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Daring Cooks January: Cassoulet

I have to admit, seeing the Daring Cooks’ challenge this month was a bit of a shock. Cassoulet? Who wants to eat that after the holidays? Thankfully I don’t live in the southern hemisphere where I can imagine the last thing you want to eat in the height of summer is cassoulet…  In any case, I have been interested in making confit for a while (and Neil has been interested in eating it!) so for learning a new technique, I was happy.

The January 2011 Daring Cooks’ 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 chose a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

I spent quite a bit of time looking around and researching this recipe – both the cassoulet and the confit. I ended up using this duck confit recipe from the Guardian, from The Balthazar Cookbook (find it here on Amazon and Amazon.ca) mostly because it had a gorgeous picture of how I wanted *my* confited duck legs to look.  Yes, I am a sucker for a pretty picture!

Speaking of pretty pictures, making duck confit is not so much conducive to pretty pictures but for what they are worth, here are a few of the process.  Neil actually took charge of this process, since we had a whole duck (for our upcoming Charcutepalooza project) and he is actually quite adept at breaking down poultry.

We actually did not have a chance to go out and buy duck fat so we rendered our own from said duck, then added a little lard and olive oil. So not pure but it did the trick. This was actually so much easier than I thought it would be and I am not quite sure why we have never confited anything before. Rest assured, it’s a technique I will be using again.

The duck was very flavourful (apparently – foodie confession here, I actually don’t eat duck. I owned one as a pet when I was little and the thought is just a bit offputting. I did taste the duck but it was far too strong a flavour for me.  Others who ate this dish enjoyed it a lot) so I would say this portion of the dish was a success.

For the actual cassoulet, I used this recipe I found on Epicurious, because I wanted something a little lighter.  The recipe chosen for the challenge included pork belly, pork rind and pork sausages. Can you say meat overload?  And I know that’ s kind of the point here, but having mastered the technique I was most interested in (the confit), I figured I needed to make something a little on the lighter side… I did add a few rashers of bacon to this, even though the recipe did not call for it.  I liked the freshness that the tomatoes brought to this recipe, though I found it to be very watery.  I upped the quantity of tomato paste and cooked the beans down (they too much longer to cook than the recipe suggests) to no avail.  Still, the taste was there – you can tell this is a dish that cooks for a long time, the flavours were deep.  It was a little watery but nothing a hunk of fresh baguette couldn’t fix!

Below is the recipe with my revisions and notes in red.

Result?

It was flavourful and tasty, if a little watery.  Since it took about 3 days in total to make, I am just not sure it tasted THAT amazing to warrant that amount of time…

Would I make it again? Yes, as a bean and sausage stew.  I would definitely confit meat again. Perhaps I might not pair them and call it a cassoulet. And I certainly would let it sit in the fridge for a bit before I ate it. DO NOT eat it the same day you finish making it. If you’re like me, you will be sick of the sight of it and it probably won’t taste as good as it really is.  Neil’s wine group enjoyed it a few days later – I can only imagine it is a dish that ages well…

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51 Responses to Daring Cooks January: Cassoulet

  1. penny aka jeroxie January 15, 2011 at 07:44 #

    3 days? Anything confit takes forever… Did you keep the duck fat?

  2. Liz January 15, 2011 at 08:04 #

    I don’t think I’m a dedicated enough home cook to have the patience for this dish, but I can imagine the depth of flavor and yumminess by the 3rd day! Nice job!

  3. Blog is the New Black January 15, 2011 at 08:47 #

    I had never heard of cassoulet until I saw all these posts. It sounds great, even aftrer the holidays!

  4. Christina January 15, 2011 at 09:06 #

    Your cassoulet looks amazing! I’m envying the fact that you’re gonna have duck fat fries!!! I think I need to make a confit!

