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.
Okay - I was all gung-ho for a good hearty stew. It's the middle of winter and what would be better? But I must say that the amount of fat used in the recipe is daunting. I would like to try making a "traditional" cassoulet without so much fat. Ei carumba! This is not a "heart-smart" dish. I could feel my arteries slamming shut as I was preparing this recipe and I hadn't even taken a bite yet!
I was a bit lazy and didn't feel inclined to search for duck fat in time for making this recipe, so I used olive oil as the fat for the confit. That seemed to work fine. I also substituted chicken for the duck.
As for the cassoulet itself, I made a few more substitutions. As was suggested by our hosts, I chose to not use pork rind and used thick cut bacon instead. That seemed to work just fine. And instead of the duck fat, I had bacon fat on hand so used that. But I must say, it seemed so wrong to be frying up bacon IN bacon fat! Would you like some deep-fried Crisco on a stick to go along with that jammer fest? Yikes!
My final verdict? Yes, it's tasty. But I simply do not eat this way any longer. The odds of making this dish again are slim to none.
Cassoulet by Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman (as featured on the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations”)
Serves 4 - 8
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.)
2 cups/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
Rub the duck legs fairly generously with sea salt, place in the shallow dish, cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight. At all times, keep your work area clean and your ingredients free of contamination - meaning don't allow any other food, like bread crumbs or scraps, to get into your duck, duck fat or confit, as they will make an otherwise nearly non-perishable preparation suddenly perishable.
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.
Ingredients for Cassoulet
5 cups/1200 ml/1100 g/39 oz dried Tarbais beans or white beans such as Great Northern or Cannelini (if you use canned beans be aware that you will need double this amount!)
2 pounds/900 gm fresh pork belly
1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
1 pound/450 gm pork rind (or thick cut bacon)
1 bouquet garni (tie together two sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme and one bay leaf)
salt and 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
Place the beans in the large bowl and cover with cold water so that there are at least 2 or 3 inches (50mm or 75mm) of water above the top of the beans. Soak overnight. That was hard, right? (Beans will double in size upon soaking, so use a big bowl!)
1. Drain and rinse the beans and place in 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 salt and pepper to taste and continue to simmer until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes more.
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 beans and the rind and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid separately.
7. 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.
8. Carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides.
9. Remove sausages and set aside, draining on paper towels.
10. 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).
11. 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.
12. Preheat the oven to moderate 350ºF/180ºC/gas mark 4.
13. 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.
14. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving 1 cup/240 ml in the refrigerator for later use.
15. 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.
16. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat the oven to moderate 350ºF/180ºC/gas mark 4 again.
- Cook the cassoulet for an hour.
- Break the crust on the top with the spoon and add 1/4 cup/60 ml of the reserved cooking liquid.
- 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.