Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cassoulet de Canard (Page 273)

RECIPE #1289

  • Date: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, and Clara
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I love cassoulet, and I have been eying this recipe for quite some time. But the Start to Finish time of 2 days, and the lengthy list of ingredients scared me a bit. This recipe is serious business. It took some effort just to locate all the different kinds of animal products it required: fresh pork rind, confit duck legs, slab bacon, goose fat, lamb bones, beef stock, and fresh garlic pork sausages. It's not often that I make a dish containing parts from 5 different kinds of animals! Eventually I managed to get my hands on everything I needed -- I even rendered my own goose fat the last time I made a goose and saved it in the freezer for this dish.

Our friends Helen and Charles moved to France for a year right after Christmas. Before they left we had them over for a French-themed dinner, and we served this cassoulet. The preparation was a two-day affair. On day one I started by briefly boiling and then soaking dried white beans. I also boiled the pork rind briefly a couple times, changing the water in between. Meanwhile I removed the skin and fat from the confit duck legs and shredded the meat. I added the pork rind, slab bacon, onions, and a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme, cloves, and garlic to the beans and simmered them for a while. While the beans cooked I heated the goose fat in a separate pot and browned the lamb bones. Then I removed the bones and cooked onions in the pot. I added back the browned bones, the shredded duck, the shredded meat off the lamb bones, bay leaves, beef stock, chopped peeled tomatoes, garlic cloves, white wine, and pepper. I simmered the mixture for an hour and a half. I let both the bean mixture and the meat mixture cool, then somehow squeezed both huge pots in the refrigerator overnight. On day two I started by slowly cooking the sausages in a grill pan to render off some of the fat. Then I sliced them into rounds. I removed the bones from the pot with the duck in it, then removed the duck and lamb meat with a slotted spoon, reserving the liquid. I took the slab bacon out of the bean pot and cut it into tiny pieces, removing the fat. I discarded the pork rind and the bouquet garni. I then added the meat liquid to the beans and simmered. I layered the bean mixture with the sausages, bacon, and duck/lamb, ending with a layer of beans. I sprinkled bread crumbs and parsley on top, then baked the dish for an hour.

This dish was delicious. The multiple meats and meat products blended together wonderfully. The beans were perfectly cooked, and formed a wonderful base for the dish. It was hearty and flavorful, and perfect for a cold winter night. It may well have been the best cassoulet I have had. So I would have happily given this recipe an A- (or higher!), but it suffered from one fatal flaw: nowhere in the whole recipe does there appear the following instruction: "Season to taste with salt." I follow the recipes exactly as written so I didn't season to taste with salt. But especially in a recipe like this it is crazy not to! The amount of salt coming from ingredients like bacon, sausage, and confit duck can vary widely. So there is no way The Book could have given a precise salt measurement that would have been right for everyone. In this case there was no indication to ever add any salt, after the 1 teaspoon of salt that was added to the beans in the very beginning. The result: the dish was severely under-seasoned. Indeed, despite all the effort and ingredients that went into it, it was bland. The problem was easily remedied: we all mixed some salt into our individual portions before eating it. That brought out the wonderful flavors mentioned above. But the lack of seasoning was a huge omission from the recipe.

The recipe is basically the same as the one here.

Only 4 recipes left to go!

This was the last recipe I had left to make in the Grains and Beans sections of The Book. This was one of my favorite sections to eat from. I LOVE grains and beans. It's hard to pick out my favorites in this section full of yumminess, but the following five recipes (in no particular order) are all delicious:
  • Risotto with Porcini -- I first made this risotto from The Book back in 2006, and I have made it dozens of times since. These days my special gentleman is the official risotto maker in our household, and he can make this recipe from memory. I am not a person who seeks out mushrooms in general, but the mushroom flavor in this dish is fantastic!
  • Red Wine Risotto -- This is also one that I made way back in the day, when I first started this project. I made this so long ago, in fact, that it was before I started taking pictures of the dishes! This was the 19th recipe I cooked from The Book. And I remember this dish like it was yesterday. Oh wait, that may be because I ate some of this dish yesterday! We make this risotto often, and there is some leftover in our fridge right now. It is delicious, and a beautiful deep purple from the wine. Yum!
  • Barley "Risotto" with Vegetables -- There seems to be a risotto theme to my list! This faux-risotto is made with barley rather than arborio rice. It is a very successful variation on the risotto theme. The dish is texturally interesting and delicious!
  • Smoky Black Beans -- This simple recipe is my go-to recipe when I need beans for a crowd. I have busted it out many times while making a taco bar or build-your-own burrito buffet on ski trips or whatnot. The beans are delicious, quick to make, and require only standard pantry ingredients. Yum!
  • Cuban Black Beans -- This recipe for slow-cooked black beans is delicious! There are only a few ingredients, so the beans really shine. These beans would be especially wonderful with some rice and slow cooked pork. Mmmm...
And just like that, another section is complete! I now have 18 section completed and only 3 left to finish off!

This is a very busy month for me. I was traveling most of last week, and I am leaving for a week-long trip tomorrow. I am also traveling the week after that. Add to all the traveling that I am teaching two undergraduate classes this term, and life is pretty hectic! Tomorrow I am headed to Banff in the Canadian Rockies for a conference. I am one of the organizers for the conference, which I always find mildly stressful. Hopefully nothing goes wrong! I think it is going to be a great week. Fantastic researchers are coming from all around the world, and some of my good friends will be there. Today I have been taking care of a multitude of small tasks before I leave: laundry, grocery shopping so my special gentleman has something to eat, writing instructions for the people teaching my classes next week, writing quizzes, homework assignments, recitation instructions, etc. I only returned home from my last trip just a couple days ago. Indeed, I haven't even had time to unpack my suitcase, and now it is time to pack again! As far as I know I am only making three big trips this semester -- it just happens that they are three weeks in a row. I think by the end of the month I will be pretty tired...

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