  5. A Canadian Foodie January 15, 2011 at 10:23 #

    Bravo! Duck confit sounds so formidable – but, you are so right. It is actually very easy. I have made duck confit many times and many different ways (although the most basic cure method brought the best results every time). I even used the green salt cure by Thomas Keller. I had a duck confit tasting after doing my favourite cure in the oven and in the sous vide machine. Hands down, the vote went for the sous vide. There is nothing as delicious as duck confit (and the gaminess or “strong flavour” you describe had to come from the duck you bought… and the feed it was fed. The farmer I buy from raises a hybrid duck and the meat is not strong flavoured, but the depth of flavour is addictive.)… except PORK BELLY CONFIT. I recently did that for the first time – rendered the lard for it earlier in the year – and OMG. Heaven. No more difficult that the duck confit. Easier, actually. And incredible. But, a little goes a long way. Then again, it will keep for months in the fridge, like the duck, submerged in its own fat.
    I cannot wait to try the original recipe given for this challenge. When I saw it. I was very excited. I love Lisa Michels’s site and her work and thinking. I do have an uber doober carnivore int he house – and enough meat loving friends to clean it up in a lovely dinner… and making my own sausage is something we got into in the summer. EASY. Shockingly easy – and so so so gratifying and delicious. I cannot wait to get my act together for the Ruhlman recipe.
    :)
    Valerie

  6. Barbara Bakes January 15, 2011 at 10:29 #

    Looks like a great alternative to the challenge recipe. I went a different way too.

  7. Evelyne@CheapEthnicEatz January 15, 2011 at 10:58 #

    I really liked the confit part as well and your lighter version sounds great too, sorry it was a bit watery though. Definitely a dish that improves with time.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite January 17, 2011 at 20:08 #

      Absolutely – even since I posted, the leftovers in the freezer have thickened up nicely and it’s very flavourful!

  8. Amelia from Z Tasty Life January 15, 2011 at 11:16 #

    wow…that’s a long time to wait to eat your dish!!! it does look delicious! Cassoulet is one of those dishes on my “to cook” list.
    I made a chicken confit just recently from the NY times. It was easy, relatively fast and so delicious.

  9. Kate @ Diethood.com January 15, 2011 at 11:19 #

    Your cassoulet looks incredible!
    I don’t have the patience to work on a meal for 3 days … way to go!

  10. Jenn January 15, 2011 at 11:31 #

    Oooh I’m really intrigued by your version with all the tomato! Like you I will definitely be doing a confit again :)

  11. Michelle DT January 15, 2011 at 13:00 #

    Looks fantastic…great twist!

  12. Jackie January 15, 2011 at 14:03 #

    Shame that it was so watery, it looks good otherwise! But I would definitely have thrown in the pork belly and sausages – it’s not really cassoulet to me without it! That’s because I’m a massive fatty, though.

    Jax x

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite January 17, 2011 at 20:05 #

      Actually a week later, I just defrosted some and it’s thickened up wouldn’t you know it! Re: the rest of the meat, it seemed like a lot of $ to spend on a dish I don’t really like.

  13. Mr. Neil January 15, 2011 at 14:31 #

    A couple comments….

    First, as Mardi says I butchered the whole duck (see a future post on the duck proscuitto – from the breasts), and spent two days rendering fat. Alas, as I did not want to remove the fat from the breasts, simply did not have enough to complete the confit. As we just got back from vacation, no heading out to get a jar of duck fat. But I DID have a small container of pork fat left over from my last home-made bacon/pancetta experience. So added that. Unfortunately still had to top of with vegetable shortening (yuck) and olive oil. So flavourful, but not as strong as I would have liked.

    Also, Mardi stuck to “her” confit method, with which I disagreed. Fine for cassoulet, but I would have reduced the temp considerably, and baked at no more than 180F for about six hours. As this would have had us finishing at about 2.00am on a work night, you can see why Mardi chose the other method! ;-)

    As for the duck flavour, in fact I LOVE duck and did not find it too strong in flavour at all. A little stronger would be better. :-)

    Also we – gasp! – used normal kielbasa, as opposed to the usual organic one, which would have been better – as would have more sausages.

    I also would have had less – or at least smaller diced – tomatoes.

    But all in all a wonderful wintry dish. Which – bien sur! – we paired with a beautiful red from the Languedoc Rousillon.

