The Super Bowl has overtaken Thanksgiving as my favorite food holiday. It is too a holiday – doubly so this year, because the Giants are in it. Talk about your all-American smorgasbord: burgers, wings, pizza, pizzaburgers, burger wings, seven-layer dip and anything upon which one may pour nacho cheese. By the way, someone finally came up with a dessert more American than apple pie: the Oreo cookie truffle – chocolate-dipped balls of pulverized sandwich cookie mixed with cream cheese. Unfurl the red, white and blue disposable tablecloth, and color me impressed.
With all the cream-cheese-choked, Fry-Daddied options, it’s hard to know just what to bring to the party. Yours can be but one in a sea of cold-cut platters, or you can attempt to set yourself apart from the spinach/artichoke crowd. After contemplating my game plan, this year I’ve decided to make a play on a perennial favorite: chicken-wing confit.
Confit, as we all know, is French for “I am delicately fried and preserved in lard.” Not lard, exclusively; any type of rendered animal fat will do, if we’re talking meat. There’s a whole other world of fruit and root confits, typically preserved under a layer of sugar or oil. But let me back up, to la source: According to Larousse Gastronomique, confit is one of the oldest methods of food preservation, a specialty of southwestern France. For a traditional duck confit, the meat is salted and seasoned; or brined, then drained and dried; then cooked slowly, submerged in simmering, seasoned, rendered duck fat in a heavy pot, in which the ratio of meat to fat is 11-to-nine.
Once the meat is cooked through, the pot is removed from the heat, the dish is allowed to cool and, sealed tightly, the meat will last for many months in a dark cool place like the pantry. No refrigeration necessary. It can be consumed at room temperature, or heated up and subjected to additional cooking processes, like frying or broiling, to crisp the skin.
I was inspired to take this seemingly unnecessary step toward Super Bowl touchdown transcendence by a recent trip to Portland, Oregon. Grabbing a quick lunch at a slow-food restaurant, my companions asked me what the confit meant. “It’s a way of cooking, I think,” I said.
Valentine’s Day will be the fifth anniversary of this food column, and I’ve guzzled enough confit to choke a French family of five, and I still didn’t know. But our hirsute foodie waiter sure did, coughing up a five-minute mini-master class on confit. Portlandia is funny because it’s true. (He’d probably tell you that there’s technically no such thing as chicken wing confit; it’s chicken en confit.)
Back here in the Hudson Valley, I can technically start my wings tonight, put them up on a shelf in the pantry for a week and present them – cold and congealed, like Han Solo in carbonite – at Sunday’s football fiesta; but, knowing their origins, I doubt that anyone will eat them. So I will make them fresh, starting 24 hours before the coin toss. Here’s all you need to know to have the confidence to make the most succulent, rich, slow-fried wings at the party:
Chicken Wing Confit
3 lbs. chicken, broken into wings and drumettes
Scant 3 lbs. of lard, schmaltz or beef tallow
Salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, cumin, oregano et cetera
Salt the Dickens out of the chicken, and sprinkle liberally with pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, cumin and oregano, or your preferred amalgamation of seasonings. Seal in gallon freezer bags and place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. (Alternatively, the chicken can be brined.)
The next day, preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Shake off excess seasonings and place wings and drumettes into an ovenproof baking dish. In a separate heavy pot, melt lard on the stovetop. Pour lard over chicken and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until wings are cooked all the way through. (Cut one to test.) Let cool on the stovetop, submerged in molten lard.
At this point, you could let it cool to the point of solidification and put it in your southwestern French countryside root cellar; or you can fish the wings out, allow them to drain on paper towels and then broil them on high for four to five minutes per side to crisp up the skin. But the very best thing to do is deep-fry them in peanut oil at 350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit until they look crisp and golden-brown: Just one to two minutes should do it.
Roll them all around in the wing sauce of your choice, and voilà! The choicest wings – a two-point culinary conversion in a tight game with ten seconds on the clock in the fourth quarter – will make your fellow partygoers almost as happy as a championship.