The Cassoulet: Day Three

The final post of the epic three-part cassoulet series.  It’s been exhausting, and I’m looking forward to posting about normal (abnormal) stuff again.  Can’t say that writing about this massive cauldron of meat and beans has made me feel less like post-holiday bloated.  Let’s wrap this up.

Sunday

At 7:00 the morning after it headed into the oven, with Janet just starting to stir, I pulled the pot of duck confit and put the duck legs in a tupperware container.

Not visually appealing, but pretty remarkable.  The duck meat was falling apart and the thick fatty skin had rendered away to almost nothing.  Insert self deprecating New Years resolution comment here

Not visually appealing, but pretty remarkable.  The duck meat was falling apart and the thick fatty skin had rendered away to almost nothing.  Insert self deprecating New Years resolution comment here

The combined smell of the duck, pork fat, and olive oil was pretty awesome, if not borderline unpleasant upon first waking up in the morning.  Duck confit can keep for a couple weeks, if not longer, when refrigerated packed in the cooking fat, but since I planned to use it later in the day I didn’t take that step.  The tupp headed into the fridge and the fat was reserved and sealed into two large mason jars for the next time I want to confit something.

In order to get the fresh bread crumbs for the cassoulet crust a little dried out, I threw half a loaf of ciabatta into the food processor and laid it out on a plate to sit all day.

I referenced Molto Mario last week and the thinly veiled contempt for guests who asked healthy food questions.  My favorite outright dismantling by Mario was when he made someone look like a complete ass for asking if he was going to let his breadcrumbs get dried out before using them.  Well, um, take THAT Mario!

I referenced Molto Mario last week and my love for his thinly veiled contempt for health-conscious guests.  My favorite outright dismantling by Mario was when he made someone look like a complete ass for asking if he was going to let his breadcrumbs get dried out before using them.  Well, um, so, take THAT Mario!

In a change of direction, the meat and bean ragout came out of the fridge looking, well, a little cement-like.

Looked like a solid block, like you could build the foundation of a house off of it

Looked like a solid block, like you could build the foundation of a house off of it

Beyond letting the flavors come together and rest, the refrigeration allowed the fat to settle on top and solidify.  Made it easier to scrape some of the excess fat off and throw it away.

Once the fat skimming was done, I let the ragout come up a bit closer to room temperature so I could deal with the unenviable task of sorting through it by hand.  That’s right, I had to scrub up like a surgeon and pull out every nasty bit, bone, and herb bouquet to get rid of the inedible stuff.  Lets fast forward to removing that first bony chunk of pork.

I've done a lot of unpleasant things for this blog, and this hold sorting process was up there.  I'm just glad no one knew that I had to do this until now

The top shows how awful I was at skimming fat off the top when the fat looked exactly like white beans.  Also, I’ve done a lot of unpleasant things for this blog, and this whole sorting process was up there.  I’m just glad no one knew that I had to do this until now

The bouquet garni and pork skin bundles went right into the trash (after far more searching to find that 4th skin bundle than I wish to discuss).  The garlic head was reserved for later use and the bones/skin/cartilage were separated from the edible hock and back meat then tossed.  I cubed the pork into bite sized pieces and was left with this decent sized pile.

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The hocks were a complete disappointment, far less meat than I remembered was hiding amidst the bone and skin.  Sure, the hocks made the whole process feel authentic, but I think I’ll stick with shoulder meat next time

The remaining bean, vegetable, and salty pork ragout went back onto low heat to slowly get back to a more viscous consistency.  While that heated, I filled the food processor with the poached salt pork from the day before, the squeezed out contents of the reserved garlic head, a couple cloves of fresh garlic and a splash of white wine.

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Never really considered putting meat in the processor before.  I did something somewhat similar a few weeks ago when I put chili through the blender for use as a pasta sauce.  This seemed far less questionable

After a good couple spins, I had a meat paste the likes of which I’d never considered before.

Couldn't even fathom tasting this, but seemed like an excellent flavor addition to the mixture on the stovetop

Couldn’t even fathom tasting this, but seemed like an excellent flavor addition to the mixture on the stovetop

I stirred the meat paste into the reheating bean mixture and, once it was folded in, added the pork back to the ragout.

Gives some context on how large the previous bowl full o' meat was.  I am 60% positive that a Paleo restaurant called "Bowl Full 'O Meat" would be a huge success in Boston

Gives some context on how large the previous bowl full o’ meat was. I am 60% positive that a Paleo restaurant called “Bowl Full ‘O Meat” would be a huge success in Boston

With the meat stirred back in, I let the cassoulet simmer for 15-20 minutes.  While that bubbled, I preheated the oven to 400F and took the duck legs out of the fridge for baking.  One more shot of the now-cooled legs nicely arranged on a baking dish.

Again, grey/brown meat does this stuff a complete disservice.  Duck confit is so freaking tasty

Again, grey/brown meat does this stuff a complete disservice.  Duck confit is so freaking tasty

After 20 minutes in the oven, the meat was sizzling and heated all the way through, so the thighs came out of the oven and the temp went down to 325F.  After waiting a few minutes for the meat to cool slightly, the meat pulled easily off the bone in large chunks.  With the meat shredded, I chopped the skin into very small pieces so that they would add flavor/fat without noticeable texture.

