Friday, January 16, 2009

Cassoulet: Ultimate Pork and Beans

Needing a little touch of the south of France? Since it turned cold, I've only been able to think about the traditional slow-cooked white bean dish -- cassoulet. Now, keep in mind that you'll need to try this a few times before it's perfected. Cassoulet isn't white bean chili. Think of it more like the original clean-out-the-pantry casserole, only with what country French peasants would have on hand -- pig, sausage, cured duck, fat, and beans.

Cassoulet is made traditionally in a huge earthenware dish, but for my latest round, I used a Dutch oven. A very large Dutch oven. (I also invited friends over, because there's no way I can eat this myself.) The other thing you'll need for cassoulet is time, or at least a solid ability to plan your dish a few days in advance. Don't worry, the heavy work comes on Day 2.

You'll need to do some research to find a recipe that works for you, but I started with Anthony Bourdain's classic Cassoulet from the Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking. Then, you'll need to plan your ingredients. Duck confit (which takes a couple of weeks if you make it yourself) can be found at Goose, The Market, as can the pork sausages, pork belly, and even the fresh pork rind. Call Chris. He can help you out.

Day 1: Soak your beans. As Bourdain says "see, that was easy."

Day 2: Cook the beans with onion, bouquet garni (I used lots of rosemary), the pork belly, a small piece of the pork rind, and salt/pepper.

While they're cooking, brown the sausages in a couple of tablespoons of duck fat, then drain them, and saute and brown 3 onions, sliced thinly in the drippings and garlic. Add the cooked pork rind and brown it as well.

Transfer the onion and pork rind mixture to the food processor and process until it's a puree. (Add a little duck fat if it's too thick.)

Once the beans are cooked, drain them reserving the cooking liquid. While they're cooling a bit, take your Dutch oven and line the bottom of it with the fresh pork rind. (Chris reminded me: skin side down, fat side up.) The pork rind liner keeps the beans from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan. At this point, you'll also want to get your duck confit ready to go. (If you make it yourself, this will involve digging duck legs out of tubs of fat. Starting to see a them here.) Cut the cooked pork belly into 2-inch pieces. Now comes the fun part. Layer all the ingredients into the Dutch oven -- a layer of beans, a few dabs of the onion puree, the sausages, (more puree), another layer of beans, then the pork belly, then more beans, then the duck confit, then more beans and so on. Keep adding the onion between each layer and save the last for the top. Then top up the whole business with the reserved bean liquid. (And save a couple of cups for Day 3.) Bake the behemoth uncovered (mine weighed 30 lbs) at 350 for an hour, then 250 for another hour (at least.) The top will crust over. Mmmm.

Day 3: Take your casssoulet out of the refridge. Break the crust and if it's dry, add another cup or two of the reserved bean liquid. Bourdain doesn't call for it, but some people smush bread crumbs into the top to help get more of a crust on it. Bake for another 2 hours -- or until crazy hot.

Serve in bowls with crusty French bread and good wine -- like the Bandols we're having. (And already knowing I didn't salt the beans enough when cooking, I've set the table with small rustic bowls of salt -- smoked, citrus, and good Kosher salt with cracked pepper.

1 comment:

ChicagoPete said...

Oh jeez, you're killing me - save me some leftovers! I love cassoulet. Great recipe, I've seen others and been daunted, I'll have to try yours. Many thanks.

Here's my winter favorite, just made it yesterday. A braised (ummm winter, braising) German dish called Rouladen.

Take about 3 lbs of a beef round roast or a simular cut - somewhat lean is ok, but you want at least a little marbling. Have the butcher slice it thin (NOT super thin, but thin) against the grain, you should end up with 25-50 slices about the size of a man's hand.

Chop a lb of bacon and cook it down in a Dutch Oven. Let the fat render, but do not brown it completely. Drain the fat and save the bacon.

Chop a couple yellow onions coarsely.

Chop 2 or 3 big dill pickles coarsely.

Place a tablespoon or so of the bacon, onion and pickle at a short end of a beef slice (if the slices are small, double up two slices of beef per roulade). Roll it up around the filling, then skewer shut with a toothpick.

Rub the outside of each roulade with a teaspoon or so of dijon mustard. Then lightly roll them in a mix of equal parts good hungarian paprika and all purpose flour.

Brown the floured roulades in batches in the dutch oven over medium heat. Remove and add a little neutral oil like canola between batches.

After all the rouladen have been browned, deglaze completely with two cups of cabernet or other heavy red wine. Add the rouladen back to pot, tightly fitting them so they're in two layers. Then add beef stock until the top layer is half-covered. Add black pepper to taste (no added salt needed, bacon and pickles have plenty)

Simmer on stove top slightly covered for about 2 hours.

Remove the rouladen from the cooking juices. Strain the cooking juices, then return to the pan and reduce slightly. Make a slurry of flour and warm water, and add to the juices until the gravy thickens. Season the gravy to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with mashed potatoes, red cabbage and green peas. The gravy is ridiculously good, so have lots of mashed potatoes ready.