Cassoulet, January Daring Cooks

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.

Lisa and I have been friends long distance for quite some time. I am thinking that it has probably been since 2005. Brought together in a long since abandoned, then relocated group of chefs, cooks, bakers, and loudmouth misfits that now meet here on Facebook (group is now private, contact me on my fb profile). I will warn you, we speak our minds. The old group motto was “If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen!” So when I saw that Lisa was co-hosting the challenge I knew it would be good.

Cassoulet is a dish that I have done twice before. It is classic French peasant food that can be made of leftovers and beans to stretch them out, or in a very high end way that elevates the dish to truly elegant. On previous attempts I did all the hard work of making my own duck confit and using traditional ingredients such as pork belly, fresh herbs, and slow soaked white beans. My only shortcut was the sausage. Cassoulet traditionally uses a garlic flavored pork sausage from the area of Toulouse. I got started on this month’s challenge by making my own sausage.

A 7 pound boneless pork butt and 1 pound of pancetta get cut into cubes. I also put together the spices based on this recipe.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, but did use the same blend of spices which were sea salt, sugar, 4 peppercorn blend, fresh grated nutmeg, and about 4 cloves of garlic. I blended the spices in with the cubed meat and set in a metal bowl out my front door. The temp was about 7 deg F. So even with the salt and sugar, the meat started to freeze within about an hour. The chilled meat was then run through my KitchenAid food grinder using the course die.

Into this gets mixed a bit of dry white wine. Then everything is mixed by hand taking care not to mash everything together. This is covered tight and allowed to sit overnight in the refrigerator. I did a quick test after adding the wine to test the spices. It is so good. You wouldn’t think that so few spices and in such small amounts could flavor so much pork. After sitting overnight, these were put into hog casings.

Now on to the duck confit. In the past I have done my confit sous vide to get around the issue of not enough duck fat can be rendered from one duck to confit the legs. This time I wanted to do it traditionally. I butchered two ducks. They were broken down into breasts, leg and thigh quarters, and the carcass. I also utilized 4 additional duck breasts with the skin and fat on. All breast were stripped of skin and fat. Every ounce of skin and fat except from the leg/thigh quarters was then slowly rendered in a bit of water. When the water simmered out, the skin starts to fry in the duck fat and leaves you the most beautiful duck crackling you could imagine.

 The leg/thighs were then salted heavily with the addition of sliced garlic and some fresh thyme. These sit overnight in the fridge.

These get rinsed and dried thoroughly. Then packed tight into the smallest container possible.  That golden delicious duck fat is then melted and poured over the top of the legs to cover.

I put this in the oven at 225F for about 5 hours. Basically you slow poach the pieces in their own fat until they are melt in your mouth tender. The easiest way to test for this without actually ripping a leg out and biting in is to poke a bamboo skewer into the meat. If it slides in with little resistance then your confit is done. 

Now for the cassoulet. I made two different versions because I still had ideas floating around. The first one was to be served on New Years Day. Hangover food. It starts with soaking great northern beans overnight. Then drain and recover with water. I added pork belly, carrot, celery,onion, tarragon, savory, rosemary, bay leaves, pepper, and salt to the beans. They were gently simmered until just done. Think al dente.

Everything is removed from the cooked beans. Save the liquid and the pork belly. I cut the belly pieces into small cubes and then fried them. This was to render out as much fat as possible and to also crisp up the meat. These became my base layer.

I then sauteed some mirepoix in just a bit of the pork fat. That along with some tomatoes, fresh tarragon, savory, and thyme were mixed with the beans and some browned Toulouse style sausage.  Everything gets put into the clay casserole and then your reserved bean cooking liquid gets ladeled in to moisten. You can layer it all in neatly or just mix it all together.

           

I did put the duck legs in whole in this version. Then more bean mixture and topped it all with bread crumbs that were tossed with green onions and butter. Bake it all at 375F until you can’t wait any longer. I like to pull it out every 30 minutes or so and break the crust with the back of a spoon. This has the effect of incorporating some of the crust into the casserole. It is best to then let this thing sit overnight in the fridge. You can the reheat the next day. 

My family wasn’t familiar with this dish. So they weren’t quite sure who would go first. My cousin’s boyfriend jumped in first and then it was on. This huge pot of food was gone in 24 hours. 

After all this work, I still wanted to experiment some with the recipe. I had saved a duck quarter that had been aging for about 10 days in the fridge. I also had made a duck and cognac sausage from all the breast meat that was smoked at my uncle’s house on New Years Day. 

This time was going to be heavy on the pork and duck. I browned up some more Toulouse sausage and the last remaining smoked duck sausage link.

I also tossed in pieces of these amazing smoked pork chops that my butcher makes in house. 

This time I took all the meat off the bone of the chops and the duck confit.   Tossed it all in a dish an baked with a breadcrumb crust.

At the end of baking though, I went with something that could put even this dish over the top. Remember those duck cracklin’ from earlier? Yes I did. 

I just wasn’t satisfied with the breadcrumb crust. It didn’t provide enough textural contrast. So I tossed on some skin rendered in fat. The flavor and the texture it added were out of this world.  It is one of those treasures handed to you in the process of making this dish anyway, why not use it. 