I wish the skin had been crispy so that I could eat handfuls of it.  Next time around I might do the shorter version confit that makes for crispier skin.  Crispy poultry skin is fat dude kryptonite

I wish the skin had been crispy so that I could eat handfuls of it.  Next time around I might do the shorter version confit that makes for crispier skin.  Crispy poultry skin is fat dude kryptonite

With the duck shredded and the cassoulet mixture bubbling on the stovetop, it was time for the final round of assembly.  I ladled off half of the contents of the pot and reserved in a bowl then began the layering.

Most of the liquid had cooked off, but this was still only half of the pork and bean ragout.  This ended up being an effing cauldron of food

Most of the liquid had cooked off, but this was still only half of the pork and bean ragout.  This ended up being an effing cauldron of food

Ahhhhh good god that looks freaking ridiculous.  Just a thick layer of shredded tender pork fat poached duck.  Reediculous

Ahhhhh good god that looks freaking ridiculous. Just a thick layer of shredded tender pork fat poached duck.  Reediculous

The other half of the pork/bean ragout and a couple cups of duck stock over the top.  The instruction to add stock looked incredibly questionable at this point

The other half of the pork/bean ragout and a couple cups of duck stock over the top.  The instruction to add stock looked incredibly questionable at this point

Big Yellow headed back into the 325F oven for another hour and a half.

While the cassoulet cooked, I pulled out the bin of rabbit sausage which had a solid 24 hours of flavor meshing at that point.

About how it looked going into the fridge, guess I just wanted to remind you.  I guess it carried a whole lot of sausage stank with it at this point, so that was new

About how it looked going into the fridge, guess I just wanted to remind you.  It also carried a whole lot of sausage stank with it at this point, so that was new

Like a Christmas morning in the Ryan household, the sausage meat was slapped into patties and pan fried until well browned on both sides.

Sausage patties, a love affair that began with the college cafeteria breakfast buffet.  Horrifying for you, but everyone needs to embrace their inner fat kid and order eggs benedict with sausage patties instead of Canadian bacon at least once in their life

Sausage patties, a love affair that began with the college cafeteria breakfast buffet.  Horrifying for you, but everyone needs to embrace their inner fat kid and order eggs benedict with sausage patties instead of Canadian bacon at least once in their life

The patties were transferred to a pile of paper towels after cooking to drain, and cut in half once cooled.

After the hour and a half of cooking was up, the almost complete cassoulet came out of the oven and I reduced the oven temp to 275F.

The color, less liquid, everything was all good signs at this point

Darkened color, less liquid, even a little delicious looking fat coagulating on top.  Lots of good signs at this point

Per the delicious sounding instructions, I gently stirred the skin that formed on the surface back into the top of the cassoulet, careful not to disrupt the layer of duck confit in the center.  Once the top was well mixed again, I pressed the sausage pieces into  the cassoulet, covering them as much as possible.

I wish every recipe ended wrapped with "shove some sausage in there".  Like this cauldron of food wasn't rich and decadent enough

I wish every recipe ended wrapped with “shove some sausage in there”.  Like this cauldron of food wasn’t rich and hearty enough beforehand.  How the eff are there any skinny French people?

Then a thick coating of fresh (slightly staled) breadcrumbs and a solid drizzle of olive oil over the top.  You know, just when you thought it couldn’t get any more decadent.

An appropriate time to point out how close we are to the full capacity of Big Yellow.  A 9.5 Quart capacity dutch oven.  I am still amazed that this was finished in less than 3 days without bringing it to a soup kitchen

An appropriate time to point out how close we are to the full capacity of Big Yellow.  A 9.5 quart capacity dutch oven.  I am still amazed that this was finished in less than 3 days without bringing it to a soup kitchen

This headed back into the oven for another hour of cooking during which time I reflected on how many minutes I had spent on it in the previous three days and whether it could possible be worth it.  I got an additional bit of time after it came out of the oven and rested for 20 minutes.

Had no patience for the whole "break the crust at least three times" crap.  The Pete Is On, disregarding people who know what they're doing (like Julia Child) since 2010

Had no patience for the whole “break the crust at least three times” crap.  ThePeteIsOn.com, disregarding people who know what they’re doing (like Julia Child) since 2010

I’d imagine that people who make the crazy cakes on cake shows rarely want to eat their cakes; they wouldn’t want to know something that took so long was just OK.  Also, I have never understood the appeal of cake shows.  Every cake seems impossible and the car ride is always hazardous to the cake; how many times do we need to watch this?

Anyway, what I am getting at is that I had some anxiety about tasting the cassoulet.  Especially since my meat orgy in a bowl was being upstaged by Taylor’s delicious seitan bourguignon.  But I had to barrel ahead.

First discouraging step was realizing that the casosulet doesn’t come out in the perfectly layered, lasagna-like portions you would hope for.  More just a cafeteria line spoonful.

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Seitan bourguignon bottom, cassoulet top right, undercooked green beans at the top left.  This is a fair view of the cassoulet; it plated like a thanksgiving dinner that has been chopped up and stirred together into one pile.  Whuppah Conman style!!!

