Friday, January 14, 2011
Daring Cooks January: Cassoulet
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.
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?
I should warn you. This is when it gets really good. I took the thick cut bacon and lined the dutch oven with it.
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.
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.
©BURP! Where Food Happens
Want more? Read Lo's latest ruminations at FOODCrush, her Milwaukee Magazine blog.