Garlic Confit in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Confit is a French culinary technique for slowly cooking meat or vegetables in fat or oil at low temperatures. The slow cooking process not only preserves the food but also imparts a rich, deep flavor to the ingredients.
The word comes from the verb "confire," which means "to preserve", and knowing that helps better appreciate the words confiture, confiture pan, and confiture jar when we refer to fruit jam, copper jam pan, and those heavy (500g) faceted glasses from Durand in France.
Confit as a method of cooking dates back to medieval times (pre-Frigidaire®) allowing for the storage of cooked foods in a cool place for extended periods without spoilage. The fat seals the container in which the prepared food is placed, preventing the growth of bacteria.
You're likely familiar with salt-cured duck (or goose) confit from Gascony slowly cooked in their own fat until tender then packed into a container, completely covered with the rendered fat available from from Hédiard or Fauchon in Paris; some of you may have even made duck confit yourselves.
Using the same technique, fish is sometimes prepared this way, and garlic confit is another popular application of this technique by slow-cooking garlic cloves in olive oil until they become tender and easily spreadable. It is important to note here that storage of low-acid plant material in oil is a known botulism risk. Commerical producers safely manage this by including an acidifying process to get the pH value below the growth range for Clostridium botulinum. Another method is to kill the toxin with heat prior to cooking in oil. Our recipe includes this step as well as a caveat at the end. I hope that this doesn't dissuade you from trying this recipe; the risk to you is low if you follow standard food safety guidelines. The flavor of this condiment compelling, both because of the smooth texture and non-aggressive and utterly sweet nature of the final product; pungency eliminated.
Happy cooking! Liz (and Donald)
PS: Terrific to spread on toast, you can also enjoy garlic confit in this vinaigrette recipe: Garlic Confit Rosemary Sauce.
Garlic Confit with Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Mise en place
3 Heads of Garlic, peeled
1 ½ cups extra virgin olive oil or enough to cover
Prepare garlic by peeling and placing in an oven proof baking dish
Clean and place herbs on top of garlic as desired; this step is optional
Pour over enough olive oil to cover
Heat oven to 250F
Slowly bake uncovered for 1 hour and check color. You are looking for a light golden brown.
Bake another 20 to 30 minutes as needed to achieve the color
Cool completely, then transfer to a glass jar ensuring cooked cloves remain covered in oil. Store refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
IMPORTANT: Please read food safety protocol before preparing garlic confit.
Please be aware that unless food safety protocols are followed it is possible to get botulism while making garlic confit at home. Botulism is a rare but serious illness caused by the toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Garlic is a low-acid food, and when it is combined with oil creates an oxygen-free environment that is favorable for the growth of the bacteria.
To minimize the risk of botulism while making garlic confit at home, follow these important safety guidelines:
1. Select fresh, firm garlic cloves that are free of mold or damage.
2. Store the garlic confit in the refrigerator (below 40°F / 4°C) to slow bacterial growth.
3. Consume the garlic confit within 2 to 3 weeks.
4. Discard garlic confit if you notice any signs of spoilage, such as off-odors, mold, or gas production.
By following these precautions, you reduce the risk of botulism when making garlic confit at home.
One frustration in reading recipes online is the presence of conflicting directions, incomplete information, even factual errors.
Error #1 - Directions which ask the cook to "acidify the garlic" by blanching in boiling water is my first frustration. This is wrong because blanching in boiling water does not significantly change the pH of raw garlic. The pH of raw garlic typically ranges between 5.3 and 6.3, and to inhibit the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the pH should be below 4.6. Blanching raw garlic before making garlic confit can serve several purposes, but it is not an effective method for killing Clostridium botulinum spores. Blanching can help remove dirt, reduce bitterness, and soften the garlic, making it more palatable (i.e. bland) in the final confit, however, it does not ensure the destruction of spores which are highly heat-resistant and can survive boiling temperatures (212°F or 100°C) for an extended period. To destroy the spores, a temperature of at least 240°F (116°C) must be maintained for a specific duration, which can be achieved through pressure canning. However, pressure canning is not commonly used for garlic confit, as it may alter the texture and flavor of the garlic. I return you to the four guidelines above: follow the safety protocol and you should have no issues.
Error #2 - A related error I find from time to time is when a recipe asks you to “blanch in vinegar”. Although vinegar is acidic and can lower the pH of foods it is mixed with, simply blanching garlic in vinegar is not a reliable method for lowering its pH to a safe level.To acidify garlic and lower its pH, you would need to pickle it in a vinegar solution with an appropriate concentration of acetic acid (at least 5%) for a sufficient amount of time. This allows the acidity of the vinegar to permeate the garlic and lower its pH. I have not tried this, however, it would no doubt yield a different tasting product, and in any event, for garlic confit the main goal is not to acidify the garlic but rather to follow proper food safety guidelines during preparation and storage. These precautions (listed above) can minimize the risk of botulism without requiring a change in the pH of the garlic.
All food preparation carries within it an inherent risk. Please take care and follow instructions carefully.