Alright, where to begin.  Or end.  The beans had cooked to the consistency of mashed potatoes whipped with lots of cream and butter, without the cream and butter.  They had a silky, uniform consistency.  The flavor was heavily meaty throughout, with the duck broth and little bites of salty pork throughout.  In general, you had no idea what you were eating at any point since the stewed pancetta, salt pork, hock, and back meat all had the same texture.

The only two items that were easy to discern were the sausage and duck.  The sausage was fuerte, with the most flavorful aspects coming from the sweet bourbon, bay leaves, and allspice.  It was so strong that it overpowered everything else in a single bite, making those mouthfuls with big chunks of sausage my least favorite.  On the flipside, the duck was the best part by far.  Huge chunks of rich, tender, shredded duck making every forkful they participated in delicious.

And finally, it’s all done.  I’d make it again, despite the time commitment.  I’d buy sausage, stock, and stick with just shoulder meat instead of backs/hocks next time.  The only area I wouldn’t skimp on was the homemade duck confit which was worth every second.  Pretty delicious on the whole.

Will try to get a post up before I head to 5 days of fish market exploration in Eleuthra.  I think Kristi is referring to it as a family vacation.

The Cassoulet: Day Two

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.

Hocks are such an unpleasant term for pig ankles.  Actually, let's stick with hocks

Ham hocks.  “Hocks” is such an unpleasant term for pig ankles.  Actually, let’s stick with hocks

Country style ribs.  Anything labeled as "country style" at the supermarket means you are getting leftovers.  Their were bones sticking out of these pieces in all directions, not sure how there is any relation to "ribs" going on here

Country style ribs.  Anything labeled as “country style” at the supermarket means you are getting leftovers.  Their were bones sticking out of these pieces in all directions, not sure how there is any relation to “ribs” going on here

Now, I was really going to bed.  This time for realsies guys.

Saturday

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.

I try to strain my broth through cheese cloth every time and always end up screwing it up and burning my hands on the hot soaking cloth.  So it ends up being foggy, partially strained broth.  Every time

I try to strain my broth through cheese cloth every time and always end up screwing it up and burning my hands on the hot soaking cloth.  So it ends up being foggy, partially strained broth.  Every time.  My financial planner shakes his head at my annual cheesecloth budget

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.

IMG_1969

Took Momere’s advice and sought out the meatiest slab of salt pork I could find.  When in doubt, always trust the centenarian who actually used to haggle with people in the process of taking apart an animal.  Not sure if I’d be able to get in touch with Ms. Smithfield or Mr. Hormel

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.

Of course this came drom Uncle Billy.  He got a couple snowshoe hare last year and ground up the meat with bacon fat and seasoning.  I needed to make some slight modifications to make sure it matched the meal

Of course this came from Uncle Billy.  He got a couple snowshoe hare last year and ground up the meat with bacon fat and seasoning.  You know the Hyundai Sonata, “Why?” commercial with the little kid bugging his neighbor?  I generally think that is eerily similar to how I ask Billy food questions

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.

IMG_1978

Stop and Shop Dedham doesn’t exactly have Sam The Butcher working behind the counter.  It doesn’t help that I whisper when I request odd ingredients, but I am positive he was over 90% deaf and considering punching me.  When he told me he didn’t have pork fat and I pointed to the table of pork fat behind him you would have thought I called his wife ugly or something

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.

Looked like a mix of meat and fat on the board, but it was mostly just fat.  Which is good since rabbit has none of it's own and only what Billy added

Looked like a mix of meat and fat on the board, but it was mostly just fat.  This is still about half the fat that would go into a similarly sized traditional Toulouse sausage, the recipes I saw were a Pete-like 40% fat

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.

Probably doesn't look that different to you, but the meat was a lot lighter and way more fragrant with all of the spices

Probably doesn’t look that different to you, but the meat was a lot lighter and way more fragrant with all of the spices.  I read that you should take food fotos with lots of natural light, hence this experimental shot by the window.  I”d give this shot a “meh”

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.

Hocks still not winning you over?  You've got some serious willpower, sir or madam.  I'd imagine you'll need a snack or something though, no one can avoid hunger looking at that plate

Hocks still not winning you over?  You’ve got some serious willpower, sir or madam.  I’d imagine you’ll need a snack or something though, no one can avoid hunger looking at that plate

With the meat out, a pile of mirepete (refresher: mirepoix + garlic & salty pork) went into big yellow.

Quarter pound of pancetta and some of the diced salt pork rounded out the mirepete.  I really think this whole mirepete thing is gonna catch on!  I am pretty sure I overheard someone using the term on The Chew the other day

Quarter pound of pancetta and some of the diced salt pork rounded out the mirepete.  I really think this whole “mirepete” thing is gonna catch on!  I am pretty sure I overheard someone using the term on The Chew the other day.  How awful is The Chew?  I miss the good old days of Batali being condescending to his guests on Molto Mario

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.

I actually did let this cook as shown for a minute or two because I forgot about it, so for once your terror at the unincorporated ingredient shot would be merited

I actually did let this cook as shown for a minute or two because I forgot about it, so for once your terror at the unincorporated ingredient shot would be merited

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.