  14. Lisa January 15, 2011 at 15:21 #

    I love your take on the cassoulet. As I read through your entry, I nodded my head because I had the same thoughts – making cassoulet two weeks before Xmas or right after the holidays? Hmm..I can’t eat duck because there’s a little duck family that pops by once a year to hang etc etc. However, I motored on, like you, and ended up falling in love with chicken confit. I tasted the duck, but the family..lol

    Thanks so much for taking part in our challenge. Would love to try your revisions, especially since I kept thinking it needed tomato! lol

  15. Sarah, Maison Cupcake January 15, 2011 at 15:40 #

    A genuine challenge, I reckon a lot of people would have been daunted by this. I remember eating this kind of food in the Lot/Bergerac region of France and it’s so tasty even if it lays on a lot of guilt at the same time.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite January 17, 2011 at 20:04 #

      Had I thought about it more, I might have not gone ahead but it seemed like a good idea when we were on holidays!!

  16. Jeanne January 15, 2011 at 18:49 #

    Hi Mardi,

    I just have a question about your cassoulet: Do you mean that you did not do the breadcrumb topping at all? This is necessary for forming the crust, which is one of the trademarks of cassoulet. There are so many recipes for cassoulet it’s mind-boggling, but the crust is standard and so delicious. Plus it helps with the thickening. Tim and I made this for our dinner club a few years ago and it was one of the best dishes we ever made. Also freezes incredibly well. We read the following story about the cassoulet after the dinner and had a few laughs! :)

    http://bit.ly/ejIZ0g

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite January 17, 2011 at 20:02 #

      No I did not do the breadcrumb crust because I have never eaten cassoulet served like that (well perhaps it’s been prepared like that but I never saw the breadcrumbs on the plate). I got a bit fed up with this dish, as you can perhaps tell! LOL!

  17. Lynn @ I'll Have What She's Having January 15, 2011 at 20:01 #

    Great job on the cassoulet and confit! I wanted to make the confit but just didn’t have the time. I had the same reaction to the cassoulet recipe, way too much meat for me to handle. Your lighter version looks right up my alley!

  18. Jenni January 15, 2011 at 21:17 #

    Great job on your cassoulet!!

  19. Cakewhiz January 15, 2011 at 23:15 #

    Wow! That looks like a delicious dish and i really appreciate your step by step instructions and images.

  20. Audax Artifex January 16, 2011 at 02:26 #

    WOW what an amazing post so full of information and the photos are stunning. And yes the confit is an amazing technique and the star of the show I think (as well as the beans). Superb result.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  21. Conor @ Hold the Beef January 16, 2011 at 06:33 #

    Cooperation, makes things happen.
    Cooperation, working together!

    I love these team efforts. I can imagine you both scooting around your little kitchen with Miss Cleo looking on in interest. Scrap loving interest.

  22. Dawn (whineaux) January 16, 2011 at 10:36 #

    Next time try putting a generous layer of bread crumbs over the top and drizzle with olive oil before you bake it. You have to break the crust and stir a few times during cooking but that will give a lovely crust and help thicken.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite January 17, 2011 at 20:00 #

      Had I had an extra day or two, I might have gone the baking route but I was actually just so fed up with the whole thing…. Will keep in mind for next time!

  23. David and Stacy January 16, 2011 at 11:16 #

    Well done on a great result and adaptation!

    Double well done on breaking down your duck!

    Triple well done on making your own duck fat!

    Stay JOLLY!
    D&S

  24. cat January 16, 2011 at 11:36 #

    as always, very impressive! i would have never thought of making my own confit. you’ve learned some very cool techniques in the kitchen, my friend. and your cassoulet, or whatever you might call it, looks delish. i’m totally like you and after having spent so much time making something i usually don’t want to eat it til the next day. :)

  25. Anna Johnston January 16, 2011 at 17:52 #

    I love cassoulet & confit – its actually a toss up which one I love the most really, well done Mardi & Mr Neil…, these 2 dishes are a bit time consuming but WOW.., the taste is worth it.

  26. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction January 18, 2011 at 20:53 #

    Impressive! What a labor of love… I have never tried cassoulet because of the time involved. I usually plan about 3 hours ahead for dinner. :)

  27. Mr. P January 19, 2011 at 02:16 #

    This kind of post really inspires me. Maybe I should give confit a go? I’m in Paris now and was actually going to buy a can of cassoulet, but you’ve got me wondering…

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