Back in February of 2010, Lis asked me if I was into hosting a Daring Cooks challenge. Of course, I said yes. Of course, I said yes, YES, for the love of all things rich, comforting and well, artery clogging. OK, artery clogging if eaten with any kind of regularity, but so worth maybe one temporarily clogged artery. One “Help me get up, I can’t move” moment.
Time flies by so fast! Lis informed me that the next empty challenge slot was for January 2011; 11 months away, and it seemed like it would be forever, but BOOM, it’s here. Why is it time moves so slow when you want to grow up, then speeds up considerably when you already are grown up (well, externally grown up.)?
I’ll always be a child at heart.
Our January 2011 Challenge comes from another blogger, and Me/Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. (what this blog used to be called prior to 2013). We have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. I chose a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.
Growing up aside, here’s the deal: We chose cassoulet for the challenge, along with a confit. Most casssoulet does not call for duck confit, but since I also offered up a quick version and a vegetarian version ,we gave the cooks the choice of several vegetable confits and a chicken confit. Wow, how could I forget the main challenge here? We chose both recipes, and yes, it’s time-consuming, a bit daring, and could be a little pricey with some hard to find ingredients. Oh, don’t you just love us? We threw this at you guys two weeks before Christmas!! Be that as it may, spreading it out over 3 or 4 days actually makes it a somewhat simple dish to prepare.
When I think of cassoulet, there was always one I wanted to try; Anthony Bourdain’s. I surfed around a bit, and found it on the Travel Channel site, from the No Reservations episode where he and Michael Ruhlman cooked up this amazing cassoulet for Michael’s family. So, we gave you all a recipe that takes up about 4 days of your life, and again, don’t you just love us? But, I promise you, it’s so worth it! Then again, as mentioned above, we did offer other options, so I’ll stop repeating that.
Yes, I really will.
I made this cassoulet twice because my computer crashed, and I lost all the photos of the first cassoulet. When I made the first cassoulet, I practically ate the whole pot myself, and paid dearly. Walking became weight-lifting because I was almost full-term with a food baby.
You’re not supposed to eat almost a whole pot of cassoulet by yourself. Just thought I’d throw that out there.
The second time, I ate less, but it was even tastier because I made some great changes. I know, I know, I made some changes to an Anthony Bourdain recipe that has been called the best cassoulet outside of France. I think I broke a cooking law, but I refuse to succumb to the powers of the mighty Anthony Bourdain cassoulet that be. Well, sort of, since I still worship the ground that ‘anything’ Anthony Bourdain walks on!
The first time around, I got great caramelization on the onion-pork rind combo, resulting in a flavorful, rich paste. Second time, I omitted the pork rind and just used extra duck fat. Not as caramelized.. as you can see by the color in the layering photo collage below.
Like I mentioned above, the reason I made it a second time after almost overdosing on duck fat, pork rind and pork belly, was because my computer crashed and I lost most of my step-by-step photos. I also saw it as an opportunity to make the changes I felt would make it just a leeeettle more suited to my taste. Fortunately, some of my photos were recovered, so this entry is an amalgamation of photos from two Bourdain cassoulet preparations. However, I’m not going to label each photo ‘First cassoulet! Second cassoulet!’; I promise.
The first time I made the cassoulet, I used whole chicken legs in place of the duck in Bourdain’s confit recipe. I tried to sear them right out of the duck fat after cooking and chilling, and the skin melted off completely. I still have no idea why that happened since the duck legs, for my second cassoulet, seared up beautifully with a golden brown, crisp skin
Culinary mysteries are annoying. BUT at the same time, intriguing.
With that said, here’s the changes I made to the second cassoulet: There was some serious caramelization needed on the pork belly and duck. Yes, crisping the skin of both prior to layering them beneath all the beans and liquid seems silly since you lose the crispiness beneath all of the liquid, but it really isn’t because you’re adding more flavor (from the caramelization of the skin) to the cassoulet. In fact, not only did I sear the pork belly, I confit’d it (Is there a past tense for confit?) before searing and even before that, I brined it before confit’ing‘ (again, is there a word for this?) it. It’s Thomas Keller’s recipe for pork belly confit from Ad Hoc at Home, in case you’re interested. However, that’s a whole other entry because it needs to be an entry on its own.
To digress a bit, pork belly confit is a lead, not a supporting role, so it’s more than worthy of headlining and getting all the attention. Pork belly confit in cassoulet is DeNiro in a minor role in a big movie co-starring Pacino as the duck, and Daniel Day Lewis as the sausage. The meaty roles, as expected. No, I won’t dub the beans because I try to keep it somewhat nice here..somewhat!
Another change I made to my second cassoulet would probably irk Mr. Bourdain and many serious cassoulet lovers; those who would most definitely question my palate. I omitted the pork rind lining.
