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!
1 lb dried white beans (preferably Great Northern)
8 1/4 cups cold water
2 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste (I actually used about 8 tablespoons of tomato paste… still did not thicken up)
2 cups chopped onion (3/4 lb)
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic (6 large cloves)
1 (3-inch) piece celery, cut into thirds
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
3 whole cloves
3 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs plus 1/2 cup chopped leaves
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 (14-oz) can stewed tomatoes, puréed or finely chopped with juice (I strained the juice but it was still too watery)
4 confit duck legs* (1 3/4 lb total)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (if necessary)
1 lb cooked garlic pork sausage* or smoked pork kielbasa, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices
(Below is the breadcrumb garnish which I did not make)
2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (preferably from a baguette)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Special equipment: an 8-inch square of cheesecloth; kitchen string; a 4 1/2- to 5-quart casserole dish (3 to 4 inches deep)
Soak and cook beans: Cover beans with cold water by 2 inches in a large bowl and soak 8 to 12 hours. Drain in a colander.
Transfer beans to a 6- to 8-quart pot and bring to a boil with 8 cups cold water, broth, tomato paste, onion, and 2 tablespoons garlic. Put celery, thyme, bay leaf, cloves, parsley sprigs, and peppercorns in cheesecloth and tie into a bundle with string to make a bouquet garni. Add bouquet garni to beans, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until beans are almost tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (This took more like 90 minutes) Stir in tomatoes with juice and simmer until beans are just tender, about 15 minutes more.
Prepare duck and sausage while beans simmer:
Remove all skin and fat from duck legs and cut skin and fat into 1/2-inch pieces. Separate duck meat from bones, leaving it in large pieces, and transfer meat to a bowl. Add bones to bean pot.
Cook duck skin and fat with remaining 1/4 cup cold water in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until water is evaporated and fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until skin is crisp, 3 to 6 minutes more. Transfer cracklings with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, leaving fat in skillet. (You should have about 1/4 cup fat; if not, add olive oil.)
Brown sausage in batches in fat in skillet, then transfer to bowl with duck meat, reserving skillet.
(Since my kieblasa was already cooked, I simply sliced it up and added it to the beans. For the duck, I actually added the meat to the dish last, after unsuccessfully attempting to brown the confited legs with the skin on – it fell off – I shredded the meat and added to the bean mix. At this point I also added about 8 rashers of fried and drained bacon)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Make bread crumb topping: Add remaining tablespoon garlic to fat in skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in bread crumbs and cook, stirring, until pale golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cracklings.
Assemble casserole: Remove bouquet garni and duck bones from beans and discard, then stir in kielbasa, duck meat, remaining teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Ladle cassoulet into casserole dish, distributing meat and beans evenly. (Meat and beans should be level with liquid; if they are submerged, ladle excess liquid back into pot and boil until reduced, then pour back into casserole dish.) Spread bread crumb topping evenly over cassoulet and bake, uncovered, in lower third of oven, until bubbling and crust is golden, about 1 hour.
(I reduced my bean and meat mixture on the stovetop and served it in a bowl…)
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…