Yes, yes, I'm late posting the first challenge of the year. Good thing I didn't make any New Year's resolutions regarding punctuality, huh?
Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.
I actually made my first traditional cassoulet a couple of months ago, based on this recipe I came across in The Gazette. Before that, I'd tried out a quicker, lighter, modified version, but when I tasted the slow-cooked version, the difference was obvious. Cassoulet is a time-consuming dish, but it's time well spent.
Making confit, however, was new to me. I've prepared slow-baked duck legs that pretty much taste like confit if you eat them immediately, but I had never attempted true-blue, preserved-in-fat, keeps-forever duck confit. It doesn't help that, around here, duck confit is actually easier to find in grocery stores than raw duck thighs. But all duck products are rather commonplace here in Montreal, so I had no trouble getting my hands on some beautiful (and cheap!) duck legs, and a liter of duck fat.
The confit was easy enough to prepare. I baked it for twice as long as suggested, because it just didn't seem tender enough, and it was just about right after that time. Sealing the whole thing in fat was... oddly satisfying, I have to admit. I prepared a couple of extra legs and sealed them separately for later use – two weeks later, and they still looked great. We had them for dinner tonight, just reheated with a side of vegetables.
The next step, apart from soaking the beans, consisted in simmering and/or sautéing the different cuts of meat that were involved in the preparation: pork belly, sausages, and bacon (which I substituted for pork rind, on the advice of both our hostesses). It all took a while, because I was making the full recipe (and I had some extra sausages, which I used in another dish), and by the time it was over, I was kind of sick of smelling, touching, and looking at greasy meat. I decided it was a good thing that I wasn't going to be eating the cassoulet until the following day.
Assembling the dish was an exercise in decadence. I lined my Dutch oven with thick-cut bacon, then stacked the ingredients as indicated. I used my biggest pot, and Lord knows I've cooked up some big stews in that thing, but this was a record. As you can see, the beans nearly overflowed!
Not much else to report on this. It's hard to screw up the cooking phase on this kind of dish. My only quibble is that some of my beans broke, which also happened last time. But other than that, this recipe, while slightly different than the first one I tried, was every bit as delicious. I'd be hard pressed to choose between them, although this one included ingredients which were easier to find.
Anyways, thank you, Lisa and Jenni! I learned a lot, and I now have a freezer full of delicious cassoulet! To make your own cassoulet, check out the challenge recipes at the Daring Kitchen. And even though I'm posting late, you can still look at the Daring Cooks' blog roll to look at all the beautiful dishes that were made this month!