Keeping in mind that the first picture of each post becomes a thumbnail on a facebook post, and a few people have let me know that the three dead ducks in my kitchen sink were a bit much, I thought I would start with these lovely beans, tarbais from southwestern France, ordered from D'Artagnan, which are the heart of the cassoulet. For this uber challenge there was little question of what I would make. I had only eaten a cassoulet once, a few years ago, at a small French restaurant on the peninsula in Newport Beach. Owned by a couple from that southwest region renowned for cassoulet, it seemed like the perfect first try. However, possibly just that night, or maybe always, this cassoulet tasted as though the salt cellar had fallen into the pot. And, yet, the desire for a good cassoulet remained...
A hunt for the perfect recipe seemed over before it began, because the one posted as part of the Charcutepalooza Ruhls from Kate Hill looked like it was the perfect recipe. But, then, a look on line brought me to a recipe from Michael Ruhlman and Tony Bourdain. I saw nothing wrong with stealing from both.
And then a call to D'Artagnan to order some pig: fat back, 3 lbs.; pigs feet, 10 to a package; 3-7 ounce containers of duck fat; and, just because we were already ordering, and because we are from California, one foie gras lobe for good measure. Sadly, they did not have pig skin necessary for the Saucisse de Couenne and the beans.
Next, the day before the D'Artagnan box was to arrive, a trip to the Asian market mentioned in an earlier post to load up on ducks and, miracle of miracles, all of the pork here still had the skin on it! So, one pork belly, with skin, a few ham hocks, with skin, and one leg cut with skin, too. Back at home, the cutting of the ducks gave us 6 legs and thighs to first cure Thomas Keller's "green salt" for 24 hours, and then confit in the fat that we rendered, with a little added help from D'Artagnan.
The Saucisse de Couenne, a wonderful sausage made with fatback, pork shoulder and the skin from the pig, along with herbs and spices, was made that week and half was served up for dinner that Saturday night along with the duck breasts in garlic and green olive sauce, and an oven roasted foie gras (great dinner!). The other half was stored in the freezer after a quick hang in the outside refrigerator to dry.
And then, Saucisse de Toulouse joined the pancetta and duck proscuitto for a little hang time.
Three weeks later we have all the components and are ready to go! Wooo Hoooo!
Our Cassoulet2 kg dried beans (we used tarbais but you can use any other plump thin skinned white bean). Soak beans over night, or cover with water, bring to a boil, and let sit one hour, then drain. I always go for the bring to a boil and let sit for an hour- why? Well, one, I'm always short of time. But the other reason is a science teacher once told me that this was supposed to reduce the chances of flatulence from you flageolet, or any other bean. I have no evidence that this is true, but figured it can't hurt.
1 onion, peeled
1 whole carrot
4 garlic cloves
Thick slice of pancetta, salt pork, bacon, or ham ends
1 pork foot or 1 ham hock
Fresh pork rind (couenne) about a 8 x 12 inch strip or about 100 gram, rolled and tied with string
Bouquet garni- bay leaf, thyme and parsley stems
24 black peppercorns, slightly crushed
Duck Confit- 1/2 leg per person
500 grams Saucisse de Tolouse
500 grams Saucisse de Couenne
Cover with 3 liters of water, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Let the beans cook gently for 1 hour or until the beans are barely tender. Remove the skin and meat from the pig foot and chop. Chop the onion, carrot, pancetta, and add to the beans along with the reserved pig foot meat. Add salt to taste at this point. Remove and reserve about 1/4 cup cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, remove the confit'ed duck meat from the bones and shred. Grill the sausages for additional flavor, but don't cook them all the way through. This will allow them to release some of their juices into the beans while they all cook together.
Using a large, deep casserole (unless you are lucky enough to have an authentic cassoulet), layer first beans, then sausages, then beans, then confit, then finish with beans. Place in a 350 degree oven for one hour. Reduce the heat to 250 degrees and cook for another hour. Remove from the oven and cool before placing in the refrigerator overnight. ( We, of course, did not go for the over night here, but instead let it sit out while we baked a loaf of bread for dinner)
Return the pot to a 350 degree oven and cook for one hour. Break the crust, add 1/4 cup of reserved cooking liquid, reduce the heat to 250 degrees, and cook for another hour.
This time, I was not disappointed! Each bite was perfection, with the sausage casing almost vanishing into the mix so that the beans and meat became one great taste. As it turns out, the Saucisse de Couenne is my favorite of all the charcuterie made during this challenge- a totally unique sausage with it's very own lovely flavor.
In case you were wondering what happened to all those pigs feet- Our appetizer was a luscious Pied De Cochon with a Sauce Gribiche from Thomas Keller's Bouchon. My son Josh spent a few hours sorting through the bones and tendons for what little meat there was. It was worth his effort!
The cast who got to enjoy this meal! The two boys helped with the sausages and putting this dinner on the table; their women who are always great support staff and cleaner-uppers; my friend Linda, who enjoyed the dinner despite her memory of her dad's pickled pig's feet; and my lovely husband, who has enjoyed the results of all of the challenges this year.