Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cassoulet and me

When making Cassoulet there are 3 definite steps and each step demands that you show loving care. So put on your apron and let’s get ready to show some love.

The first part of Cassoulet is cooking a mix of braised meats in tomato, garlic and fresh herbs.

You will need the following:
5 pounds of pork cheeks
12 plain pork sausages
1 medium Spanish onion chopped
3 heads of garlic
1 teaspoon Dried Thyme
2 tablespoons of dried garlic flakes
32 ounces of canned chopped tomatoes
Salt and pepper

in a Pre-heated 4 quart Dutch oven or braising pot add 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil (don’t forget “hot pot, cold oil”). In batches, so you do not crowd the pan, brown off pork cheeks. Remove meat from pan when nicely colored and keep to the side.
Take the sausage and pierce lightly with the tip of a knife. (You do this so there is no “explosion” of the sausage while it is cooking). Remove the sausage when it is also nicely browned.

Place the chopped onion into the pan.

Cook onions in the pan until translucent and then add the pork cheeks back into the pot. Stir the meat, onions and 2 teaspoons of dried thyme together.

Add the tomato product and bring to a simmer.

Add 3 whole heads of garlic, 2 tablespoons of dried garlic flakes, salt and pepper.
Do not place the sausage in the pot.

The meat should be put into a 400 degree preheated oven for 2 hours, then add the sausage to cook for another 30 minutes. (The pork cheeks are meant to cook a low and slow for a rich tender consistency, the sausage is added later so they don’t over cook during the process.)

When done, (the meat should be “fork tender”) remove the meat and hold in a plastic container.

Take a food mill or strainer and press the heads of garlic so that the paste of cooked garlic can be pushed out of the cloves and then stirred into the tomato sauce.

The meat and the sauce are kept separate. They should be cooled in the conventional way (the containers should be placed in ice and cold water) and then stored in a refrigerator until the next day.

The next part of the process is starting the beans, which are this dish’s main stay. There is a choice of beans that you can use, one is the Tarbais bean (imported from France) or the more commonly used Great Northern White. Due to the high cost of the Tarbais, I am more inclined to use the Great Northern White. But whatever you use you should use 21/2 pounds of them and they should be dry.

I like to soak the beans over night in cold water in a 5 gallon stock pot. When you put them in to soak, cover them with water and then “1/2 more”.

To cook the beans you need:
1 large Spanish onion, peeled
2 dried leaves bay laurel
3 pieces of clove
1 carrot, peeled
2 ribs of celery
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
2 tablespoons of dried garlic flakes
1 head of garlic
Salt and pepper

After soaking the beans for 10 to 12 hours, strain beans of any excess soaking water and then add water to cover and then ½ more.

Place the bay leaf on peeled whole onion and anchor them together by pushing in cloves. You are now making what is known in French culinary terms as “oignon pique” (the pricked onion).

Put the pique, carrot, celery, head of garlic, garlic flakes and thyme to the beans. Cook beans on high heat till they come to the boil. Adjust heat lower so the beans are cooking at a constant simmer.

Do not add salt or pepper.

After 45 minutes, taste test beans for doneness. If they are slightly soft and not “gritty” when tasted, add salt and pepper. Allow the beans to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes longer.

While you beans are cooking take the Cassoulet sauce out of the refrigerator. The liquid will have a layer of fat that needs to be skimmed off. The “sauce” will be slightly firm and gelatinous.

After the beans have seriously simmered for an hour, there will be less liquid in the pot. This is when the sauce should be scooped in to the bean stock pot. The liquid should now simmer for at least another ½ to ¾ of an hour.

Okay, this is where my recipe deviates from most others. I do not add the meats to the cooking beans. I feel it avoids the chance of over cooking the meat and the beans. Most of the flavor and gelatinous mouth feel is in the meat sauce, and it will certainly carry over in the finished recipe.

When the beans are done (soft and silky, but not smooshy and broken) remove the large pieces of vegetable (carrots, celery and onion) and squeeze the garlic out of the cloves into the beans. Taste for salt and pepper.

Place the beans in containers and cool down and then place in the refrigerator.

The third and final day would be for cooking the confit.

I could describe the full on recipe for the duck confit that we produce here at Jarnac, but I have decided to save it for another day
For the sake of anyone who is not familiar with the dish, duck confit is duck cooked very slowly in its own flavorful fat.

For this recipe just go to Ottomanelli’s on Bleeker and get some already cooked. The brand name is D’Artagnan and you will need 6 legs.

So now it is the third day and all the flavors have had time to just become richer. Now the reward for all this hard work!

In a Large oven proof clay pot (classic) or a large Pyrex glass oven to table pan, place a layer of beans and juice in the container of your choice. Take a piece of duck confit, which are usually legs and divide the piece in half. There should be 6 legs and that will give you 12 pieces. Take sausage and break into 3 or 2 pieces and add 1 to 2 pork cheeks per person. You will cover this layer of meat with a layer of bean and sauce.

Scatter a light layer of plain bread crumbs and drizzle a little duck fat over the surface of the Cassoulet. Place in a pre- heated 400 degree oven for 20- 25 minutes till the Cassoulet is brown and bubbling.
Feeds 10-12 people

We buy our meat product from Ottomanelli and Sons Prime Meats on Bleeker Street. Most things are easy to get but pork cheeks are a product that needs some advance ordering.

Though this recipe is finished to feed a large crowd in a sort of buffet setting, it is also done (at Jarnac) in an individual oven proof clay pot. These containers are really not that hard to find if you take some effort. An easier way than traveling the streets of the Bowery restaurant supply stores is to go to the William Sonoma website and key in for Cassoulet.

This should be served in very cold weather, with a great red wine
My choice (and Tony’s) would be a Cahors, a black” wine from the Southwest of France. We have it on our list and will carry throughout the Cassoulet season.

If you have any question’s please feel free to comment.

1 comment:

C. L. DeMedeiros said...