Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cassoulet My Way

It is winter out here in the Midwest and we all turn to comfort foods this time of year. One of my favorites is Cassoulet which is a French dish which simply means Caserole in English. There are a lot of ways of making this dish in France. Every region has a different version but the Gascony and Toulouse regions seem to be the most accepted versions. Simply put this is a bean casserole with some incredible ingredients which take more than a few steps and authentic ingredients to faithfully reproduce.

My mom made a great bean casserole when I was a kid that consisted of hamburger, Liptons onion soup, ketchup, brown sugar, pork and beans, plus a few other odds and ends such as dry mustard that resulted in what my father used to call white trash cassoulet. I still love it today but true Cassoulet is a once a year treat we make for the New Year.

Simply put authentic Cassoulet is the best bean casserole you have ever had in your entire life but it takes a little time and money to put together which makes it a great traditional choice for the holidays and special occasions when it is cold outside.

Cassoulet My Way

Two Pounds Dry French Tarbais Beans (You can also use Cannellini Beans, Great Northern Beans, or Flageolet Beans.)

Chopped Onion
Chopped Carrots
Chopped Celery
Crushed Garlic Cloves
Bay Leaf

2 Smoked Ham Hocks
8 Confited Duck Duck Legs (Make them yourself or get them pre-made from Grimaud Farms or D'Artagnan.)
1 Pound French Garlic Sausage (Available fresh from D'Artagnan or make your own see below.)
1 Pound Duck and Armangac Sausage (Available from D'Artagnan or Sweet Italian can also be used.)
12 Ounces Smoked Duck Breast
1 Lb Ounce French Pancetta (Bacon works just as well)
2 Tbs Tomato Paste
8 oz Lb Plum Tomato
8 0z Lb Duck and Veal Demi Glace (You can also use chicken broth)
White Wine
Two Cups Bread Crumbs
Duck Fat (You could use rendered Pork Fat if you wish but you can get Duck fat inexpensively from Grimaud Farms. Duck fat is the real deal.)

1. Soak beans in a 4-qt. bowl in 7 1⁄2 cups water overnight. Heat 2 tbsp. Duck fat in a 6-qt. pot over medium-high heat. Add half the garlic, onions, and carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add ham hocks along with beans and the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer beans until tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours.

2. Transfer ham hocks to a plate; let cool. Pull off meat; discard skin, bone, and gristle. Chop meat; add to beans. Set aside.

3. Heat 2 tbsp. Duck fat in a 5-qt. dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add remaining garlic, onions, and carrots; cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Fry bacon or Pancetta Tie together oregano, thyme, and bay leaves with twine; add to pan with tomatoes; cook until liquid thickens, 8–10 minutes.

Add wine; reduce by half. Add demi-glace; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, uncovered, until liquid has thickened, about 1 hour. Discard herbs; set dutch oven aside.

4. Brown sausages in the fat, about 8 minutes. Sear Garlic Sausage and Slice Smoked Duck Breast.

5. Heat oven to 300 degree's. Mix beans and and all ingredients stew in Caserole. Cover with bread crumbs; drizzle with remaining duck fat. Bake uncovered for three hours. Raise oven temperature to 500 degrees and cook crust till golden.

6. Sear Confited Duck Legs in tbsp in Duck Fat until Crispy. Serve with Duck Legs on the side of the crispy Cassoulet.

Cassoulet is heavy so serve with a light salad, marinated olives, and toasty French Bread. you could also do some potato wedges fried in Duck fat on the side if you wish.

Bon Appetit!

Home Made French Garlic Sausage

3-lb medium ground pork butt
3-tsp sugar
2-lb medium ground beef chuck
2-tsp white pepper
1 1/2-tbsp salt
10-cloves pressed garlic
4-tbsp liquid smoke

Combine all ingredients, mix well & stuff into hog casing.

Smoked Duck Breast

Remove the bone and skin from the duck breast halves. Rinse well.


1/2 quart of Apple cider
1 Cup Armangac
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1 bay leaf, crushed
1 clove of garlic
Cracked Peppercorns

Mix the ingredients, making sure the salt is completely dissolved. This will be enough brine for up to 1 and 1/2 pounds of duck breast halves. Soak the duck in the brine at least two hours, and overnight if possible.

After brining, give the duck a quick rinse and then pat dry with paper towels. Coat each breast half with melted Duck fat or bacon grease.

Place the duck breasts into a 225 degree Fahrenheit meat smoker for one or two hours, depending on the size of the breast sections. Use a small amount of apple, cherry, or pear wood for the smoke.

