Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hooray! Hooray for cassoulet!

Carcassone at night. 
I went to a blog class last year and the instructor told all of us never to offer excuses for not blogging.  Since then I have followed that advice.  Life is busy for everyone.  I would love to blog every day or week but with two kids, a husband, a garden and a house to run, I don't always get what I want.  However, I have noticed that it's been a long time since I've last posted.  January 2014 being my last one.  I won't offer an apology but I will give a reason to explain my absence.  Two reasons actually. 
The first is that I have been spending more time on Facebook.  I opened up a Facebook page to go with this site and I must say that I love updating that.  It's easy to post pictures and let you all know how I like to live locally.  A post actually takes a significant amount of time to put together and Facebook is much more accommodating.  If you want to see some of my Facebook updates, feel free to like my page.  Here's the link.  https://www.facebook.com/livinglavitalocal?fref=ts
The second reason I haven't been so frequent in my blogging posts is that I just finished a very nice trip to France/Spain with my family.  My husband and I took our two boys (5 and 8 years old) without checked luggage and it really required a lot of planning.  While my husband put together the actual trip, I had to do all the day-to-day prep. that usually goes unnoticed but prevents meltdowns and such.  It was a fantastic problem to have but it required a lot of attention. 
So, now that we're back I wanted to recreate one of the best meals we had while in Carcassonne, France and I wanted to use as many local ingredients as possible.  For those of you who aren't familiar, Carcassonne is a small medieval town in the south of France.  It's one of the few completely walled cities left in Europe and resides in the Languedoc region on France's Mediterranean coastline.  The city has a long and violent history, but they are one of the three cities in the Languedoc that are known for making cassoulet. 
What is cassoulet, you say?  Basically it's a rich bean stew that consists of duck confit, sausages (usually pork), and another meat.  Here's a Wikipedia link that does a pretty good job describing it.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassoulet
You also might be asking yourself what duck confit is.  Duck confit is duck that is slowly cooked in its own fat.  Before the days of refrigeration this is how meat was preserved, especially if salt was in short supply.  Duck confit is a laborious process and I felt that cassoulet was daunting enough.  Therefore I decided to purchase my duck confit from the Community Food Co-Op.  It wasn't as expensive as I thought because I only bought two legs.  One for Matt (my husband) and one for me.  The kids could taste some but I pretty much assumed they would eat the sausage.  Duck is pretty rich stuff and my kids will taste but not eat a lot of it.  Yay!!!  More duck for me.  Ummmm, and Matt too.  
Before I begin telling you how I made this cassoulet I want to stress that there are numerous versions of this dish.  The ingredients vary greatly but the process is really what counts here.  Also, cassoulet is not something you want to attempt on a weeknight.  It takes a long time.  Jacques Pepin has a recipe (that I haven't tried) for 30 minute cassoulet but in general most "shortened" versions take at least a day.  Depending on how much you want to do by hand, it can take up to 7 days!!  My recipe only took one day.  Therefore, the decision to make this "shortened" version of cassoulet rests on a few key points.
  1. I'm not a professional chef.
    I'm a woman who likes to cook at home.  I have a great passion for food but I am not formally trained in any way.  Every thing I have learned has come from experience.  I do not have the knowledge (yet) to make my own sausage and I don't have the guts (yet) to make my own duck/goose confit. 
  2. I'm a busy mom and don't have 3-7 days to dedicate to food.
    As much as I love food, the idea of spending that much time on one dish gives me the twitches. 
  3. I am lucky enough to live in a town where I can buy good quality products from local businesses who are more than happy to financially benefit from my lack of know-how and laziness. 
    I don't need to do everything myself and if I can support a local business in the process then I consider it a win-win.  For this dish my holy trinity for purchasing local ingredients is the Community Food Co-Op, Mediterranean Specialties, and the Bellingham Farmer's Market.

Here's the recipe I used to make this dish.  Feel free to cut/copy/and paste it and then print it out.  I'm still working on a printer friendly option for blogger.  (If any other fellow bloggers have some suggestions I'd be open to them hearing them.)  This recipe was inspired by Chef John from foodwishes.blogspot.com but my recipe doesn't utilize his crust.  Most chefs will agree that the bread crust is an essential component to a cassoulet but I have to disagree a bit.  Why?  Well, my husband and I sampled two different cassoulets at  two different restaurants and both did not include a crust.  I figured that if two chefs in Carcassonne didn't feel that the crust was necessary then that was good enough for me. 

