Friday, January 14, 2011

Daring Cooks January: Cassoulet

Since Lo decided to take a brief hiatus from blogging, I begged and pleaded to do this month's Daring Cooks Challenge... especially once I found out it was going to be cassoulet.  After all, EVERYBODY loves a good cassoulet, right?

Heh. I'll be honest, I thought cassoulet was just a fancy name for a casserole... or a "kick-asserole,"which is the name we've coined for the really good casseroles.  You know -- the ones that put all others to shame.

And trust me, I've learned a little bit about casseroles over the years. As a child, I attended my fair share of church potlucks. And I endured my share of nasty casseroles.  Surprisingly, I still love tater tots. But I prefer them baked or fried and eaten plain, rather than sprinkled on the top of ground mystery meat mixed with can of cream of mushroom soup.  But, I digress...

It doesn't really seem like cassloulet would be that big of a deal to make. I mean, c'mon! It's beans layered with meat... and more beans... and then you bake it.  Peasants made this stuff way back in the 1300's before electricity, right?  How hard could it be?

So, I did a little bit of reading.  I found out that cassoulet is a slow cooked stew/casserole that's named after the vessel in which it's cooked, the cassole, which is essentially a big pot that has slanted sides (You might find it interesting to note I like to pronounce the word, cassole, with a nice thick northern WI accent so it sounds like I'm calling someone a bad name. Lo prefers to let it roll off her tongue like she is a pretty lady from France. Ying and Yang I tell ya...) It is truly unfortunate that we do not possess a cassole. But we do have a huge LeCrueset dutch oven. And it's French. So I decided it would do just fine. And fine it did.

I washed my hands, waxed my mustache, and did a little dance.  I also may or may not have pulled out my very long, very skinny cigarettes and insist that Lo refer to me as "Pierre"...

And then, I took a look at the recipe.
The first mandatory requirement was to make a confit. Well, remember that pork belly we procured a while back? It was much too large to eat all at once (even over French Fries), so we confited the rest of the pork belly in olive oil. Well, as luck would have it, we still had some left. Mandatory requirement number one accomplished! So, thanks to Lo, I got out of having to do the complicated stuff.

Second step -- make beans.  Ha! Making beans is so Cooking 101.  I was also required to make up a batch of caramelized onions, brown sausages, and then layer things with bacon. Hmph. These were all things that even a person with minimal cooking skills (such as myself) could easily do. 

Looks like once I had that altogether, it was as simple as taking the whole shebang, putting it into the oven, and letting it do its thing. Mmmm, meat and beans.

I continued reading. Turns out the instructions didn't stop there. Oh no. This Kick-assoulet was going to be so good, it required me to cook it all over again the next day.

WHAT?! I had to read the directions again.
I looked at Lo, who knew exactly what I was thinking.  She smiled.

"So, THIS is why she needed a break from the blogging world", I thought to myself. "This is the beast that broke Lo's back." Or something like that. Actually, I think I just looked up and said something about how good it is that I don't have a job because this business of "making kick-assoulet" was going to consume me for at least the next 3 days.

And that is when my three day affair with Kick-assoulet officially began.
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Since our confit utilized pork, I was hesitant to use more pork sausages for the cassoulet.  So, I went to my friendly little butcher man (not really little, quite large actually), and inquired about my options for duck sausage.  He provided me with some lovely duck-links, and about a pound of homemade bacon, which he hand cut right to my specifications. Once I had my meat, I made another stop at the local co-op to get some dried beans before making my way  home.

Since I'd procured butter beans (large lima beans), I soaked the beans for 24 hours, then cooked them in the slow cooker for another 16 hours or so. Started them on high for a few hours then switched to low overnight. They were not done yet in the morning, so I let them go for a few more hours. When they finally decided to be done (beans can be stubborn this way, I'm discovering), I drained them and reserved the cooking liquid.

Next I browned the duck sausages. The recipe instructed me to do this in duck fat, but (always the rebel) I did it in bacon drippings. I call that an upgrade. Sausages came out and I cut them into chunks so it would be easier to dish up. Then the sliced onions went in to do their thing.  Aren't they pretty?
The caramelized onions made their way into the blender and I ran it until they were smooth. Finished by taking the pork belly and browning it up. And then, it was time to assemble.

