Monday, November 13, 2006
I never understood the deal with cassoulet. I had had it a few times, once from freshdirect (bad, and they don't make it any more), once from a can (blah) and I think once was even on an Air France flight (airline food). I was unmoved by my experience with it. Until today.
1 lb dried white beans (preferably Great Northern)
8 1/4 cups cold water
2 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
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
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
2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (preferably from a baguette)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
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. 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.
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.
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.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
This makes a massive amount of food. I would say it could serve 8 to 10. I had to make 2 as I didn't have a baking pan big enough to accomidate all of it. I'm freezing the other half.
My mother brought me back a can of duck confit from her last trip to France, which was very nice of her. Yesterday at Fairway I saw a smaller can for $25. Eeek. Thanks, Mom! The thing is, duck confit looks and smells a bit like catfood.
I always thought that cassoulet took days to make. I guess if you are making your own confit it could take a while, but if you start saoking the beans (which takes about to minutes to set up) in the morning, you can make this for dinner. I takes about 1.5 hours, which isn't bad. I think I've made sandwiches that took longer.
So, now I know. Cassoulet, when made properly is amazingly tasty. Real, serious, good, hearty, comfort food. The smell is wonderful, garlicy, tomato, meaty. It is even better the next day. Run out and make some - right now.