Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cassoulet


To me, there seems to be two types of French food. There are the refined, sophisticated foods I associate with fine French restaurants. Then there’s the other, more rustic side, and to be honest, that’s the kind of food I prefer. Rustic food is so humble while at the same time being bold and hearty. It’s food friends and family can gather around. Comfort food made for sharing.

The one thing French food is not, however, is fast.  This may be why more people don’t attempt it at home. Luckily, the ounce of patience I do have shows up in the kitchen. Call me crazy, but I actually enjoy a process if I know that I will have something spectacular in the end. That’s not to say I like standing in the kitchen all day. If I’m faced with a lengthy preparation, I will break it down into manageable tasks that can be accomplished over the course of 2 to 3 days.

Perfect example is cassoulet. This meaty casserole is not something that can be whipped up one evening. It’s got multiple ingredients that need to be cooked separately, then put together in the end. Even if you have the one uncommon ingredient, duck confit, on hand, it would take you a good part of the day to get this casserole on the table in time for dinner. But if you break it down into 2 or 3 days of work, it is easy going. Another advantage is that each stage has a chance to develop in flavor. Over the course of 7 days, I casually worked on this cassoulet, starting with the duck confit. An hour here and there, but probably no more than 4 hours total prep time.  Cooking was mostly passive, so that doesn't really count.

Muscovy duck legs cured in kosher salt, cinnamon, clove and a copious amount of garlic.  You could make a cassoulet without the duck confit, but I don't think the result would be as good.  

Enough jibber jabber! You want the recipe? I used the recipe in the latest issue of Saveur as a guideline. I left out the pancetta and used olive oil instead of the duck fat in a feeble attempt to cut down on the saturated fat.  Kate Hill has a recipe and interesting post about her weekend at Camp Cassoulet. David Lebovitz was also there and wrote an entertaining post as well. If you’re interested in a more cultural perspective, here is an entertaining article I found in Time.



Blazing Hot Wok
This is my submission to Regional Recipes: France.  The host this time is Susan of Open mouth, insert fork.  If you'd like to submit a post, check out the rules and find out who's hosting by clicking on the RR link.  And definitely check out the roundup at her site sometime early next week.  There are sure to be wonderful entries and Susan will be announcing the next region!



20 comments:

pigpigscorner said...

Looks good! I like rustic food but once in awhile I like to pamper myself.

Mary said...

Oh, my! I've probably made this less than ten times my entire life. Love it, love it love it.....This looks so good, Darlene. My mouth is watering! Maybe I have one more time left in me.

Darlene said...

pigpigscorner, I'm all for pampering every once in a while too, as long as it's other people pampering me!

Mary, for being peasant food, cassoulet is not an everyday dish. However, I think we might make this a tradition during the holidays. I can't justify the indulgence any other time of year :-)

Manggy said...

I recall seeing a cassoulet recipe in Food and Wine when I was about 11 years old. Yum yum, I thought. And these pics bring back that old feeling... Sigh. Never had any though. French food is not common or inexpensive back at home (and I wager anywhere else but France). Very well done! I can only imagine how deep and lovely the flavors are after so many days of preparation!

bb said...

Wow...cassoulet...just thinking about makes me salivate. Mmmmmm....oh wait, where was I? There is hardly anything better to warm up with in winter. Yours looks (and sounds) delish! Also for others, this is one of those dishes that is perfect with red wines from the same region...southwest France or the Rhone Valley. I've never made it but I suddenly feel properly inspired...thanks!!

Darlene said...

Mark, it is definitely one thing to try before leaving this world! Definitely do it with the confit, so worth it.

bb, I actually won't be serving this until tomorrow evening at a small dinner with friends. They are providing the wine and I told them French! I also picked up some French cheeses, just for the effect. I think I'll make everyone wear berets too :-)

Paula said...

Gotta love copious amounts of garlic!You are so patient to prepare this over a couple of days! I don't think I've ever done that for an entree. I've marinated or prepared side dishes a day in advance, but that's about it. Anyway, I've eaten duck, but have never cooked it. I bet this tasted great!

dp said...

Paula, I think it's my training as a scientist. Experiments can be lengthy, spanning over several days. We always have to figure out where the good stopping points are, otherwise we'd be in the lab 24-7 (been there, done that!). There's also some patience involved. But hopefully in the end, we get very good results.

Finspot said...

I've always wanted to try my hand at cassoulet--makes beef burgundy (can't spell the French!) look like a walk in the park. Hope the fam enjoyed the treat. What did you drink with it?

Darlene said...

Finspot, I actually made the cassoulet a couple of days in advance and will be serving it tonight at a small dinner with friends. They are bringing the wine, and they know to bring something appropriately French.

Definitely try it. It's not hard, just a bit lengthy.

Mike of Mike's Table said...

This is one of those dishes I seriously need to try some time...it sounds amazing

Darlene said...

Mike, if you like meat, this is the ultimate treat :-)

James said...

Cassoulet is one of my favorites especially with Tarbais beans. Nice photo!

Pam said...

Duck confit is on my list for 2009. Then I can attempt a real cassoulet!

Darlene said...

James, Thank you. I heard different types of beans can be used, but I just used the Great Northerns. I haven't heard of the Tarbias beans. I'll have to do a little googling.

Pam, the confit is easy. You'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner. It just takes requires a lengthy cooking time.

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

The cassoulet looks fantastic! I've always been intimidated by the seemingly laborious process demanded by the dish.

I tend towards the rustic side too.

Lars said...

OMG you went all the way. this looks beautiful. i've always wanted to do this myself, but never got around to it. i had it once in paris and it was GREAT! i'll just have to find or start some kind of tradition where this could be called for, since i've been drooling over pictures and recipes for this as long as i can remeber.

Darlene said...

js, do it over multiple days. So much easier that way.

Lars, as I told Mary, I can only justify the indulgence during the holidays, so I think this might be a new holiday tradition. The confit is definitely going to be standard holiday fare. I first made it for Christmas and we all loved it.

Kits Chow said...

Your cassoulet looks great. I'm glad to find out about using olive oil instead because I have been stockpiling duck fat to make confit. So far, I have the rendered fat from one duck. I figured I'd have to cook a couple more ducks before I could start.

Darlene said...

Kits Chow, for the confit you should use duck or pork fat (pork is cheaper). But for the recipe I was using as a guide, they say to use duck fat for the other components of the cassoulet, but I just used olive oil instead. I'm sorry if I wasn't clear in my post.

Can you buy the duck fat already rendered? That's what I did. Of course I didn't by enough so I went out and got some lard to supplement. Worked beautifully. And they can be reused a couple more times afterwards, if you store it right.

In any case, you won't be sorry to make the confit. It is so good!