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.
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 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
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 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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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. 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
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.
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 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
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. 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.
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.