Monday, March 28, 2011
Cassoulet - a Gutsy Cooks selection
I've never made cassoulet before. The recipes always seem too complicated and time-consuming. Also, there was always something, like duck confit, that I didn't know where to buy (or how to make). As usual for this cookbook, the author takes a traditional recipe and simplifies it. This time, the simplified recipe yields terrific results.
One reason the results were so satisfying is that I got all the meat (and for people who have gradually cut down on their meat consumption, there is a HUGE amount of meat in this dish) at Clancey's, our wonderful local meat market. Everything they offer is top-notch--with prices to match. I spent about $60 for sausages, duck legs, and pancetta. But look at the pancetta! It makes the stuff you buy at the supermarket look pale and anemic by comparison.
I ordered Italian sausages, but the woman who was helping me asked me what kind of recipe I had. She didn't think Italian sausages were the right flavor choice--the fennel and oregano would not complement the other flavors, she said, and recommended their Alsatian garlic pork sausages. I bought 8 of them, but when I started to brown them, I decided 8 was too many. I put 3 sausages in the freezer, where they'll sit until the next time I have a craving for garlic pork sausages (a time that will probably not be that many days away).
Brown the chopped pancetta until it renders a lot, but not all of, its fat. Good lord, there is a lot of fat in this dish. Page 338 of my cookbook is heavily speckled with only some of the flying grease that covered my kitchen.
At least there were a few vegetables in the cassoulet. One way to get people to eat their vegetables is to brown them in savory animal fat. It would probably be a good thing if you were one of those people to whom the phrase "savory animal fat" sounded repulsive. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound repulsive to me.
After browning the meat and vegetables, you start to layer them with the beans. I had planned to make this in my pretty red enameled cast iron pan, but realized that it wouldn't hold the beans, sausages, duck legs, etc., so I had to into a basement storage area to find a huge pot that I hadn't used for years.
Meanwhile, the duck legs were in the oven, rendering still more savory animal fat.
You can see the fat in the bottom of the pan. These must have been fat, happy ducks because they yielded a massive amount of fat. Fat, happy ducks are amazingly good. I think this is the first time I've ever made them, but it won't be the last.
Oh, how I love Google! Even though I used a lot of the fat to brown the breadcrumbs--the final step in the recipe--I had at least a cup left. I typed something like "what to do with duck fat" into Google, and came up with many hits, including an interesting and instructive Chowhound thread. Potatoes sauteed in duck fat are definitely in my future.
Finally, I poured a mixture of chicken broth, white wine, and chopped tomatoes over the beans and meat, and added a few bay leaves and thyme sprigs. The recipe instructs you to bake the cassoulet for a total of about 3 hours in a 275-degree oven. After two hours, the beans (which I'd soaked overnight) were still crunchy. I ended up increasing the oven temperature (finally up to 350). After a total of four hours, the beans were still al dente. Although that's not my preferred level of doneness for white beans, it was still a very delicious--if fat-laden and heavy--dish. A once-a-year event, probably best in mid-January when you've hunkered down for the duration. Although supposedly French women don't get fat, I don't believe that would hold true for a French woman who downed a lot of cassoulet.
Posted by Marie at 6:31 PM