Couple stems of celery, thyme, parsley, and fresh bay leaves.  Looks nicer than anything I normally cook with

Couple stems of celery, thyme, parsley, and fresh bay leaves.  Looks nicer than anything I normally cook with

Pork skin bundles, much more par for my course.  I struggled with tying up these slipper little m f'ers and Kristi entered the kitchen as I was about to whip one that kept unravelling across the kitchen.  Luckily, she helped, and we used teamwork to get these done

Pork skin bundles, much more par for my course.  I struggled with tying up these slippery little emeff’ers and Kristi entered the kitchen as I was about to whip one that kept unravelling across the kitchen.  Luckily, she helped, and we used teamwork to get these done.  Teamwork!

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.

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It was good to no longer have to stare at the hocks, they were starting to get to me.   Not because I think they are gross, but the browning process didn’t do great things to their appearance and tightened the skin

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.

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This was intended to give some perspective on how much two pounds of beans is.  It looked like a lot when I soaked them and looked like a lot when I added them.  Had to trust the internets though

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).

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Yep, gross that this looks tasty to me.  I fully plan to straighten out my eating, go to the gym more regularly, and sleep more starting 1/2/13 and ending some time around 1/6/13

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.

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ThePeteIsOn.com, showcasing odd cooking techniques, unusual meats, and disgustingly long fingers since 2010

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.

Dats a good fit.  Not sure if I was doing anything right at this point but that's why I'm lovable!  Right?  Anyone?

Dats a good fit.  Not sure if I was doing anything right at this point but that’s why I’m lovable!  Right?  Anyone?

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.

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Decent start.  Again, looked like a meaty hambone soup but smelled like so much more.  I was hoping this would end up being more like a shepherds pie than a stew/soup, so I was happy the liquid content seemed to be diminishing

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.

The Cassoulet: Day One

Cassoulet has been mentioned a few times on this site, but I couldn’t tell you for sure whether I’d ever consumed it in my first 32 years.  Pop Ryan loved it, Mommy Ryan claims to have cooked it, but I have zero recollection of consuming it before our Chicago trip in September.  That meal at Maude’s was awesome, but I knew it wasn’t the authentic cassoulet that someone in the french countryside would cook over several days.

After researching a bit, I discovered that this dish is the equivalent of a French kitchen sink chili, so of course I was intrigued.  I also loved the sound of duck, pork, and sausage in one rich pile of food.

Nothing to do with the current topic, just proud of my little girls for chowing down on some homemade scrapple.  This was her second piece actually

Nothing to do with the current topic, just proud of my little girls for chowing down on some homemade scrapple.  She ripped her first piece off my breakfast and then wouldn’t leave me alone until i gave her a bigger piece.  Pretty sure she hit her organ meat threshold after this one, though

An authentic Cassoulet is a multi-day process that includes over 25 ingredients, so I’m going to break this up into a couple of posts.  I learned my lesson from the Turducken last year; too many images slow the site to a crawl and make the whole posting process utterly infuriating.  Not so coincidentally, the plan was to serve it at the same annual holiday dinner with friends that featured the Turducken last year

I wanted to approach this in a way that wasn’t too far removed from what might happen in a French countryside kitchen (read: make everything as difficult as possible for no good reason).  So, I decided to avoid pre-prepared ingredients like chicken stock, sausage, and duck confit.  Do it all myself.  I’m a freaking moron.

Friday

The process started with a thawed duck carcass I’ve had in my freezer for awhile.

The remnants of a previously frozen deboned duck, definitely not the prettiest start to a multi-day cooking event

The remnants of a previously frozen deboned duck, definitely not the prettiest start to a multi-day cooking event

After heavily seasoning the bones, meat, and skin with salt and pepper, I heated a stock pot on the stovetop with a little olive oil in the bottom.  Once the oil was hot, I threw the duck in to brown for a few minutes.  While the meat browned, I chopped up the standard carrot, celery and onion and smashed a few garlic cloves leaving them in the skin.  Everything went into the pot.

I don't think I've properly explained how much I bit off more than I could chew yet chose to make it harder for myself at every turn.  I haven't felt this overwhelmed since I chose to cook a bachelor party dinner for 20 people, which is a remarkable comparison since that started with 4 hours of sleep, 150 fresh clams, and way too many beers in my stomach before 1PM

I don’t think I’ve properly explained how much I bit off more than I could chew with this one, yet chose to make it harder for myself at every turn.  I haven’t felt this overwhelmed since I chose to cook a bachelor party dinner for 20 people, which is remarkable since that day started with 4 hours of sleep, 150 fresh clams, and way too many beers in my stomach before 1PM

Since I had a good 6 hours to cook the broth and get good flavor out of all of the ingredients, I filled the pot to near full and set to a low simmer.

Always the onions that float to the top and make your broth look like an immediate failure.  I had faith, though.  Ignorant Confidence might be the next title of this blog when I switch it up again in a few years

Always the onions that float to the top and make your broth look like an immediate failure.  I had faith, though.  Ignorant Confidence might be the next title of this blog when I switch it up again in a few years

While the broth simmered (yes Tim, you friggin jerk, I aimed to have one bubble every 30 seconds or so), I got started on preparing the duck legs for the confit process. Discovering that I could get these at the Shaws next to my office was a wonderful revelation.

