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.
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.
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.
In a change of direction, the meat and bean ragout came out of the fridge looking, well, a little cement-like.
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.
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.
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.
After a good couple spins, I had a meat paste the likes of which I’d never considered before.
I stirred the meat paste into the reheating bean mixture and, once it was folded in, added the pork back to the ragout.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like a Christmas morning in the Ryan household, the sausage meat was slapped into patties and pan fried until well browned on both sides.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.