a medium boil. Add lentils and cook until tender (but not mushy), about 12 to 15 minutes. When cooked, drain and reserve.
3. When leeks and artichokes are finished cooking, remove casserole from oven. Transfer and reserve a healthy ½ cup of the cooked leeks, plus 5 cloves of the cooked garlic. (This is for the lemon-mustard cream sauce.)
4. Add the reserved cooked lentils to the remaining leeks and artichoke. Mix gently to combine, adding an additional ½ teaspoon salt and a couple of healthy grinds of black pepper. Cover the casserole and return it to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes while you prepare the cream sauce.
5. Add reserved leeks and garlic, the cream, mustard, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and ½ teaspoon salt to the bowl of a small food processor and blitz until smooth. Reserve sauce to a small bowl.
8. When done, remove the leek, artichoke and lentil casserole from the oven, keeping it covered while you crisp the chicken confit. Place the chicken on the center rack of the still-heated oven and warm for 10 minutes. While the chicken warms, add the remaining 4 tablespoons lemon juice and chopped herbs to the leek, artichoke and lentil mixture. Keep covered while the chicken crisps.
9. Switch the oven to low broil mode and broil the chicken to brown and crisp the skin, 12 to 15 minutes. Keep a close watch on it so it doesn’t char.
10. To serve, spoon some of the leek-artichoke-lentil mixture over a bed of fresh green baby spinach (and/or rice, noodles, polenta). Place crisped chicken on top and spoon some of the cream sauce over all.