Here's a few pictures for us visual folks to help get you started. 

Lay out your beans on a tray and pick out any stones or icky looking beans.

Rinse your beans before you soak them.

Get your meat ready. 
Take a look at that ham shank!  It's a whopper compared to the duck confit.  Not to worry what the duck lacks in size it makes up for in taste. 

Cook your ham shank with your beans.

Remove your beans to a separate bowl.  Keep shank and the cooking liquid (not shown).
Remember at this point it's just pork and beans.

Brown the meat in the super tasty rendered pork fat.

Remove the meat and sauté those veggies in that yummy fat.

Mix the veggies into your bowl of beans.

Layer!  Beans + meat + beans = cassoulet.

Cover with the bean cooking liquid.

Cassoulet for the kids.

Cassoulet fore the adults. 

Jenn's Cassoulet 
inspired by Chef John of foodwishes.blogspot.com

Ingredients: (links provided for locally purchased or locally made ingredients)
For the rest of the dish:
  • 1/2 lb. fresh side pork or pancetta or bacon 
  • 1 lb. pork sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 legs of duck confit
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 14 oz. can of roasted diced tomatoes (Muir Glen Organics)
  • 1 tsp. herb de Provence
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
The process:

First get started with the beans. 
Soak beans overnight and drain.  Place beans in a heavy dutch oven with ham shank, bay leaf, garlic, onion, whole clove, rosemary, thyme, chicken stock, and water.  Bring everything to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer beans for about 1 hour. 
**Please note that my beans only took 30 minutes.  I was shocked!  Please taste your beans every 20-30 minutes to prevent overdone and mushy beans.  The beans should be firm but soft in the middle.  Older beans can take up to 3 hours.  Be prepared for your beans to take forever.  If they're done sooner it's fine.
After beans are fully cooked, strain, reserve cooking liquid and remove the ham shank.  You can throw away the onion, clove, garlic and such, but SAVE the liquid and ham.  You'll need them later.
At this point you should have a bowl full of bean cooking liquid, a ham shank on a cutting board and another bowl full of beans.  Cover everything to prevent evaporation of liquid which leads to the beans/ham drying out.

Now, that the beans are done let's get started on the next part of the dish.
In the same heavy dutch oven you used for the beans brown the side pork or bacon.  You want to render the fat.  Once browned put the leftover bits into the beans.  Then brown the duck confit and sausage in the rendered pork fat.  Once browned take the duck and sausage out and place onto a plate.  Add onion, carrots and celery and sauté for10 minutes.  Add the canned tomatoes, herb de Provence, salt, pepper and cook for 5 more minutes.  Take the vegetables and mix them into your bowl of beans.

Now the layering begins.  Put half of the bean mixture on the bottom of your dutch oven.  Then place your browned duck, sausages (and their reserved juices that gather on the plate) and ham shank on top of the beans.  Cover with the remaining bean mixture and try not to worry that the beans don't cover the entire ham shank.  It's fine. 

Finally, pour the bean cooking liquid over everything and make sure that the beans are just barely covered.  Keep the leftover cooking liquid to add if your beans are getting to starchy later on.
Put the entire pot into the oven at 350° for 30 minutes.  Check to see if you need to add more liquid.  Some beans are starchier than others.  I didn't need to add more liquid.  I did need to remove a bit though.  Put cassoulet (you can call it that now) back into the oven for 20 more minutes.  Check starch levels again.  You should notice that a subtle starchy crust from the beans is forming.  That's what you want to see.  If you don't see it then take out more liquid. 

Increase the oven temperature to 375° and cook uncovered for 20-25 minutes. 
When finished remove all the meat onto the cutting board.  Cut the ham off of the shank and remove any sinew or fat. 
To serve ladle beans into a shallow bowl and place meat on top.  Enjoy! 

I highly recommend having this meal with a full bodied red wine.  I was lucky enough to find a French wine from Minervois a region just outside of Carcassonne. 


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