14 January 2011

Cassoulet--A French stew

Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.  Don't let all the steps fool you, this isn't as difficult as it looks, but there are lots of steps.  And as I learned the hard way, make sure you read the directions well.

First I want to start out with talking about duck confit.  If you've never had it before, I highly recommend trying it.  Confit is actually a means of preserving meat (be it duck, goose, pork, whatever).  It's the preservation method that make is delicious, I think.  Basically the way the meat is preserved is by first salting overnight, then cooking the meat in it's own fat.  That may sound a little off-putting at first, but then think about duck legs roasted in duck fat.  What a combo!  To can it for long preservation, it is then put in whatever vessel is appropriate and submerged entirely in fat and sealed.  If you want to save some effort in this recipe, you could just buy the confit as well.

I will admit, I sometimes do not have enough attention to detail as I should.  This was my main problem in this recipe.  It is a three-day process, so keep that in mind.  The beans require lots of cooking time and water--that's what I ended up messing up...I only cooked them for 30 minutes on the 2nd day.   Then, I forgot to add the cooking water to the cassoulet later.  Result?  You guessed it.  Crunchy beans and no sauce.  I was able to salvage it a little, but most importantly, the duck survived.  I can't even imagine how good this would be if I followed the directions (go figure).  It was still pretty darned tasty, even skipping a few key steps (but I wouldn't recommend it).  I will give it a second chance in the near future, and I think it will definitely be a winner.

So some notes on this recipe...I did not get any pork rind, so I used bacon to line the pan.  I figured bacon makes everything better so this should work.  I also used Cannelini beans, and aside from the above mistake, I think they worked fine.  I used 4 large bratwursts rather than 6 smaller ones.

For your planning purposes, here is an outline of what needs to be done on which day:

Day one (easy)
-Salt duck legs
-soak beans

Day two (most of the work)
-boil beans
-complete confit
-assemble and cook cassoulet

Day three (again, easy)
-cassoulet back into the oven.

Preparation Time:

  • For Duck Confit: 2 Days.
  • First day, 15 minutes.
  • Second Day, 2 hours.
  • For Cassoulet: 3 Days
  • First Day: 10 minutes, if that
  • Second Day: Approximately 3 ½ hours, most of which is oven time
  • Third Day: 1 ½ hours, all oven time

Cassoulet by Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman (as featured on the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations”)
Serves 4 - 8
printable version

Ingredients for Duck Confit
  • 4 whole duck legs (leg and thigh), size does not matter
  • sea salt, for the overnight (at least 6-8 hours) dry rub (the amount varies depending on the size of your legs, so just know that you need to have enough on hand for a good coating.)
  • 2 cups/480 ml/450 gm/16 oz duck fat
  • a healthy pinch or grind of black pepper
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 1 garlic clove
Day One
Rub the duck legs fairly generously with sea salt, place in the shallow dish, cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight. At all times, keep your work area clean and your ingredients free of contamination - meaning don't allow any other food, like bread crumbs or scraps, to get into your duck, duck fat or confit, as they will make an otherwise nearly non-perishable preparation suddenly perishable.
Day Two
1.Preheat the oven to moderately hot 375ºF/190ºC.
2.Render (melt) the duck fat in the saucepan until clear.
3.After seasoning with the black pepper, place the duck legs in the clean, ovenproof casserole.
4.Nestle the thyme, rosemary and garlic in with the duck legs, and pour the melted duck fat over the legs to just cover.
5. Cover the dish with foil and put in the oven. Cook for about an hour, or until the skin at the "ankle" of each leg pulls away from the "knuckle." The meat should be tender.

6. Allow to cool and then store as is in the refrigerator, sealed under the fat. When you need the confit, you can either warm the whole dish, in which case removing the legs will be easy, or dig them out of the cold fat and scrape off the excess. I highly recommend the former. A nice touch at this point is to twist out the thighbone from the cold confit. Just place one hand on the drumstick, pinioning the leg to the table, and with the other hand, twist out the thighbone, plucking it from the flesh without mangling the thigh meat. Think of someone you hate when you do it.

Ingredients for Cassoulet

  • 5 cups/1200 ml/1100 g/39 oz dried Tarbais beans or white beans such as Great Northern or Cannelini (if you use canned beans be aware that you will need double this amount!)
  • 2 pounds/900 gm fresh pork belly
  • 1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 pound/450 gm pork rind
  • 1 bouquet garni (tie together two sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme and one bay leaf)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup/60 ml/55 gm duck fat
  • 6 pork sausages
  • 3 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 4 confit duck legs
Day One
1.Place the beans in the large bowl and cover with cold water so that there are at least 2 or 3 inches (50mm or 75mm) of water above the top of the beans. Soak overnight. That was hard, right?  (Beans will double in size upon soaking, so use a big bowl!)
Day Two

1. Drain and rinse the beans and place in the large pot.
2. Add the pork belly, the quartered onion, 1/4 pound/115 gm of the pork rind, and the bouquet garni.

3. Cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and continue to simmer until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes more.

4. Let cool for 20 minutes, then discard the onion and the bouquet garni.
5. Remove the pork belly, cut it into 2-inch/5-cm squares, and set aside. (If you plan to wait another day before finishing the dish, wait to cut the pork belly until then.)
6. Strain the beans and the rind and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid separately.
7. In the sauté pan, heat all but 1 tablespoon/15 ml/15 gm of the duck fat over medium-high heat until it shimmers and becomes transparent.
8. Carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides.
 9. Remove sausages and set aside, draining on paper towels.
10. In the same pan, over medium-high heat, brown the sliced onions, the garlic and the reserved squares of pork rind from the beans (not the unused pork rind; you'll need that later).

11. Once browned, remove from the heat and transfer to the blender. Add 1 tablespoon//15 ml/15 gm of the remaining duck fat and purée until smooth. Set aside.
12. Preheat the oven to moderate 350ºF/180ºC/gas mark 4.
13.Place the uncooked pork rind in the bottom of a deep ovenproof non-reactive dish. You're looking to line the inside, almost like a pie crust. Arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers, beginning with a layer of beans, then sausages, then more beans, then pork belly, beans, duck confit and finally more beans, adding a dab of the onion and pork rind purée between each layer.
14. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving 1 cup/240 ml in the refrigerator for later use.
15. Cook the cassoulet in the oven for 1 hour, then reduce the heat to very slow 250ºF/130ºC/gas mark ½ and cook for another hour.
16. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight.

Day Three

1. Preheat the oven to moderate 350ºF/180ºC/gas mark 4 again.
2. Cook the cassoulet for an hour.
3. Break the crust on the top with the spoon and add 1/4 cup/60 ml of the reserved cooking liquid. (Don't get fancy. Just pile, dab, stack and pile. It doesn't have to be pretty.)
4. Reduce the heat to very slow 250ºF/130ºC/gas mark ½ and continue cooking another 15 minutes, or until screamingly hot through and through. Then serve.

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