These things are almost entirely skin and fat, but they're really awesome on the inside.  I feel like I am setting you up on a blind date with duck thighs or something

These things are almost entirely skin and fat, but they’re really awesome on the inside.  I feel like I am setting you up on a blind date with duck thighs or something

I referenced a few sources on how to confit, including old standbys Ruhlman and Lagasse, before generally following the cure recipe from Ruhlman since he has yet to steer me wrong.  The legs were rinsed, patted dry, given a heavy rub of salt and left to rest for 15 minutes.

While the legs rested, I prepared the other items for the cure.

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Welp, that’s one hell of a boring picture.  Please make sure to send the link to this blog to your friends and family and mention that I show great pictures like a peeled garlic clove and a small pile of brown crap

The clove of garlic was sliced thin and the pile of “brown crap” is a few peppercorns and whole cloves chopped/crushed together.  Pair that with some fresh bay leaves sliced into slivers.

We have two grades of Pyrex in the Ryan household, Wedding Gift and everything else.  "Everything else" is the random collection of browned, stained pyrexes we both brought to this partnership from our single lives.  Yeah, those are the ones we use for curing sh*t

We have two grades of Pyrex in the Ryan household, Extremely Clean Wedding Gifts and everything else. “Everything else” is the random collection of browned, stained Pyrexes we both brought to this partnership from our single lives.  Yeah, those are the ones I’m allowed to use for curing sh*t

The duck thighs were tightly wrapped in plastic and headed into the fridge.

After a 3-4 more hours of occasional stirring and maintaining low heat the stock was looking pretty good.

I love when stock looks like this, feels like I could keep it on a back burner on low heat for a few weeks

I love when stock looks like this, feels like I could keep it on a back burner on low heat for a few weeks.  That being said, I am sure this is not the definition of “looking pretty good” to most people

I shut the heat off of the stock and put the lid on to let it slowly cool overnight.  Final step before I went to bed was covering two pounds of dried cannellini beans with water for an overnight soak.

Big bowl o' beans

Big bowl o’ beans.  Two pounds seemed like a ton since a normal batch of momere beans is only a pound, but each of the recipes I referenced said two pounds so I went with it

And with that I headed to bed for a night of nervousness about everything flying off the rails on Saturday.  On the docket for the next post, hopefully in the next few days, is the first day of cooking the pork and beans together, grinding a toulouse-style sausage, and confit-ing the duck.

Pete’s Recipes: “Not too much” Chili

The five soups/stews in my rotation for Souper Sundays (the adorable name I use for making a massive amount of food before the work week) are: chicken vegetable, mushroom barley, hambone, roasted vegetable, and chili.  The first four have been covered to varying degrees on this blog, but I’ve never talked much about my chili so I figured it was time to address it.  Also, I didn’t want to do two WCIC posts back to back so this was the only alternative.

I love chili and the best part is that it will be good with pretty much any meat you have in your fridge.  However, over the years I’ve found myself incapable of making a reasonable amount of chili and always end up with a ridiculous amount that I could never finish.

With painstaking precision and effort, I’ve finally figured out how to make enough chili for exactly five large, filling lunch portions.  It’s not traditional, and has a couple odd ingredients, but at least you won’t end up with extra frozen chili in your freezer that nobody would ever willingly eat.

Here’s what you’ll need:
1 medium onion
3 tbsp chopped garlic (about 5-6 cloves)
1 tbsp olive oil
1.5-2 lbs meat
2 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tbsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tbsp cumin powder
1/2 tbsp onion powder
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
2 beef bouillon cubes
12 oz beer
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 can black or pinto beans (drained and rinsed)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
salt & black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325F and heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large oven-safe pot with a heavy lid or a medium dutch oven (I use ‘lil blue).  Once the oil is hot, add the chopped onions and garlic.

When you do this you should stir the onions and oil together, not just leave them all piled up on one side, k?  Sometimes I wonder what would happen if you didn’t have me in your life.  Piles of half burned, half raw onions, that’s what!

Once the onions have cooked for 5-10 minutes and become a bit translucent, add in 1.5 to 2 pounds of meat.  It doesn’t really matter what you use for this recipe, I generally use ground turkey or chicken or both, but in this case I used a little leftover cubed pork tenderloin and some freezer burned chuck steak.

Most chili-diehards would say that the ingredients I use aren’t part of a real, traditional Texas chili.  My counterpoint would be that I use a wooden spoon, so it must be pretty traditional

Season with salt and pepper to taste and brown the meat, stirring regularly.  After a few minutes there should be some liquid that has cooked off in the base of the pot and the meat should no longer have any red or pink on it.  Add the cayenne pepper and the onion/garlic/cumin/chili powders, then stir well to completely coat all of the meat.

A good sniff of the contents of the this pot would likely cause some coughing and sneezing, but the spiciness gets well distributed and becomes way more mild than it smells once the other ingredients come in

After a few minutes of cooking the meat, onions, and garlic with the seasoning, pour in 12-16 ounces of beer.  I like to go on the 16 end of the spectrum especially if there is more meat, but it means you will have to drink the rest of the beer.  Cry me a friggin’ river.

