Thursday, 13 August 2009

Finally, Cassoulet

Well, the end result is here. Cassoulet can actually be made with a huge variety of meats. Stephanie Alexander's, in her book Feasts and Stories, features pork neck, pork belly, pork hocks, cotechino sausages, preserved duck legs and veal stock. Julia Child's has a loin of pork, toulouse sausage (for which she gives the recipe), bacon, and a shoulder of lamb or mutton. She mentions variations including goose, turkey, veal and polish sausage.

So really, you can do what you want. The basic concept is white beans cooked in stock, with a variety of cooked meats mixed in, then baked with a breadcrumb topping. The flavours are classic French parsley, bay, thyme and garlic - plus, of course, all the meat juices.

Recipe: Cath's Canberra Cassoulet
375g haricot beans
a batch of duck stock
2 cured duck maryland pieces
500g toulouse sausage, cut in half lengths
1 tin chopped tomatoes (or equivalent fresh)
2 onions
2 carrots
2 cloves garlic
2 cups breadcrumbs, made from a baguette
pinch salt, black pepper

Soak the beans overnight in plain water.
Chop the onion and carrots quite small.
Drain beans, add them to a large pot with the onion and carrots.
Add the duck stock, and simmer for an hour.
Add the tin of tomatoes.
Simmer for another 15 minutes, or until beans are just tender.
(Do not discard liquid)
Meanwhile, rinse the salt cure mix off the duck, and pat dry.
Pan fry it until golden.
Remove, and brown the sausage well in the duck fat.
Remove, leaving any meat from loose ends behind in the pan.
Strip off the skin and fat from the duck, and chop skin into small dice.
Fry these duck cracklings until crisp.
Add two cloves of crushed garlic and the breadcrumbs to the pan.
Fry until golden brown.
Mix in chopped parsley, salt and pepper
Mix the meats and beans in a casserole dish.
Top up with stock to barely cover.
Sprinkle crumb topping over.
Bake, uncovered, at 170C for an hour.


Notes: Boil the stock down a little if need be, rather than discarding any excess. The duck cracklings in the topping is not traditional - that idea came from the Epicurious recipe.

A simple vinegary green salad and a few slices of proper French baguette is a good match. My baguette was not the best - the bakery I went to had run out - so I sprayed a little olive oil on the cut surface and toasted it in the sandwich press.

I'm quite pleased with how this all worked out. The beans, sausage and crumb topping are excellent. We've got two dinners out of it, and some freezer stock. The crumbs won't be as crunchy later on, it will instead thicken the bean mix quite a lot. I plan to add some extra tomatoes or wine when I eventually reheat them. The duck I'm less thrilled with. I'm not very experienced with cooking duck, and I found that both of the duck meals came out a little tougher than I'd like. Not bad, just not great.


BJ said...

I've found that cooking duck is quite tricky - when roasting a whole duck, it really does need ages. When researching recipes for a Xmas duck recipe a few years ago, I thought 'how could something the size of a chicken need SO much longer to roast?', and cut down the time.

I was wrong. My best results were from patient, slow-cooking, following the recipe time. THEN I got sweet, moist meat, lots of rendered fat for chucking out or keeping for spuds (oh my aching cholesterol level), and raves of approval from the diners.

Just saying... maybe your cured/fried duck needed more time/lower heat?

Cath said...

Thanks - I suspect you are onto something here. So many cheffy recipes involve very fast roasting, and then resting. It seems to work with red meat, but I'm much less convinced about it for poultry.

BJ said...

Yeah... I think duck is in fact a far tougher meat than we expect. We sort of think of it in the 'more or less chicken' class, where in fact it's game. Which always needs longer cooking - think of hare, goose, venison etc. Not to mention the 'hanging' bit, about which I care not to think!

When I can finally face eating duck again (how many more years might it be??), I shall try again with my slow-roast duck. It WAS very good.

Pumpkin-eater said...

Hooray for cassoulet!

I have found low and slow to be very effective for roasting skinny pekin ducks. For the cassoulet, in the absence of confit, I probably would have left the skin on the legs and added more fat in the form of pork belly or more duck fat - it should be a very rich dish.

If you can squeeze in more than one cassoluet a year, you should get to the Gods cafe at ANU before they change to a spring menu. The chef shreds the duck and I would guess that it is added just prior to browning off the breadcrumbs so the fat stays in the meat. The duck is really secondary to all the porky pork it contains though.