In the age of the InstaPot, we forget that some things can’t be rushed, that food benefits from time, and that there’s a cozy appeal to keeping a pot simmering in the kitchen all day long.
“I really enjoy low and slow cooking because you can get away from the stove and do other things,” says Carolynn Angle of Good Dog Tavern. “It’s really about giving the food time for flavor development, for texture.”
The braise — foundation of stews, pot roasts, tajines, and pretty much any fall-apart protein or melting vegetable — is the preferred method for building aromatic anticipation for dinner. It starts with browning the proteins or vegetables before adding liquid to a pot, bringing the contents to a boil, and then letting them slowly tenderize on very low heat. What happens during that time is less about the chemical breakdown of the food’s structures than its alchemic transformation into comfort.
“I do a lot of slow cooking, especially this time of year,” says Joncarl Lachman of Noord. “It’s all about warmth and soul, and it’s very rewarding to make a stew or slow-simmered soup. When people were doing a lot of sous-vide dishes, I would always say: ‘Why don’t you just make a braise? It tastes better.’ ”
Lachman braises pork bitterballen, vinegar-steeped rabbit, and his personal favorite, goat stew, an occasional special. A menu staple is his hete kip, or Suriname-style chicken. Skinless boneless thighs are dredged in flour and cooked with onion, carrot, celery, tomatoes, and a spicy sweet swirl of kecap manis, sambal oelek, brown sugar, and chicken stock for the makings of a saucy hoagie filling or, as Noord serves it, a brunch dish topped with melted Gouda cheese and fried eggs.
A more low-key low and slow approach would be confit, or gently cooking proteins or vegetables in a fat bath. This traditional wintry French technique was designed in days of yore to seal perishable foods against bacteria-attracting oxygen. (Hard to imagine the idea of cosseting meat in schmaltz would have occurred to anyone during a Philly summer.) The most obvious application is for duck legs, but chicken and pork are also common confit targets.
“I love to make duck confit and add that to a cassoulet or a salad,” Angle says. “When duck confit is on the menu, people who love it order it right away, but a lot of customers are less familiar. Explaining the whole process can sometimes confuse people, so I just like to say it’s a very tender piece of roasted duck.”
Angle hews to the classic method of curing the duck legs overnight in coarse salt, chopped herbs, and spices (in this case, warming clove, cinnamon, bay leaf, black pepper, and nutmeg). Once cooked, the duck gets a final turn under the broiler for crisp skin. From there, the luscious meat can be served over lentils, with a root vegetable mash, stuffed into tacos, tossed into pasta, or turned into a hash with a fried duck egg for good measure. Or, for a lighter meal, set it over crisp greens with plumped dried cherries or raisins, toasted hazelnuts, or pecans and a crumbling of blue cheese with a sherry vinaigrette for kick. (The fat can be saved for another use.)
At Bar Hygge, chef Julie Kline makes confit from just about any ingredient that can benefit from it. She cures chicken legs in salt and sugar and spices like chili flake and cumin, then pampers them in liquid duck fat until the meat falls off the bone. She then whips the meat and fat into rillettes, and serves it on a piece of whole wheat toast with thyme-roasted pears and radicchio.
“A lot of the guys come into my kitchen and don’t know about confit or how to utilize it, and I love to show them how versatile it is. Really, you can do anything with confit,” Kline says. “We serve duck fat-confit fingerling potatoes that are then smashed and fried and served with a seared pork chop.”
Confit doesn’t always require animal fat — oil can be used, as well. Cod, salmon, tuna, and swordfish can be made into confit in olive oil for an at-home canned fish alternative. Garlic confit, made with duck fat where dietarily possible or olive oil, is the kind of condiment that can easily become obsessive, spread on bread, whisked into oil for topping steamed greens, stirred into a potato mash, or added to a bean dip. Tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, fennel, carrots, and other root vegetables can all be slowly softened into sweet oblivion.
Fruit confits are technically closer to jams, jellies, and preserves, with sugar instead of fat doing the work of preserving the food. But they are just as fulfilling and fun to make on a wintry day. This time of year, Kline turns blood oranges and local honey into a marmalade that she pairs with a cheese board.
“It’s really neat to see what you can do when you work slowly,” she says. “I would love for people at home to experiment with these techniques a little more.”
Slow-cooked preserved vegetables can appear in many forms: At Noord, Lachman makes mostardas, mushroom conserva, and zuurkool, the Dutch version of sauerkraut. Good things will always come to those who wait, he says.
“The slower you cook, the more time you’re giving the flavors to build. Talk to any Italian mother — she’ll tell you to take it slow.”
Yields 5 cups
6 blood oranges, washed
1½ cups sugar, divided
½ cup lemon juice
¾ cup honey
2 cups water
2 tablespoons pectin
1. Halve two of the oranges and cut the halves into 1/8-inch-thick half-moons. Prepare the other four oranges by cutting the ends off and removing the outside skin. Cut the skinless fruit into ¼-inch-thick rounds.
2. Place all of the oranges into a bowl and add ¾ cup sugar and the lemon juice. Stir and refrigerate overnight.
3. Set the macerated fruit in a saucepan, making sure there is enough room to fit the remaining ingredients. Add the honey and water. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat and then reduce to a low simmer. Cook the fruit for 1½ to 2 hours, or until the skin of the blood oranges becomes tender. Check occasionally and add water as needed so the jam doesn’t burn.
4. Once the skins are tender, combine the remaining ¾ cup sugar and pectin in a bowl. (The sugar helps the pectin form clumps when added to the jam.)
5. Bring the jam back up to a rolling boil over high heat and, with a whisk, stir in the sugar mixture and continue stirring for one minute. Lower the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the saucepan from heat to allow the jam to cool completely before using.
— Julie Kline, Bar Hygge
½ cup kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 crushed bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
½ head garlic, cloves peeled and crushed
4 moulard or Rohan duck legs
3 cups duck fat
1. Combine salt, herbs, and spices with crushed garlic and rub mixture all over duck legs. Let rest 24 hours in the refrigerator.
2. The next day, wipe off the salt, garlic, and herb mixture from the legs. Melt duck fat in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. When fat is warm but not hot, add the duck legs to the fat and bring the pot to a low simmer. Simmer until meat is tender, about three hours. Turn off heat and let rest.
3. Remove legs from the hot fat and place on a sheet pan. Set tray under the broiler until skin crisps and browns, checking frequently to avoid overcooking, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and serve as desired.
— Carolynn Angle, Good Dog
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
½ cup soy or canola oil
2 large onions, medium dice
2 cups celery, medium dice
2 large carrots, peeled and medium dice
2 tablespoons kecap manis
2 cups chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons sambal oelek
2 quarts chicken stock
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and white pepper to taste
1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook for a few minutes until soft. Use a slotted spoon to remove the vegetables and set aside.
2. Season the flour with salt and pepper and dredge the chicken thighs. Heat the oil in the pan again and add the chicken, working in batches to brown both sides.
3. Once both sides are browned, add the other ingredients and return the carrot, onion, and celery to the pot. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Stir occasionally. Serve on a hoagie roll or over grilled bread with melted Gouda cheese and topped with two fried eggs.