|Cassoulet: Our Guest of Honor|
As our guests arrived, I opened a couple bottles of Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay. What better for two of the best winemakers in the state than the best sparkling wine made in the state?
|Headcheese and Terrine|
|Ann Made This Beautiful Loaf|
|Arugula with Pomegranate, Manchego, and Shallots|
|A Good Day!|
|Cassoulet: It's All about the Beans|
Use the best dried beans you can find. I have pretty much an unlimited number of kinds of beans at my disposal. I choose Steuben Yellow Eye beans (pictured above) because I think they are the best. I have used Tarbais beans, haricots blancs, local bird eggs, and many other kinds. Steubens rock.
I am a big fan of soaking the beans overnight in many changes of water. This helps alleviate some of the issues in digesting them. I also discard the initial cooking water. Yes, I parcook my beans to half done with a touch of rosemary and discard that cooking water before assembling the cassoulet.
The essence of the dish is pork and beans. If you have great beans and great pork, you don't need a lot of other seasonings. I use a hint of rosemary in the beans. In the cassoulet proper, I use a few bay leaves and a little garlic. Aside from that, the dish is just primal pork and beans.
In the same vein, cassoulet doesn't need a lot of vegetables. Just a bit of mirepoix (2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery), but make sure you sauté the mirepoix in duck fat (or barring that, lard). We process a lot of ducks at the restaurant, so there are always gallons of duck fat on hand.
Use a great stock, pork or duck or mixed, to make your cassoulet. The gelatin in super rich stocks helps form the crust on top of the cassoulet, which after it browns, you punch back down into the broth to further enrich it.
I like to punch down the crust four or five times while the cassoulet is cooking. Some French people swear by seven punchdowns but I don't think my beans need to cook that long.
Start your cassoulet days before you need it. Cassoulet is always, always better the second and third day. Make it in advance and do your final punchdown and crusting just before you serve it.
Here is my rough cassoulet process:
1. Soak the beans overnight in several changes of water.
2. Cook the beans halfway with a little rosemary and discard the cooking water and rosemary.
3. Prep a little mirepoix and garlic.
4. Assemble the meats: garlic sausage, pork trimmings, duck or confited duck legs or both, etc.
5. Heat a little duck fat and brown the meats. Remove.
6. In the same pan, lightly brown the mirepoix and mix with the beans.
7. Put half the beans and a few bay leaves in the cassole, casserole, or whatever dish you're baking in.
8. Put the meats in next.
9. Cover the meat with the remaining beans.
10. Cover all with stock.
11. Bake in a slow oven until crusted.
12. Punch down and add more stock as necessary.
13. Repeat until you're happy.
For the cassoulet above, I made a little garlic sausage from pork loin and shoulder trimmings. And I roasted all the bones from the hog and made pork stock from that. All the meat that I pulled off the bones after making the stock went into the cassoulet. I grilled fresh loin trimmings (rib eye cap) and put them in the cassoulet after cutting into pieces. And I separated a bunch of spare ribs and put them in. Finally, I used half fresh duck legs and half duck legs that I confited a few weeks ago.
For a cold January day, what better to serve friends than a glorious cassoulet?