Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Duck Confit for Cassoulet

Along with four breasts of duck prosciutto my two ducks also provided me with four legs for confit (using another great recipe from Charcuterie). The legs got a quick dusting with 1 oz of kosher salt along with pieces of garlic, bay leaves, black pepper, and cloves. After two days of curing in the refrigerator they had given up a bit of moisture, but didn't look too different.

The next step was to render out some duck fat from all of the fat and skin that I had harvested from the ducks. To do this I added a cup of water and brought the mixture to a bare simmer. After 2 hours I strained out the what remained of the skin and chilled the fat.

I then cooked the duck legs submerged in the fat (along with a bit of lard) in the oven at 200 degrees for 6 hours. This low slow cooking makes for some incredibly moist and flavorful meat.

After letting the legs stay under the fat for 4 days in the refrigerator I was ready to make Cassoulet. Cassoulet is one of the big French culinary classics, up there with Beef Bourguignon, Coq Au Vin, and Bouillabaisse. I decided to go with a recipe from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook.

The first step was to simmer 5 cups of white beans (which I had already soaked overnight), 2 lbs of pork (I used shoulder, but belly is preferred), a piece of pork rind/skin (I used a piece left over from making bacon), a quartered onion, thyme, peppercorns, salt, and enough water to cover. After 1 hour the beans and pork (meat and rind) were mostly cooked, I discarded everything else (reserving the cooking liquid).

To further add some Maillard reaction flavors I browned 6 sausages (I used German pork sausages) in a bit of the duck fat.

I then browned 3 sliced onions and a clove of garlic in the same pan. Once they were cooked I pureed them with the cooked piece of pork rind.

Once I had the duck, sausages, puree, beans, reserved cooking liquid, and a large pot it was time to build the cassoulet. I used my 5 qrt cast iron dutch over, but it was just barely large enough. I layered it (bottom to top) beans, duck, puree, beans, sausages, puree, beans, pork, puree, beans. I then added the reserved liquid from the beans to cover. Cooked with the lid on for 1 hour at 350 followed by another hour at 250.

After the cassoulet cooled, I put it into the refrigerator overnight. When ready to eat you could just reheat at 350 for one hour with the lid off to crisp the top. However, I didn't have 8 friends to join me for dinner so I just portioned out the cassoulet and reheated it depending on how much I needed. Here I was cooking for my roommate and a friend.

The tender meat and creamy beans were terrific. The flavor is mostly a reflection of the quality of the ingredients and your technique, not over spiced, not too heavy. The one let down was the sausages, which were a bit too dry. My friend Zach (a chef) suggested I try Andouille next time, so that's what I would suggest going with.

If you are looking for something to drink with your cassoulet I would suggest a beer with some maltiness to complement the meat, but still enough dryness to clean the pallet. I though dubbels fit the bill nicely, particularly a bottle of Westmalle Dubbel I had with it one night.


Seawolf said...

I noticed that my Andouille came out a bit dry this last time that I made Cassoulet. If you're really into the flavor of the sausage you used, you might try getting them somewhere else, or using a different brand. I use Andouille for the flavor, and slight spiciness that they impart on the dish. Perhaps I won't sear them as long next time, as they were slightly on the dry side. I don't really remember that being an issue in previous batches.

Your Cassoulet looks great though.

If you render the fat until the skin becomes crispy, it tastes great after being strained, drained, salted, and cooled. It might even taste good as an ice cream topping. Not that I've tried it on Ben & Jerry's vanilla before.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I think a fresh sausage may just not have enough fat to stay moist after ~3 hours of cooking.

I did eat some of the duck cracklin, and it was delicious. I'll have to not try it on some ice cream next time.

Josh said...

I'm going to try this with another animal which usually has dry chewy meat squirrel.