First, some pictures I forgot to add to the previous post.
The pork for the cassoulet spent Friday night well salted and peppered to draw any excess liquid out. True to the overall idea of “stuff lying around in a French farmhouse”, the pork cuts weren’t of the luxurious variety: hocks and meat from the backbone.
Now, I was really going to bed. This time for realsies guys.
These headers are starting to feel like The Shining or something.
First step of the day was straining off the duck stock and reserving the liquid. It got gooood and gelatinous overnight.
After draining the liquid from the (doubled in size) fully soaked beans and moving them to the fridge, the next step was getting the salt pork ready for the stew. First up was separating the 3/4lb slab of into its component parts: fat, skin, and meat.
The skin and meat had a few different roles in the cassoulet, so half the meat and all of the skin headed into a pan covered with water for a solid 45-60 minute simmer. The remaining meat went back into the fridge and the fat headed into the freezer.
Next item up was a little off script: ground snowshoe hare. That’s some sort of wild rabbit according to my research. Oh, and the label on the bag of it I was given gave some hints too.
Most recipes for a traditional French Toulouse-style sausage consist of pork, pork fat, garlic, allspice, fresh bay leaves, and cognac. As usual, I freelanced a bit and assumed that French farmhouse life = lots of hunting and eating rabbit. So, I decided to build off of the rabbit and pork base Bill provided and add in additional ingredients to make it more Toulouse-y.
First step was peeling the garlic and cubing the pork fat trimmings that, along with the salt pork fat, would supplement the fat content of the sausage. Rabbit meat is very lean so even with the bacon Billy added, it still needed a lot more fat to be closer to the authentic pork sausages used normally.
In order to keep fat from becoming mushy in the grinding process, the pork trimmings joined the salt pork fat in the freezer for about an hour before being prepped. With the pork near frozen, the fat and garlic went into the meat grinder with the fine grind plate to be added to the ground rabbit meat.
With the garlic and fat fully ground, I lifted the bowl into the mixer area and inserted the paddle mixer into the Kitchenaid. I added 4-5 finely chopped fresh bay leaves, a couple ounces of bourbon (didn’t have cognac), a half teaspoon of allspice, and some salt and pepper to the bowl and left it to mix for a few minutes. Once the liquid was well folded in and the ingredients were dispersed, the sausage looked like this.
The sausage headed into the fridge to allow the flavors to come together for 24 hours.
It was time to get the main event started in earnest. Big Yellow hit the stove top with a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium/high to brown the hocks and the cubes of country-style rib meat. You’ve seen me brown meat before, so lets cut to the result.
With the meat out, a pile of mirepete (refresher: mirepoix + garlic & salty pork) went into big yellow.
After a few minutes cooking together, I deglazed with a solid pour of white wine and added a couple chopped peeled tomatoes and a whole head of garlic.
While that simmered for a few minutes, I finished tying up two of the items that would cook and rest with the cassoulet for the next 18 hours but would be easy to find and remove (hopefully): The bouquet garni and pork skin.
With the bundles all tied up, it was time for everything to head back into the dutch oven. The browned pork, skin bundles, and bouquet garni went back in with the mirepete and were completely covered with 8 cups of the duck stock.
I brought the pot to a boil and then turned it down to a simmer for an hour and a half.
After an hour and a quarter, I put the beans into a large pot, covered with water, and set over high heat to par boil. Par boiling is a controversial topic, it’s like the fracking debate of this blog; I don’t really get it so it makes me uncomfortable, but the experts (Joycie) makes me feel like an *ss for opposing it. Joycie has made it pretty clear that my lack of a 3 minute par boil on Momere Beans means she would never eat them, she considers it that essential. So, with all recipes I was referencing recommending a par boil, I decided to break my opposition and boiled them for a few.
Once that dark moment (3 moments to be exact) in my cooking life had passed, I drained the beans and added them to Big Yellow.
With the beans and meat simmering together for another two hours, it was time to get started on the duck confit.
A quick aside: to confit means to cook slowly in fat, usually goose or duck fat. Kind of like a low temperature fry or poaching in oil. The idea is that once the meat has been cured and the salt has flushed out all of the excess liquid, the fat will fill those spaces and leave rich, tender, succulent meat. And it does work that way. On the other hand, my gripe is that a one cup container of duck fat from Dartagnan will run you $7-8 and I haven’t been doing much poultry rendering lately. So I decided to go off the grid and confit in a combination of olive oil and pork fat.
I started by heating equal parts olive oil and lard (about a cup and a half of each).
The white lard is from Brother Tim and the darker lard is from Cuttys, which makes me think Cutttys has a little bacon fat blended in with theirs. Not that it really matters.
With the oil heating to a temperature far below frying but where the fats would melt and blend, I started prepping the overnight cured duck legs for the confit. First step was a light wiping and rinsing of the excess salt and seasonings from the outside of the thighs.
There were seven thighs to confit, so the first layer of four were nestled into the bottom of ‘Lil Blue then covered with about 1/3 of the melted fat. The remaining three thighs were arranged on top and completely covered with the remaining fat.
It was around 7PM at this point and we had places to be (we are very popular), so the confit headed into a 185F oven to cook for the next 12 hours. Big Yellow was also ready to come off the heat and slowly come down to room temperature.
With the cooking complete for day 2, we headed out for the evening and I secretly (loudly) started stressing about the following day. When we got home, the cooled down ragout headed into the fridge to cool completely overnight and we got to sleep with the intoxicating aroma of cooking duck filling our noses, clothes, and bedding.
The denouement next week.