Who, me? All I want for Christmas is some Cassoulet!
Cassoulet is a marvelous dish, a slow-cooked, one pot meal with a little bit of everything that is as deeply satisfying as it is incredibly tasty. Named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, Cassoulet originated in the south of France as a peasant dish: let’s take a lot of leftovers or ingredients we need to use before they go bad, throw them together in a big pot and make a hearty meal. Which means, of course, what goes in a cassoulet differs from region to region and kitchen to kitchen.
Which also means with good ingredients, cassoulet is difficult to screw up!
(For a brief and wonderful history of the dish, check out an excellent post on Dartagnan.com by clicking here)
Over the years, ‘definitive’ versions of the dish have emerged, with fancier ingredients than the peasant origins. I doubt, for instance, the first cassoulet contained Duck Confit and/or the expensive Tarbais bean. Nevertheless, for the adventurous cook, these more ‘upscale’ versions are a blast to make, with mouth-watering results.
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Perhaps best known is Paula Wolfort’s Cassoulet recipe, which adds breadcrumbs to the top (a no-no for many in the cassoulet world.) She actually lines the pot with pork skin, to create an even richer flavor. I made her version a few years ago, pork skin included, spreading the cooking over the course of 4 days, the easiest way to approach cassoulet and also a great deal of fun.
Wolferts’s version? It was painfully good. Breadcrumbs and all.
This Christmas, I have a new approach to the dish as well as a challenge for you. I’m going try my own twist on Cassoulet, lumping together many recipes I’ve tried with my own ideas, for a dinner Dec. 22nd. You can:
1) start a day or two or few later, reading my posts and results, learn from any mistakes I might make, to create a great Christmas Eve or Christmas Day meal… or dinner New Years Eve! Perfect!
2) follow along for fun.
3) give us your own version.
As I make my way through the process, I’ll provide easy tweaks for those who don’t want to go quite so far as making their own Duck Confit and/or lining their cassole with pork skin. Use these tweaks to make an easier recipe and you will still have a wonderful cassoulet.
I’ll also give you an awesome ‘quick fire’ cassoulet recipe you can make fast in one night, invented by a friend of mine, Brian Gerristen, a terrific fellow and former chef who lives in San Francisco with his partner, Bob. Brian graciously allowed me to post his version, a recipe you will return to over and over again. Cassoulet any night! Every night! Even when you rush home from work.
But you have to follow along to get his version!
I’ll do a wrap up post here but the main work will be shown, with many more posts and pictures, at the On Food And Film Facebook page:
In the meantime, let me detail a few starting steps for those who want to give it a try. Otherwise, make sure you like the Facebook page.
The magic starts next week.
- Cassole: For this cassoulet frenzy, I bought two traditional cassoles from Savoir Vivre. These pots are designed to maximize the surface of the beans to create cassoulet’s signature crust. The people at Savoir Vivre are lovely but this is something no one else needs to do unless or until I rave that it makes a big difference compared to the other cassoulets I have made over the years. Whatever big ‘ole pot or dutch oven you have will do just fine:
- Duck Confit: If you want to include duck, you can: A) order fresh duck legs online (duck legs) and make your own confit, which I will do. B) order duck legs already turned into confit to save a step (duck confit) C) you can probably find duck legs at a local grocery store. Duck is good. Very good. But you can eschew duck and simply use chicken instead. If you use chicken, go for the dark meat. Thighs are a must, though legs would work in combination with thighs or, my favorite, the leg/thigh single piece. When you use duck confit in cassoulet, you usually end up shredding the meat. When using chicken thighs, I keep the pieces whole. Buy at least one thigh per person you plan to serve. Two is better. These chicken pieces go fast and if you are lucky you might have leftovers… (for a great post on Duck Confit: https://wecookanddrinktogether.wordpress.com)
- Duck Fat: Even if you use chicken instead of duck, I highly recommend getting some duck fat. It makes a huge difference in taste. While also available online (there are many choices at Amazon), duck fat is starting to be much easier to find in stores. Any Whole Foods or more upscale supermarket should carry it and you might be surprised to find it in your regular grocery. If you cannot find duck fat, get some good lard, also very easy to find and not the killer we were taught it was growing up. Lard is good. Duck fat is good. Duck fat and lard, btw, keep almost forever in the fridge and both freeze very well.
- Sausages: Just get your favorite sausages, at laast two versions. I went all out and ordered some fancy french sausages (click here) but anything will work, although I would avoid sweet Italian sausage. Spicy, garlicky sausages are perfect but, particularly if you use chicken and even pork chops in your version, andouille sausage would be terrific. Use at least two types for a more complexly flavored cassoulet.
- Pork Skin: If you can find it, get some. It is a lot of fun to use. 12 oz per pot tends to be a good amount.
- Beans: Many recipes call for Tarbais beans. There is no need to spend that much. Even now, I am sticking with my favorite, good old white Cannellini beans. Great Northern White beans or Cranberry beans also are perfect. For Brian’s upcoming “quick fire” version, canned beans are the way to go but if you are doing even the chicken version for a special meal, start with good quality dried beans. Bob’s Red Mill is my favorite place to get all kinds of beans and grains etc.
My general approach is this:
Day 1: Make the duck confit
Day 2: Cook the beans
Day 3: Prepare all the meats and broths, etc and combine/cook everything.
Day 4: It sits. Perhaps most important.
Day 5: More cooking and then YOU CAN EAT.
(Workaholics can easily do this in two days. Feel free.)
All right! If you want to cook with me, or follow along, get ready! We will begin next week. Remember to like the On Food And Film Facebook Page to get all the posts and pictures.