I should warn you. This is when it gets really good. I took the thick cut bacon and lined the dutch oven with it.
I put in a good layer of beans. Then I added some duck sausage chunks, topping them off with some of that awesome caramelized onion love from the blender. Repeated that layer again, adding a bit more love puree. I saved the pork belly for the top layer. Added the rest of the heavenly puree and topped with the last of the beans. And then it was "Into the oven with you."

By the time the first round of baking was over, the smells coming out of the oven made me want to rip the door off and shove my face right in the pot. But I didn't. I waited like a good boy.  And I didn't even snitch a taste while the beans were cooling down and waiting to be put into the fridge.

The last day was the best day because I had the opportunity to smell all of those intoxicating smells all over again. And this time, I knew that once it was done I could reap the rewards of actually eating it.  It took a bit longer to heat through than the recipe indicated, but I was pleased to note that it was worth the wait.

This kick-assoulet was completely amazing. The smokey bacon infused the beans. The duck sausage was succulent and delicious. And the pork belly....well...there are few words that can really describe how good it tasted in my mouth. A wonderful meal for any winter's night.

Recipe: Cassoulet

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. 

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Want more? Read Lo's latest ruminations at FOODCrush, her Milwaukee Magazine blog.

15 comments:

  1. Cassoulet is on my to-do list this year. My brother-in-law makes a great one on Dec. 24 every year. He starts making it on Dec. 22. That takes time but it's so good.

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  2. I have some flageolet beans that I bought with the express purpose of making cassoulet, but I still haven't done it. Where is this mystery butcher - and do I need to listen to Curtis Mayfield on rider over there? I'm sure I'll be very popular with Jeff if I make something so meat heavy... so thanks for the inspiration!

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  3. I always learn something over here. The caramelized onions and bacon alone are beckoning me, and I can never use my LeCrueset dutch oven enough.

    "kick-asserole"...I am totally stealing that.

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  4. Ok, I've made a version of cassoulet before but nothing this intense! Crazy good! By the way have you ever tried grilling tater tots on skewers? Then top those babies with a little spray cheese....

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  5. Dear Pierre, that post is flippin funny! Kick-asserole should be word of the year and I have resolved to use it once daily. I would have run scared at the mention of confit. But it's nice to know there are kick-ass cooks like you where confit, duck sausage, onion love, and tater tots come together in a happy melange.

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  6. Whoa. For a recipe that took this much time and devotion I'm so glad it turned out beautifully. Way better than the casseroles of yore.

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  7. @Rebecca -- I'll email you the secret butcher spot. ;)

    @Kat -- No, but is now on the list of things to grill. And I knew there was a reason why spray cheese existed.

    @Amy - steal away. We need more kick-asseroles in this world.

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  8. this sounds far better than my quicker version (it only takes 1 day). and who is your butcher? i love him already.

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  9. Though duck confit is fabulous and I will certainly make it again OMG how good would pork belly confit be. I have some in the freezer this is something I have to try.

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  10. I went to a German restaurant last night and had a dish that reminded me of this. Oh this is good comfort food during these cold months.

    And duck links! Whoa. This is very cool. I am a fan of the fowl.

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  11. KICK-ASSOULET!!! I love it!!!!!! :) You did a fantastic job, it looks marvelous! I am so glad you came back form your hiatus for this months challenge!

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  12. Pierre, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post :)

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  13. Lo, you may regret giving over the blog to Peef for this post--he rocked it!!!!! I'm going to clamor for an encore if he doesn't post something regularly.

    Is "kick-asserole" something I can say around my kids?

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  14. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the word "casserole" orignally derive from "cassolet"?

    I admire the willingness to do this much work and procure all of those ingredients. Beautiful job!

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  15. You go Peef! I have always been enamored with cassoulet, and have always feared it - confit? duck fat? I wouldn't know where to start...however, I did get a jar of duck fat for the holidays, so I suppose I am one step closer.

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