For the past 2 days the beautiful jar of fat ensconced duck parts has been tempting me from within my fridge. I originally intended to do the second post in this series on a preparation involving the duck breasts, but the confit that I made in my last post inspired me to go in a different direction. Tonight I made the ageless classic of rustic French farmhouse cooking, the Cassoulet. Cassoulet comes in hundreds of different variations of varying complexity depending on the region and household in which it is made. In my version I strive to highlight the flavor of the duck in keeping with the focus of this series of posts. I have included all the vital ingredients of the cassoulet which in my mind include; white beans, pork belly, and duck confit. I have taken some departures from what would be considered the platonic ideal of a cassoulet in order to keep the focus on the beautiful duck flavors, I hope you will excuse me.
I started on Wednesday by preparing a good amount of duck stock. I utilized the carcass and giblets of a duck minus the liver.
Note- I intended to highlight the preparation of every single part of the duck, but I forgot to take pictures of what I did with the liver, I was in a culinary coma. I sauted the small livery lobes in some butter, seasoned them, mashed them with a fork, and ate them on some club crackers. Nothing anyone would really want to see on film, but very delicious.
I threw the duck parts in my small casserole with a half onion, some celery, carrot, and thyme, seasoned it well and brought to a simmer for about 3 hours.
I was left with about 5-6 cups of good, strong duck stock which I strained threw some cheese cloth and put in the fridge.
Next, I put some nice great northern white beans in some cool water to soak overnight.
The next day I drained the beans and set them to boil with some carrot, celery, onion, pepper, and a nice chunk of meaty salt pork. I omit the boquet garnis, I have never been much of a fan. I think the floralness of the herbs and spices competes against the meaty, rich flavors that I enjoy. I find a little thyme is the only herbage needed for this version of the dish. Some people also use bacon or unsalted pork belly, I find that beans and salt pork are a match made in heaven.
Bring this up to a nice boil for about an hour, then drain, throw out vegetable matter, and reserve the piece of salted pork. The next step is to fish out some duck confit from its jar. For this cassoulet I used 1 leg/thigh and two wings worth. I removed and reserved the bones (to make another stock), chunked the meat, and removed the skin. Here is a picture of the duck confit reduced to its component parts.
I chopped the duck skin up into small pieces and cooked it down in my Le Creuset until it became brown and crisp like cracklins. I removed these from the pot and reserved. Into the duck fat I threw 4 nice, high quality weisswursts that I bought at Eats. Usually, garlicky french sausages are used in cassoulet but I don't like the way the sausage flavor overwhelms the entire dish. Weisswursts are a mellow, mild flavor which I thought would complement the cassoulet without being too assertive.
I put a little color on these bad boys and then removed. Here is a picture of these chubby little guys with the duck skin cracklins. I could not resist whipping out the tiny beer stein full of Dusseldorf style mustard from my fridge and indulging in one or two of these guys.
Into the remaining duck fat I threw some onion, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, and the now cubed reserved salt pork.
You don't have to be too disciplined with your dice here. I stole an idea from a cassoulet recipe I saw on the internet, I pureed this mixture in my food processor along with a can of drained, stewed tomatoes. Most people leave the veg chunky. However, you want to get some nice brown color on the veggies and pork before doing this.
The next step is to prepare the bread crumb topping. I used about half of a day old baguette, salt, pepper, parsley, and the duck skin cracklins. These went into the food processor until roughly ground.
Back into the Le Creuset went alternating layers of beans, the vegetable puree, duck confit, and weisswurst. When these ingredients were used up I poured enough of the duck stock on to just cover the beans. On top of this I sprinkled half of the bread crumb mixture and then moistened it with some more duck stock. This went into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Next I mixed the remaining bread crumbs with 3 tablespoons of butter and packed these in on top. The whole thing goes back in the oven for another half hour. This is the result.
This cassoulet looked and smelled absolutely amazing. It was with great will power that I put it aside to cool for about half of an hour. This is essential, it lets the dish rest and congeal a little. When the half hour passed I broke the buttery, browned crust and scooped a portion into a bowl.
Verdict: There are very few times in my life where I have actually truly impressed myself with my own cooking. I stood in the kitchen with this bowl of cassoulet and a fork and devoured it in disbelief that I, Mr. Dave, had generated something so delicious. I wanted to cry out to my wife to come and dig in, but she disagrees with duck, weisswurst, and salt pork on principle. I was left to savor it alone. I was glad that I did not use any strong flavorings that would disrupt the flavor of the copious amount of precious and rich duck fat/confit involved. The crisp, butter infused flavor of the thick bread crumb crust went perfectly with the tender beans and melting duck meat. The broth had thickened into a rich tomato/pork/duck amalgam that was in perfect harmony with the rest of the components of the dish. I would honestly recommend that anyone reading this hurry to my house with a spoon and an empty belly.