Daring Cooks: 3-day Cassoulet in 2 days

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. Click here for their full version, and for a 30 min and veggie version.

Cassoulet is one of my all time favorite classic French dish. I have enjoyed this dish a few times before, in France as well. To me it represents decadence: meats galore, rich rare fats and flavor.

I always wanted to make one but knowing it was a long ordeal I never got around to it. But this was a ‘now or never’ opportunity. I did condense the 3 days recipe into 2 days since I had a diner guest coming over. See my recipe and schedule below. It was intense in labor and I also found it exceedingly salty for me, but still is was just awesome. I used chicken legs instead of duck for budget reasons and I used canned beans.

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.)
3cups/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 morning

1.Rub the duck legs fairly generously with sea salt, place in the shallow dish, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours.

Day One evening
1.Preheat the oven to moderately hot 375ºF/190ºC/gas mark 5.
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

10 cups white beans such as Great Northern or Cannelini, canned beans
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)
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. Drain the juice of 3 cans of bean into 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 pepper
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 the rind and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid separately.

Day Two morning
1. 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.
2. Carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides.
3. Remove sausages and set aside, draining on paper towels.
4. 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).
5. 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.
6. Preheat the oven to moderate 350ºF/180ºC/gas mark 4.
7.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.
8. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving 1 cup/240 ml in the refrigerator for later use.
9. 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.
10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate.

Day Two dinnertime
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.

I would not have been able to do this dish without a wonderful gift my date purchased for me a few days before: a 5.5 quart sauté pan with glass lid like I have been wanting for years! My date also chose the perfect wine, a Apothic Red wine from California. I asked him to bring a light red wine not to strong in tannins as my research suggested because a strong red will overpower the dish. Apothic Red is a lovely mix of Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot.

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