Thank you to Lisa and Jenni. Be sure to check out the other Daring Cooks to see everyone elses take on Cassoulet.                

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

~ by climbhighak on January 13, 2011.

23 Responses to “Cassoulet, January Daring Cooks”

  1. Every time I read one of your posts, I want to

  2. Shoot, accidental enter. Ok, let me start again. Every time I view one of your sihes, the love that went into it, the talent, the creativity, I want to purchase a ticket to Alaska and spend a few days just eating every dang thing you cook. Both your cassoulets are no exception. Like I told you, I knew you would rock this challenge. Your homemade sauage is gorgeous, your duck craklin’s are golden, mouth watering manna, and your beans are so creamy, I’m jealous and hungry for more. Love how you kept cracking open the crust to incorporate it into the cassoulet. Wish I had added a crumb crust of some sort. Also lovin’ the smoked pork chops in your second cassoulet. Glad you loved the challenge, and as always, another amazing job, my friend :)

    On another note, and finally, the link to the Chefs United FB page just links back to FB home page.

    • Come on up. I recommend summertime.

      I have noted the change in status to the group formerly known as Chefs United. If interested, friend me on Facebook and I have to invite you to the group. My name is Robert Blessing. (Not kidding)

  3. [...] topping that I could keep breaking open during cooking to mix into the casoulet, like my friend, Robert did.  Oh, well, after two cassoulets in about a month, and a possible need for an EKG,I think [...]

  4. Robert I knew this was month’s recipe was written for you and I wasn’t disappointed, home made sausage! crackling! crisp skin! both versions are to die for. You went all out on this challenge superb work.

    Bravo bravo bravo.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

    • It was nice to see you back from the flood zone. When you weren’t the first to post on the completed challenge thread, we all realized just how much we missed you.

  5. This looks phenomenal, and your photos do it such justice. Amazing variations, and the cracklings have me wanting to try it again just to add that little extra.

  6. Man, all I can say is WOW. The work you put into this is amazing, and the results truly reflect that. IMPRESSIVE. Just… WOW.

  7. Simply beautiful! When I do this dish again I want to make it the way you did!

  8. I always love seeing what stuff you make from scratch!! Love the look of those sausages, yum yum! Mine didn’t end up with a crust… I think you need the meat elements for that to work out.

    • I think you can get a crust without the meat element. Take the bread crumbs and melt into them some kind of fat. Butter will also add a golden brown color. Olive oil takes longer to get the same color.

  9. Gorgeous takes on cassoulet. Your sausages look to die for – in fact they were so inspiring that we took a crack at making Toulouse sausages too! Wow! Thanks for that! So good..

    Love the duck cracklin’ on top too – it does add the best flavor.

    • I am glad that my attempts helped you get started. Going to your page now to see your take on Toulouse sausage. You two have mad skills and I take it as a huge compliment that I could inspire you to try anything.

      The cracklin did add so much flavor. My dish had so much pork in it. The cracklins along with just a bit of duck confit were enough to balance all that porky goodness with some strong duck flavors.

  10. I am so at war internally right now – the vegetarian part of me is kind of going “Es!” but the cook part of me is beyond floored. What amazing work you did! Both of your cassoulets are masterpieces, and I am honored to be a part of the same cooking group as you!!!

  11. Robert – I agree, you totally went to town on this challenge and emerged with flying colors! Thank you so much for the tip on crisping the pork belly – that was a definite plus, although I could have crisped even more. I’m going to check out the FB page – I think I want to be in on that!

    • Check out my new notes on that link. I apologize for posting it. The very night I linked that group, some extenuating circumstances forced the group to go private. I have linked my FB profile above.

  12. Your work is so professional! You are so full of ideas and experiences. You’ve done an amazing job on this challenge and helped so much with all your tips. Thank you so much for that! Every single photo of this post is absolutely mouthwatering!

  13. Excellent job on this challenge! Your cassoulet looks amazing. I love the photo with the beans in the stock pot with all the other goodies. It makes my mouth water every time I see that photo.

  14. Well you did not disappoint me, I knew you would go all out on this one and boy did you ever.Just amazing results. Wish you were closer to drop by and have a taste hehe.

  15. Hi, Robert!! I guess i have a lot to catch up! FYI you’ve been missed by mwah=;) When i learned about this months challenge, you were the first person i thought of. I still remembered your cassoulet blog over at Myspace.
    I knew you would deliver a wonderful and amazing challenge. Your cracklings, yum!! I love, love that idea. Now for your sausage..i’ve been wanting to make some. I have a kitchen aid grinder what did you use to connect the casings with..or i’m missing a part of the grinder?

    • There is another attachement called the sausge stuffing attachement. It is just a tube you hook on to the end of the food grinder. After you wash out the hog casings, you put a whole casing on the tube. Then tie a knot in the end. Then stuff each link. Between links you just twist a few times to separate the links.

  16. Absolutely stunning cassoulet! Love, love, love your homemade sausage, I can’t wait to try making it myself (your photos are absolutely inspirational). Your photos make me hungry.

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