Duck is ideally eaten medium rare, but if you prefer well done, take them out when the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees.

They can be eaten right away or vaccum packed and frozen for later use.

Duck Confit

Years ago I was in the South of France on an incentive trip where I had lunch in a medieval castle. The medieval city was great but the Duck we had at lunch was the best meal I have ever eaten in my entire life.

The friend who was with me asked me I could you make it at home and I said sure not certain what the heck we had actually eaten. I experimented with some roasted duck legs which turned out not so good but never dreamed that the dish I had eaten had actually been cooked for around eight hours in rendered Duck fat.

A number of year later I was at a restaurant called La Toque in Napa Valley and ordered Pork Confit and the light bulb went on. The tasty dish I had in France was Duck Confit and that was confirmed by the chef who instructed me on how to make it and other confited meats in the classical French manner.

You may might not like Duck (probably because you never have had properly prepared Duck) but if you like bacon you are just going to love Duck Confit. The similarities between the Duck and Bacon are fat. They are both rich in it. If you know how to master Duck fat you slide up a couple of levels in the cooking chain because it just may be one of the most delectable things out there.

Duck Confit is actually a very simple dish which takes some time in the oven coupled with the right ingredients. The most important ingredient is rendered Duck fat. You can render your own or buy it from a place like Grimaud Farms who will send it to you via UPS within two days at a very reasonable price. You could also use simple lard but why use that then you can buy the real thing inexpensively and continue to re-use it after some straining?

Duck Confit

Eight Plump Duck Legs with Thighs
Kosher Salt
Garlic Cloves
Black Peppercorns
Juniper Berries
Bay Leaves
Lemon Zest
Rendered Duck Fat or Lard

The key here is to take the Duck legs with thighs attached and season them to taste with the above for around 36 hours in a plastic bag in your fridge. What you are doing at this stage is curing and seasoning the Duck. Make sure you use only dry herbs.

Confiting is simply an age old way of preserving meat. Duck Confit can last for six months in the fridge if you follow these simple steps.

After the 36 hour curing period arrange the legs in an enameled cast iron (Le Creuset) pan. Dry the legs off and and completely cover the legs with rendered Duck fat and bake at 200 degree's for eight hours in your oven.

Take them out of the oven and allow then too cool. Cover them with the restrained Duck fat. Make sure you have at least a one inch layer of fat on top of the legs. Store in a canning jar or whatever container you wish. The Duck will continue to cure over time and only get better but you can eat it right away if you wish.

I like to eat mine over greens with marinated olives on the side as an accompaniment. I also use it as one of mine ingredients in Cassoulet which will be the next recipe coming up on the blog. We have it every New Years.

If you are eating it alone I recommend that you heat up a cast iron skillet to around 350 degrees and fry the Duck skin side down until crispy and serve over greens. Ww are talking about really good eating here!

Render your own Duck Fat? Simple just roast a Duck or two for Dinner!

Duck is tricky if you don't know what you are doing. It just isn't as simple to cook as chicken but if you follow a few easy steps you can master this fowl which is much tastier than plain old storw bought chicken.

It is pretty simple to render your own duck fat. All you do is buy a whole duck or two from the butcher. Duck usually comes frozen which is fine because like all poultry it freezes well. You can either butcher the Duck yourself or have your butcher do it for you in advance. Make sure you thaw the Duck slowly in cold running water.

Brine it for at least two hours in a mixture of 1/2 cup Kosher Salt, 15 black peppercorns, one bunch fresh thyme, 4 smashed garlic cloves, and an acidic juice such as pineapple or orange or even a blend of the two. Juniper Berries are also a good thing to add if you want.

Butchering a Duck is easy if you have poultry shears. Simply cut up on both sides of the back bone to seperate the duck in two. Snip off the wings. Reserve the back and wings for making your own demi glace or broth for use later. Seperate the breast from the the thigh and leg portions by making a semi circular cut and you are finished.

The next step is scoring the breasts three ways lengthwise and across with a sharp knife. Set up a steamer and bring it to boil. Add the breast and thigh portions to a colander and steam for 45 minutes.

In the meantime set your oven to 475 degree's and heat up a cast iron frying pan to the same temperature. Place the leg pieces skin side down in the pan and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Add the breast after that and cook for an additional 7 minutes before removing from the oven.

You should have some very tasty and crispy Duck which is great served with some potato wedges fried in Duck fat. Most importantly make sure to skim and save the Duck fat for future uses. Freeze and it will be ready any time you need to use it.