It’s been a while since our last posts. With the holidays and being out of town for a couple weeks, we hadn’t spent much time in the kitchen this past month. This month’s challenge, a cassoulet with duck confit gave us the perfect excuse to stop what we were doing and force ourselves to start cooking! Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman. Thanks to Jenni and Lisa for this month’s challenge.
A couple of months ago we were eating at a Cafe Chloe, a French restaurant here in San Diego. I ordered the duck confit, not exactly knowing what “confit” was (I’m guessing our cell signal was bad because this is normally when I’d do some quick cell phone wikipedia-ing). I did know I love duck, I figured I had a good chance of liking the dish. Well, “liking” would bean understatement. It is still one of the best dishes I’ve had since moving down here. Still, as good as it was, I really wasn’t sure what made it a “confit”. Well, apparently the curiosity I had at the restaurant didn’t carry over to when I got home because 2 months later, when I read what this challenge, was the first time I found out what a confit really is. Either that or my horrible memory was to blame.
This month’s challenge was to make a cassoulet, a French stew, with duck confit. When I read that the cassoulet was an Anthony Bourdain recipe, it got me really excited. I’ve never made or eaten anything of his, but just basing off his culinary history and the fact that I love his show, I figured it’d be good.
On to my attempt at the challenge. The first task to tackle was to get all of right ingredients. Most of the ingredients were easy to come by. Onion, check. Garlic, got it. Pork sausage, easy enough to get. Duck legs, shouldn’t be a big deal. Duck fat, hmmm, not sure about that one. Pork rind, you mean the fried chip looking things? Pork belly, okay….time to find a butcher. After doing some Yelping, I found what appeared to be one of the better butchers in town. It was pretty close, about 10 minutes away, so I figured I’d run by after work. This is where the big lesson for this month’s challenge. Don’t send Steve to the butcher, even with a list, unless he has actually read the recipe (not just glanced through it).
So, I went through my list with the butcher. As expected, getting sausage was easy enough. As was the duck fat. That’s where the easy ended. They only had whole, frozen ducks. The closest thing to pork rind was pork side, which looked like uncured, uncut bacon, but with skin. The pork belly was where my lesson comes in. The butcher said he didn’t have any belly, and after scouring his inventory he came back with pork back fat, which literally looked like a slab of fat. In my head, this was what belly was going to look like, or at least similar to. If I had read the recipe more carefully, I would have remembered that the substitutes for the belly were actual cuts of meat, key word being meat (not fat). Next time, I’ll actually know what I’m looking for at the butcher, not just what it’s called.
My butcher shop mishaps were mostly non issues in the end. We got duck at Whole Foods (why does Whole Foods have this, but not an actual butcher shop?), used the back fat as a substitute for the rind (the skin on the pork side was not nearly enough) and used the pork side as our belly substitute (so I swapped my rind substitute for my belly substitute).
Once we figured out we could go ahead and use all of the eat we got at the butcher, the actual dish wasn’t too difficult. After soaking the beans, the first step we had to do was prepare the duck confit. For those who, like me, were ignorant to what a confit is, confit is a way of preparing and preserving food by immersing it in a substance for flavor and preservation. To make fruit confit, you immerse it in sugar until it reaches it’s core (essentially candied fruit). For meat, you immerse it in it’s own rendered fat. Sounds gross. Looks gross. Tastes amazing! And that’s all that matters.
mmm duck fat
After taking the confit out of the oven and cooling it, it was time to move onto the stew. Nothing too eventful here. The sausage browned really nicely and everything else started coming together.
Dana cutting our non pork belly
The last step was to bake the cassoulet in a deep casserole dish. Hmm… We have deep, small dishes and shallow, large dishes, but no deep and large ones. We settled on making “individual” cassoulets using various sized casserole dishes. Individual is probably the wrong word because, although there was only one piece of duck in each dish, each was enough to feed at least 2 people. Needless to say, we had a ton of leftovers!
Wouldn’t this look nicer in a large Le Crouset? If only this challenge was in a few months
Finished cassoulet. Natural light, you’re the best.
As always, you can find the complete recipe on the Daring Kitchen site, HERE. Thanks again to Jenni and Lisa for the great challenge.