Whaaaa??, you ask?
Reason number ONE: Since I couldn’t find a piece of pork rind, or even two for that matter, that made it easy to line the pot both ways without trimming and fitting some pieces in, I ended up with small and large floating bits of boiled pork skin all over the cassoulet upon serving. I could not escape them, and frankly, did not want to eat them.
Reason number TWO: There was absolutely no flavor to the pork rind, and to be honest, it was kind of gross; raw and cooked. Unless I’m lacking some serious taste buds, or the pig my skin came from just so happened to be fed a diet of JELLO, I’m sticking with my assertion that boiled pork rind sucks. I truly believe the only thing you can do to pork rind/skin to make it edible is, get out the banjo, swing yer pardner round ‘n round, then deep fry it with lots of salt. Serve with whatever fresh roadkill is available that day.
Yes, it’s a stereotypical joke pertaining to the movie Deliverance, not all the beautiful. brilliant and cultured people who happen to live in that area. But, the deep-frying part is not a joke. Again, pork rind needs to be deep-fried!
Not the most beautiful stew, but this is what cassoulet is all about. It’s such a rich, chest-thumping, HE-MAN, soul stealing pot of meat and beans, that it needs to be attacked, errr served, with a big spoon, and just blobbed on a plate. Fork or spoon only necessary for the small bits.
Finally, the sausages. In the first cassoulet, I used plain pork sausage aka mild Italian sausage because that’s all I could kind find locally at the last minute. The sausage was okay, albeit a little uninspiring. and it seemed so out of place among all the ‘to do’ in the cassoulet. For the second cassoulet, sausages more suited to a cassoulet were available, so I picked up some duck sausage and garlic-sage sausage . Everything seemed to be going great until about an hour into Day Two oven time.
POP, POP, POPPITY POP.
My beautiful duck sausages were exploding; they were in desperate need to escape from their casings. I have no idea what caused it, (expanding fat?). Perhaps I should have pricked them prior to searing or layering in the cassoulet? The garlic-sage sausage was so delicate that it kind of fell apart, so it was utter, aesthetic sausage fail. Being a food blogger, I needed a whole sausage for photos, so I decided to go with one of the explosives. Careful plating hides the split down the side, but I don’t know why it looks burnt, because it wasn’t. Looks like my artificial lighting destroyed the caramelization, rather than my usual eff-ups.
Despite everything, both sausages were delicious.
Having said all that, my only regret is not adding some kind of garlicky, toasted bread crumb topping that I could keep breaking open during cooking to mix into the cassoulet, like my friend, Robert did. Oh, well, after two cassoulets in about a month, and a possible need for an EKG, I think I’ll refrain for a little while.
I’d like to thank Anthony Bourdain, for a fantastic recipe, and Lis and Audax for everything else. Since I’m only posting the recipe for Anthony Bourdain’s cassoulet, please go check out the other recipes for cassoulet, one being vegetarian, and one being a quick 30-minute cassoulet, by Jacques Pepin. PLUS, for some awesome confits that aren’t duck; chicken confit using olive oil in lieu of duck fat or lard, leek confit, and garlic confit.
Cassoulet and Confit
by Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman, (as featured on the Travel Channel’s ‘No Reservations’)
For Duck (or Chicken) 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
Ingredients for Duck or Chicken Confit
4 whole duck or chicken 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 or chicken fat (you can use olive oil too)
a healthy pinch or grind of black pepper
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 garlic clove
1.Rub the duck or chicken 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.
1.Preheat the oven to moderately hot 375ºF/190ºC/gas mark 5.
2.Render (melt) the duck fat in the saucepan until clear. If using olive oil, no need to melt, obviously.
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 personally 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.
*My notes – If you’re going to store the duck confit for any significant amount of time prior to making the cassoulet, use 4 cups of fat so the legs are completely submerged and sealed. Also, If you’re planning ahead, I would recommend making the confit weeks or a month or so prior to the cassoulet since the longer they age, the better the flavor.
Ingredients for Cassoulet
5 cups/1200 ml/1100 g/39 oz dried Tarbais beans or Great Northern Beans or Cannelini Beans (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 or chicken legs
Large bowl large pot
Strainer or colander
Large, ovenproof earthenware dish
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!)
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 few dabs of the onion and pork rind purée between each layer.(Just pile, dab, stack and pile. It doesn’t have to be pretty.)
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.
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. 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.
By the way, I would like to thank Hickory Farms via the FoodBuzz Tastemaker’s Program, for sending me a whopper of a sausage, cheese, cracker, mustard, candy gift box last December. I’m not kidding when I tell you everything in the gift box was GONE within two days! Loved it all, especially the pineapple mustard, which I wouldn’t let anyone else near. Please go check out Hickory Farms for some great baskets, gift boxes etc, for yourself or to send to anyone for any occasion.