A Housewarming Stew : The Cassoulet

Cassoulet

Peabody is hosting a virtual housewarming party on December 8 to celebrate her move into her charming new abode. With the weather turning frostier by the day, what is more ideal than to finally attempt to make a cassoulet – that famed slow-cooked bean stew from the southwest of France.

The “Hungry” hubby had also been complaining about the lack of “real” food in the house since I had been in a baking frenzy lately and he noticed how most books arriving in the house were more of the sweet rather than savory nature.

            “How about some Osso buco ?” He would hint every weekend for a month now.

Finally taking a pity on my man, I declared this past week:

            “I shall make cassoulet.” (Not quite Osso buco , but still…)

The next question was: “Which recipe to use?”

After flip-flopping endlessly between Paula Wolfert and Anthony Bourdain, I decided to go with Bourdain’s version from his Les Halles Cookbook because it was simpler – besides I look forward to hearing his voice in my head complete with that acerbic tongue of his and tough-love type of instruction encouraging the home cook that, yes, she can turn out mean bistro fare worthy of three stars.

A typical cassoulet is made with tarbais beans, duck confit, pork sausages, pork belly and uh — some pork rind. I knew immediately that I would be buying my pork sausages (instead of making my own) and substituting lamb stew meat for the pork belly (otherwise, I would be eating the pork belly by myself). I called my local butcher and I was in luck because they just skinned a pig – so that took care of the pork rind part.

            As for the duck confit, I made a big batch of them three weeks ago – and I mean big – like eight legs.  I was not exactly pleased with the result texture-wise so I thought it would benefit from more cooking within the cassoulet.

            This was also my first time cooking with tarbais beans. And let me tell you that I have never seen or tasted a bean quite like it.

            The recipe said to use an earthenware pot which I didn’t have, but after I consulted with Helen who consulted with her brother in Toulouse (a cassoulet expert, I hear), she said it was okay to use a dutch oven.

Cassoulet

Adapted from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook

  • 1100g Tarbais beans or white beans
  • *1.5 lbs lamb stew meat
  • 1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 lb/450g pork rind
  • 1 bouquet garni (1 sprig parsley,thyme,bay leaf)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4cup/ 56 g duck fat
  • * 2 tbs. duck fat
  • 1.5 lbs pork sausage (orig. recipe – 6 sausage links)
  • 3 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 5 confit duck legs (orig. recipe – 4 duck legs)
  • * 1 ham hock

Day one:

Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water so that there are at least two or three inches of water above the top of the beans. Soak overnight. That was hard, right?

Day two:

* Salt and pepper the lamb stew meat and set aside.

Drain and rinse the beans and place in a large pot. Add the quartered onion, ¼ lb/112 g of the pork rind, the ham hock and the bouquet garni. Cover with water, add salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour. Let cool for 20 minutes, and then discard the onion, the bouquet garni, and the ham hock. Strain the beans and the rind and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid separately.

* While the beans are simmering, preheat the oven to 400 °F and heat the duck confit through for 20 minutes.

* In the sauté pan, heat 2 tbs of the duck fat and brown the lamb stew meat and then set aside.

In the sauté pan, heat all but 1 tablespoon/14 g of the duck fat over medium-high heat until it shimmers and becomes transparent. Carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside, draining on paper towels. In the same pan, over medium-high heat brown the sliced onions, the garlic, and the reserved squares of pork rind from the beans (not the unused pork rind; you’ll need that for later.) Once browned, remove from the heat and transfer to the blender. Add 1 tablespoon/14g of the remaining duck fat and puree until smooth. Set Aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Place the uncooked pork rind in the bottom of a deep ovenproof earthenware dish/Dutch oven. You’re looking to line the inside, almost like a pie crust. Arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers, beginning with a layer of beans, then sausages, then more beans, lamb stew meat, beans, duck confit, and finally more beans, adding a dab of the onion and pork rind puree between each layer. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving 1 cup/225 ml in the refrigerator for later use. Cook the cassoulet in the oven for 1 hour, then reduce the heat to 250°F/130°C and cook for another hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight.

Day three:

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°F again. Cook the cassoulet for an hour. Break the crust on the top with the spoon and add ¼ cup/56ml of the reserved cooking liquid. Reduce the heat to 250°F/130°C and continue cooking for another 15 minutes, or until screamingly hot through and through. Then serve.

* NOT IN ORIGINAL RECIPE

Cooking Notes:

            I am not big on beans (the “Hungry” hubby loves them) but the tarbais beans surely peaked my interest – looking so big yet cute in their 1lb bags. I ordered them earlier this year fully intending on making the stew but the weather got hot so quickly that making a cassoulet in 70 °F weather did not seem so appetizing so I waited patiently for the seasons to pass.

            So at the first sign of fall weather, I quickly made my duck confit with a 50-50 chance of using some of them in the cassoulet. I did not follow Bourdain’s recipe for confit in the book which was why I did not include it here. I made my confit from the The Balthazar Cookbook and shall post that recipe soon, I just need to tweak some seasonings and cooking times and I think I would have accomplished my quest for duck confit. If you live in the Richmond,Va area the Belmont Butchery makes their own duck confit – though not as good as mine ;). It is also available at D’Artagnan.

            I was a little disappointed with my sausage choices at the local butchery. They did not make garlic pork sausage that week and I was left with some skinny little ones that looked so out of place in such a weighty stew. However, since I substituted pork belly with chunky lamb meat and had five pieces of Duck legs to throw into it, I think those sausages were not going to be missed. The pork rind I got wasn’t cut all that well either. I did not have enough to line the bottom of the pot and I think I might have added too much of the bean liquid afterwards.

            It is also a good idea to take out the duck confit from the refrigerator at least two hours before you need it so it would be easy to remove the legs from the fat – that glorious duck fat – without damaging the legs.

            Having almost non-existent experience in handling beans, I did not know that these babies could expand to almost twice their size – talk about beans on steroids!

            I added a piece of ham hock to the bean cooking liquid. The main flavoring of the beans happen during this part because the other ingredients you add later on like the duck confit already have their own seasonings so make sure you add enough salt and pepper to the liquid which you would be using later when you assemble the dish.

            My one mistake was making this stew so late in the day after I’ve already run around town doing errands. At first I was so overwhelmed about where to start but after I got into it – and had some wine – I began to enjoy the process!

            I followed the cooking time for the cassoulet of 1 hour to boil the beans and 2 hours to braise. In re-heating, it took an additional half-hour than the stated one hour and fifteen minutes to get the whole thing piping hot (I also took the pot out of the refrigerator an hour before it was going to be reheated)

            A word of warning. This recipe made a lot! Imagine a 9-quart Le Crueset dutch oven filled almost to the brim. I think the entire pot was about 40 lbs ( I think the pot –empty- was 25 lbs alone). I think I could have fed 10 people easily with it (although I think there might not be enough duck confit to go around as they were the first to disappear).

           Oh but what a heartwarming dish this was. It was truly an amazing alchemy of all the ingredients: the beans so pleasantly sweet, the wonderful broth so perfect for dipping bread and the duck confit attaining such exquisite flavor and texture as the succulent meat almost fell off the bone!

            So Peabody – I hope you eat duck and beans!