A dish that flies in the face of 90% of New Year’s resolutions made and broken every January, cassoulet is essentially an intense and rich French version of good old pork & beans. This challenge had two techniques to learn – the art of making a confit (the ages-old preservation method of slow-cooking meat immersed in fat) and creating a version of the famed several-days-to-prepare dish from the Southwest of France, cassoulet. I had never really known what confit exactly was before, and was really excited to learn yet another new method thanks to the wonderful Daring Cooks. Unfortunately, I think I confited (is that a word?) my entire cassoulet!
Cassoulet is actually fairly easy to make – you prep all the main components separately, and then bring them together and slow cook for a nice long time, enjoying the aromas that will fill every space of your home, transporting you to a different time and place.
Blog Checking Lines: 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.
Step 1 – make the confit. For confit, the recipe called for duck fat (graisse de canard), a good clue that whatever was going to be made would turn out delicious and calorie intense. 4 cuisses de canard (duck legs) immersed in duck fat and baked with garlic and herbs until the meat is literally falling off the bone. Seriously, how could one go wrong there? Pretty much you can’t, except for shelling out near 60CHF to not only purchase the duck legs, but also buy enough duck fat (about 4 cups) to actually fully immerse them. I cheaped out and went with cuisses de poulet (chicken) instead, so my total was more near 50CHF. Honestly I’m not sure it would’ve been that much cheaper if I used something like butter instead (organic butter is a little pricey) – maybe lard would have been the most economical? But lard does not taste like duck fat, and neither does butter. Not by a mile. Duck fat was something I was definitely not willing to sacrifice.
Step 2 – prep the beans. This requires soaking overnight and then boiling the beans in water along with a kilo of pork belly and some veggies & herbs. As I later learned, this works best if your pork belly doesn’t completely render itself while the beans are cooking. Still not really sure how I could have fixed this. Apparently dried beans, once soaked, are only supposed to need an hour to cook until they are tender. Mine took three. Mine have always taken at least three hours after soaking, and maybe this has something to do with the pork fat rendering? Not really sure. After the beans were done I cut up the pork belly to add back into the beans, but deviated from the recipe a bit because I made sure to trim all of the fat from the pork belly (aka, toss 2/3 of it).
Step 3 – cook the sausages. Six sausages get cooked on the stove in a bit more duck fat. I chose the little 100g cervelas because there was already a ton of meat in this dish.
Step 4 – fry the onions. In the leftover duckfat still in the skillet from the sausages, onions get fried. Onions are then supposed to be puréed, but I like the texture of onions so I left them chopped (and I’m lazy).
Phew! I think we are ready to go! Now that is a LOT of food!
The beans, the cuisses de poulet (once the fat is melted so they can easily be pulled out of the confit), the pork belly, the sausage, and the onions all go into one big pot (or a couple, depending on how large your kitchenware is), and bake. Then you take it out, let it chill in the fridge overnight, and repeat the next day. Break the crust, and repeat.
My problem?? I never got a crust. Instead, I got a sea of fat about 1″ thick floating on top of my cassoulet the entire time. My guess is this fat came from the pork belly along with what I couldn’t wipe off of the chicken, sausage and onions. In essence, despite my attempts to stir or even ladle off some of the fat, I pretty much slow baked the entire dish immersed in fat. I confited my cassoulet!
The result was a very flavorful but insanely greasy dish. It kinda sucks, because the ingredients in total cost me over 100CHF. We chilled and scraped off what we could, but I’m pretty sure 1/4 cup of the cassoulet I made was an adequate serving size. 3-4 bites and I didn’t need to eat for another 6 hours. Good thing at that portion size there were well over 30 servings!
Will I make a confit again? Sure. I think several meats could benefit from the slow cooked confit method, but I would probably not pair a confit with such other heavy elements. I think the next time I do a confit, I want it to stand out as the only star in a dish, rather than having to compete with all of the other richness in this cassoulet.
Will I make cassoulet again? I think I’ll pass.