Once the beer is in the pot, raise the burner temperature to high and heat until the liquid starts to bubble.  Then throw in those two bouillon cubes that you didn’t understand why they were on the ingredients list.

Dats some good bubblin’.  The wooden spoon stayed in most of the shots just to remind people of my chili street cred

The bouillon cubes mostly came out of a plan to compensate for the lack of meaty flavor when using turkey or chicken in chili.  So I tried a couple bouillon cubes, and when combined with beer it was basically like adding a half carton of beer flavored beef broth.  Certainly not a bad thing.

Once the liquid reduces by about a quarter, add in the can of crushed tomatoes and stir well.

I used to hate chili because I couldn’t stand warm tomatoes; soups, sauces, anything.  Got over that in my late teens.  Sometimes these little stories about overcoming my strong opinions on food make me sound far less like the stubborn jackass that I actually am

Once the tomatoes are well stirred in and heated up a bit, put the lid on and place in the preheated 325F oven for two hours.  I recommend you spend that time closing the doors to ever room that contains clothing in your apartment and putting all of the jackets in the closet, unless you want to smell like the kid who is cooking chili in his pants.

After two hours you can remove from the oven and take the lid off.

I love this part of the oven-cooked chili/bolognese/baked beans process.  Always looks so angry, spicy and thick until you stir together and make sense of it all.  Or at least that’s how I think about it

Add the can of fully rinsed beans and the cup of corn.

The biggest issue with every insistent traditional chili advocate (frigginjerkBrotherTim included) is that if you’ve ever had chili with corn in it you would never ever go back.  It’s just better

After a good stir, the lid goes back on and the pot heads back into the oven for another hour.  Which will leave you with this:

Thick chili is the only kind of chili worth eating, no one wants chili soup.  Type that up in a word document and save it on your desktop with the file name, “important stuff from pete.doc”.  Thx

Once it comes out of the oven, you can take the lid off and put the pot over medium heat for few minutes if there is excess liquid you’d like to cook off.  You can also taste and make any last minute seasoning adjustments you see fit.  I occasionally add a couple spoonfuls of brown sugar to give a hint of contrasting sweetness, which is a nice touch in chili I think.

That recipe should make about 7-8 cups of thick and hearty chili, great as a lunch or even better as a nacho topping.  The best part of chili is that you could add any of the leftovers in your fridge and likely make it even better.  And, as always, just remember that I have no idea what I am talking about and what I am doing so the last thing you should do is follow a recipe I made up.

Pete’s Recipes: Pete’s Kitchen Sink Soups

On Sunday I made one of my favorite repurposed meals: mac & cheese using the rinds from a cheese plate earlier in the day.  It was supposed to be my post for this week, since the prosciutto & pea mac and the mushroom mac both came out awesome.  But, cooking while the Pats – Ravens game came down to the wire had me distracted and I forgot to take pictures after the initial shots of the roux.  Oops.  Who wants to learn about Pete’s Soups?!?!?!

I have three go-to soups; Mushroom Barley (sometimes with chicken), Hambone Soup, and Roast Vegetable.  The mushroom barley one is almost always the exact same set of ingredients, and that’s a little boring, so lets save that one for another time if need be.  Instead, let’s focus on the other two “clear all the sh*t out of your fridge in one pot” soups: hambone and roast vegetable.  Let’s start with the…

Hambone Soup

Here’s what you’ll need:

Generally a group of ingredients that are leftover from a family gathering. Plus, that extra mini ham at the bottom left was heavily discounted post holidays. "ADB" may have to be phased out in favor of "Pete's Heavily Discounted Meat Blog"

In words:
1 hambone (+additional cubed ham depending on amount left on hambone)
1lb package of dried beans (chef’s choice, I like the mixed bean bag)
3 ribs celery chopped
4-5 peeled carrots chopped
1 medium onion chopped
4-5 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 4oz can tomato paste
Bay leaf
Sherry
Olive oil, salt & pepper

Soak the beans overnight the night before you plan to cook the soup.  Drain and rinse the beans thoroughly, removing any stones or loose bean skins shortly before cooking.

Preheat oven to 300F.  In a large dutch oven (or similar heavy pot), heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and saute the onion, carrot, garlic, and celery seasoned with salt and pepper.  Cook until onion is translucent, about 8-10 minutes, before stirring in tomato paste.

This is the start of just about every soup I make and pretty much anything braised. Tomato paste is underrated

After cooking together for a few minutes, add in the hambone (+additional ham if necessary), the drained and rinsed beans, and a bay leaf.

That hambone was plenty meaty but I like this soup extra meaty. Plus, you expected me to pass on a discounted product that is prominently linked to obesity?!?!

Add in 8-10 cups of water, or enough to amply cover all ingredients and bring up to a simmer on the stove top.

I usually throw a bouillon cube or two in here, just because it seems like a lot of water to add. Use of bouillon cubes seems like the type of thing that would get me ripped on if I ever tried to hang out with foodies

Put cover on the dutch oven and place in the 300F preheated oven to cook for 4 hours.  After which, you should have something that looks like this.

A little thin looking, but we're not done yet

Fish the hambone out of the pot with a pair of tongs and place any meat remaining on the bone back in the pot.  Pour in 2-4 ounces of dry sherry (to taste) and simmer, uncovered, for another 30-45 minutes stirring regularly until the liquid has reduced by 1/4 to 1/3.

