Thursday, January 21, 2010

What I'm Cooking: Dartagnan Cassoulet

It's no great secret that I love duck. Or that I stare at them lustily as I stroll through Baker Park, a fork tucked secretly in my pocket. Or that I seek out the fresh ones in the hope of making my own duck confit (rumor has it from my friend Rochelle that they're available at The Common Market for around 20 bucks each, but I haven't made the trip myself yet). So when I found the great Dartagnan's website (visit it here) and saw the Cassoulet Kit, I thought it was worth a shot.
(gotta wear more makeup...)

I ordered online and paid my $90 + shipping and chose for the kit to be delivered on Thursday, where it arrived handily on my front porch, chilled and ready.
I also ordered extra demi-glace and duck fat, just to have on hand.

To make the cassoulet in the kit, you start by soaking the beans overnight. Apparently, these are magic beans used just for cassoulet.

Truthfully, I was a little like "what-ever" and more interested in the duckiness, but proceeded as directed, soaking both containers in cold water overnight. And look what happened:

We started with this...

And ended up with this...

Cool, right?

Then, following the directions included with the kit, I drained the beans of their soaking liquid, threw them into a big 5 qt. cast iron Dutch oven, tossed in a hunk of ventriche (which is like French pancetta, which is like uncured bacon), a carrot, a whole bunch of garlic, two halved and peeled onions, and a bouquet garni, made up of fresh parsley, peppercorns, cloves, and a bay leaf.

Whoops! Forgot the fresh thyme, so I just shoved it on top.

I added 8 cups of water (recipe called for 10, but apparently a 5 qt Dutch oven is not large enough to hold all these beans AND 10 cups of water), then brought the beans to a boil. Once we were boiling, I reduced the heat to a simmer and cooked for an hour. Things started to smell pretty good around the VB manse (*snerk*).

I drained the beans into a colander (which seemed a little weird, mostly because bean cookin' liquid is pretty good stuff), then started layering everything in, including

  • half of the beans (carrot, bouquet, and onions removed)

  • 6 confited duck legs, cut apart at the joint (made 12 pieces)

  • 8 ounces browned duck-Armagnac sausage

  • 1 pound sliced garlic sausage (recipe said to cut into 12, but I went with 16 because, uh, I'm a rebel, yo)

  • the ventriche, finely chopped

  • the remaining beans

Now this is where things go slightly awry.

I took the container of the thawed demi-glace and mixed it with 3 1/2 cups water. Then I poured it over the cassoulet. BUT, I suddenly realized (about 30 seconds too late) that I was also to melt in 1 T. tomato paste. I (awkwardly) tried to pour out some of the demi I had just poured in so that I could mix in the tomato paste, but truthfully, it didn't work that well. So I kinda wiped the tomato paste on the top.


Though you don't know this, at the same time I had the cassoulet rockin' and rollin', I was also pulling together the Sweet & Salty cake from the Baked Cookbook, which took about 3 hours on its own, so I was a little distracted.

Why does that matter?

Because then, I half read the rest of the recipe.

Half read, because instead of pouring 1/4 cup of the melted duck fat (the true essence of duckiness) over the dish, I poured the entire container. Which was one cup. Which was also 4 times more than I should have.


At that point, the dish was ready to go into the oven and there was no way I was draining and pouring and trying to fix my mistake.

In fact, I'm a general believer in life that if 1 is good, 1,000 would be even better. Sorta a "more is more" kinda gal. Which could explain all the stretchy pants I'm wearing now. But I digress...

I put the cassoulet, covered, into a 325-degree oven and let it cook for 2 hours. Then I cranked up the heat to 400-degrees and pulled off the lid to let it brown on top for another 20 minutes.

This is the end result.

That doesn't suck, right???

The only thing you can't get here is the smellivision. Because it smelled gooooooood.

It was rainy and yucky and cold, and a perfect meal (with some very tasty wine too I might add). The sausage was ducky and garlicky and gamey (but in a good way) and the confit, as I expected, fell off the bone and melded beautifully with the beans. I served it with gorgeous fresh bread made from the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day cookbook (I'm a convert!), and a lovely salad with a tart vinaigrette to balance the richness of the cassoulet.

It was delicious, and rustic, and homey, and what I hope it would be like sitting at my imaginary kitchen table in some unknown farm town somewhere in France (I'm also a smokin' size 6 and look 10 years younger, but that's a different blog).

If I was to make it again, I wouldn't make the entire thing at once - it's just too much food. There's no reason why this couldn't be halved easily. It would fit into a 5 qt. Dutch oven (bonus) and you could enjoy it twice, though the leftovers the next day were, dare I say, even better.

By the way, even though the cake started to do the lean-a-lean (I'm no pastry chef), it kicked tush.

And yes, that is salt sprinkled on the top (Maldon, for those in the know). And it was perfect.


Beth said...

Since I'm a heathen, I can't comment about the duck, but that cake looks incredible. I need to try that one for sure.

Chef Christine said...

Isnt that cake the yummiest thing you have ever seen??? You can just see one of the layers of salted caramel peeking out. The buttercream itself was caramel made with 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, poured over a pound of dark chocolate, beaten, then whipped with a pound of butter. Nothing but stretchy pants allllll week long.

Chef Lisa said...

I am licking the frosting off my computer screen.

Love D'artagnan. I think I've only bought duck breasts from them and saved the duck fat from sauteing. Makes yummy roasted potatoes.