That's more like it, rich and creamy looking. I know that doesn't sound appealing with a ham-based soup but the starch from the beans is what provides both qualities

Ladle into bowls, and you have a hearty, filling stew that easily stands up as a full meal.

So filling and delicious. I am unapologetically greedy when the Perines offer their hambones to everyone after large family meals

Up next,

Roast Vegetable Soup

This one is truly a kitchen sink soup.  Think of it as a way to utilize all the vegetables in your fridge that you never got around to cooking during the week.  If anyone else has that problem.

The requirements are that you need some combination of celery, onion, carrot, and garlic as a base, a starchy vegetable, and a carton or two of chicken broth.  I usually make it with butternut squash as the starch, but I’ve also used potato, and recently included apples and ginger.  In those cases you mix all vegetables, season, roast, then dump into a pot with the broth to simmer, then blend.  That simple.  Here’s what you’ll need for an alternate version with black beans (plus a little more detail on each of those steps):

3 cans black beans
1 large onion quartered
5 ribs celery cut in large pieces
6 peeled carrots cut in large pieces
4-5 peeled garlic cloves
32-48 ounces of chicken broth
1/2 4oz can of tomato paste
1 lime
1 bunch cilantro
Cayenne pepper
Cumin
Olive oil, salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 450F.  Place all vegetables, except the beans, in a large bowl and stir in tomato paste, cayenne and cumin powder to taste, salt & pepper, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  Mix until all vegetables are well coated with seasonings.

If you don't have tomato paste, ketchup can work in a pinch. Just don't tell anyone, no one wants to know ketchup is prominently involved in their soup

Pour contents onto a nonstick baking sheet and place on top rack of a preheated 450F oven.

Yes, I forgot to take my pizza stone out of the oven. If Kristi asks, tell her it helps regulate the temperature in the oven, since that's the BS I spew when she asks

After 10-12 minutes, switch to a low broil for an additional 3-5 minutes (with the oven door slightly ajar) to add a little char to some of the veggies.

Again, this can be the base of any number of delicious grub options

Dump the contents of the pan into a large pot along with the three cans of rinsed beans, juice from the lime, chopped cilantro to taste (I happily add a whole bunch worth of leaves), and cover with chicken broth.  Bring to a boil.

That color comes from the beans and the charred vegetables. I need to make this again soon

Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes, covered.  The vegetables should be easily soft to the touch of a knife or fork. Using a ladle, transfer the vegetables and liquid to a blender in waves, emptying into a large bowl once blended.

Something about the blender makes it nearly impossible to take an in-focus picture. Wish my profile had the same problem

Puree by pulsing and letting rest a few times with the vent cap open slightly to let steam escape.  The goal is a thick looking liquid, kind of like a bean and vegetable smoothie.

Spicy bean smoothie. Delicious but on an empty stomach it can be the equivalent of drinking a cup of burned gas station coffee

Despite not having any cream or milk, there is a deceptive silkiness to any roast vegetable soup made like this and blended well.  The only downside of the bean version is the occasional textural contrast of the bean skins.  Otherwise, it’s got all the right flavors with the cilantro, lime, and bean complimenting each other well and some nice spicy heat from the cayenne and black pepper.

And that’s that.  Anyone want to come over for roast goat head and homemade tortillas this Sunday???  I’m having a lot of trouble finding a taker for that offer.  Facebook me y’all!

Don’t Forget…

…that it’s Fish Cakes and Spaghetti day folks.  So buy a box of both, heat ’em up, think about Pop Ryan for a bit, and hopefully laugh a few times in his honor.  (click here for more about the man)

If you need a healthy recipe for fish cakes, take a crack at the one below (came up with it when I made mine last night).  I don’t have a healthy alternative for spaghetti, unfortunately, and I can’t be one of those people that pretends spaghetti squash is even close.

Here’s what you’ll need:
1 lb skinless cod fillets (or any other whitefish)
1/2 medium yellow onion finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons capers finely chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup egg substitute (or one large egg)
1/2 lemon
White wine
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425F.  Coat a Pyrex baking dish with cooking spray.  Place cod fillets in dish and cover surface of fish with the garlic, onion, and capers.  Squeeze lemon over contents of dish and sprinkle with a bit of white wine.

You can barely see the cod, but it's under there

Place in preheated onion on upper (not top) rack of the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes.  Pull baking dish out of the oven and leave the oven on at 425F.

That liquid has a lot of good flavor, make sure you don't dump it before mixing some in

Break apart fish with a spatula and remove the contents of the dish using a slotted spoon. Place in a heat resistant bowl and let cool until lukewarm (I placed the bowl in an ice bath to speed this up).  Add in egg, breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt & pepper to taste and mix well.

The mixture will be a little liquidy due to the minimal use of breadcrumbs and parm. As I made the patties I gave a little shake over the sink to get any excess liquid out

Mix in two spoonfuls of the reserved cooking liquid and let sit for 5 minutes.  Coat a nonstick cookie sheet with cooking spray and form the fish mixture into patties (should make 6-8).  Place on cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Before...

...after. They look more like fish cookies, but that's a fish cake right 'der

Serve as is or with marinara sauce and spaghetti.

Yeah, I ended up having a fourth

They should have the texture of a quality crab cake that doesn’t have a lot of filler, and every ingredient (especially the wine and lemon) should stand out.  Enjoy!

Shin Steak Osso Bucco

I love osso bucco and generally order it whenever I see it on a menu.  Actually, let’s say a reputable restaurant menu.  I learned that lesson a few years ago at a subpar Italian restaurant that clearly didn’t understand the importance of slow cooking the veal shanks leaving me with fat and chewiness.

Despite my love of the dish and braised meats in general, I’ve never cooked osso bucco myself.  This is likely due to my love of using cheap cuts and not being willing to spend the cash to purchase veal shanks.  When I noticed something labeled “shin steaks” at Stop and Shop, I recognized an opportunity.

I didn’t need to go to the butcher’s window to get an explanation on this; I figured it was basically an osso bucco cut from a full sized cow.  And, hey, the price is right for this cheap DB bastid!

According to Wikipedia (I was going to pretend I knew this before a crisis of conscience), osso bucco means “bone with a hole”.  While a shin steak from a full-sized cow qualifies as osso bucco, it still isn’t the traditional veal variety.  It’s basically a cross section slice of a beef shank.  So, lets call this version of the dish Awso Bucco (copyright Conor Russel inc, 2011) moving forward.

I started out by trimming the fat and outer connective tissue from the shin steaks then tying them up with kitchen twine to prevent them from falling apart.

That one on the far left was a total rip off at $2.86 due to the large bone. I’m not the Monopoly man over here!

The shin steaks were seasoned heavily with salt and pepper then went into Big Yellow with a little olive oil to brown for a bit.

To continue with the Monopoly references, the shin steak on the far left was like Baltic Ave.  You knew it would be fun and better than expected, but you’d be pissed if it was your only option

While the steaks browned, I threw an onion, a couple ribs of celery, a few peeled carrots, and 4 cloves of garlic in the food processor and gave them a good choppin’.

Saw this in one of the recipes I referenced. It made complete sense to me instead of chopping the vegetables small by hand.  You could see how much it would break down and make for a nice texture after braising

After about 7 or 8 minutes, I flipped the steaks and started browning the other side.

I was going to pretend the kitchen twine wasn’t noticeably missing from this picture but figured someone would point it out.  The steaks were too thin and I am horrible at tying knots, so the string had to go

After a few more minutes I pulled the shin steaks from the pot and dumped the contents of the food processor in to cook for a bit.

This type of heavily food processor-ed vegetables never looks right, but previous attempts include the delicious mushroom paste I made for venison tacos and my traditional ginger, garlic and onion base for fried rice

Since the food processor basically makes a garlic/onion/carrot/celery juice with pulp, the vegetables don’t really brown or caramelize, they just cook.  Not sure how to expound on that eloquently, but there are no visual signs that things are cooking once you put them in the pot.  After a few minutes you just shrug your shoulders and add some tomatoes.

Went with a 14oz can of diced tomatoes and a few spoonfuls of tomato paste. Deprived you of a self-taken pour shot here, but I think you’ll survive

Then a bottle of white wine once the tomatoes have cooked with the vegetables for five minutes.

Now that’s a pour shot!  Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc, ‘course

Once the braising liquid reduced a bit over high heat, I threw in a couple bay leaves and strategically placed the shin steaks back in the pot.

By strategically placed, I just mean that I made sure they weren’t pressed against each other. I was the middle school chaperone to this Awso Bucco dance

Lid went on and Big Yellow headed into the oven for three hours at 300F, checking occasionally to make sure that too much liquid hadn’t cooked off.  After the full three hours, you should have something that looks like this:

Looked good, but wanted to reduce that liquid a little bit

Since there was a little excess liquid, I took the lid off and cooked uncovered for another 30 minutes.  Which was a perfect cue to start the mushroom and corn risotto I chose to pair with the Awso instead of polenta.

I like polenta when it’s crispy fried in cake form, but I wouldn’t do that well so I decided to go with risotto for bringing in the sweet corn flavor

After 30 minutes uncovered, the liquid had mostly cooked off, and we had a decent looking pot of braised loveliness.

Kristi was game for eating this, but I was already looking at the marrow in her portion knowing she wouldn’t touch it

Very simple meal to plate; pile of risotto, then the Awso and a big spoonful of the sauce from the pot over everything.

That is a perfect plate of 20-degree-day dinner. Best enjoyed with a giant glass of red wine and a fireplace

The sauce was rich and tasted strongly of white wine in very a good way.  There’s just something phenomenal about slow cooked sauce with tomatoes, mirepoix, and white wine.  The Awso was the perfect texture; not quite fall-apart stew meat, but insanely tender and delicious.  The sweet risotto was a solid counterpoint to the richness of the Awso, though the corn got a little sticky in the cooking process.

With all of my marrow talkin’, you didn’t think I’d actually forget to mention it?

Big bone, big chunk of marrow. See! That MBA education made me more smarter! Correction: more smarters

The marrow was good, had all the best flavors from the sauce and a melt in your mouth texture.  Wish I had made some bread to smear it on.

Next week we’ll be talking pies.