Monday, February 23, 2009

Cassoulet, fini

Unfortunately none of the pictures I took came out all that well, as I am even more of a n00b at photography than I am at cooking. I can probably place a smidgen of the blame on the subject matter... it is just pork and beans, after all... so even if it's the snooty French version, that doesn't make it super sexy just by association. I mean, if I didn't tell you that picture to the left was food you probably would assume it's something gross... but it is food, and it is really good. You can check the rest of the photos I took here; hopefully keeping that caveat in mind. I kind of like the confit picture... maybe I'll submit that to the IFA's Food Porn group on flickr.

I did end up making the dish this Saturday night, which probably wasn't the smartest thing to do in the world... I didn't fully comprehend when making my plans that it took about 2 hours(not including making the confit) just to get to the point that you were ready to put it in the oven for 3 hours. So yeah, I ate dinner at 10:30 at night. I could have waited until the next day after the confit to make the cassoulet... which is what I would probably recommend... but I had already reserved the kitchen for the day (I'm not good at sharing), and Anna had her own marathon cooking session planned for Sunday... so I soldiered on. Not to say that you couldn't make the confit and cassoulet on the same day and still have dinner on the table at a reasonable hour... it's just a pretty solid day of cooking(though with a fair amount of down time interspersed).

I executed the Accidental Hedonist recipe(though I realized typing this up that at it's actually a Saveur recipe at it's root - more on the impact of that in a minute) pretty much as written... with only a few exceptions. I substituted two leeks for the two onions, and my pancetta was sliced thin, and thus I chopped it up, as cubing was no longer an option. In addition I used actual French flageolet beans instead of great northern beans... interestingly, flageolet beans, while being uber French and hard to find here in the States, aren't even the "real" bean for cassoulet... apparently that honor belongs to the Tarbais bean... but since they cost like $15-20 a pound because they're presumably picked by one Frenchman on a 5 x 5 plot, it's probably best to substitute, eh? You really just want a bean that's going to stand up to the hours of cooking that cassoulet requires... any small white bean will probably be fine, but I do genuinely prefer the flageolet. In addition, I prefer my bread topping to be more substantial and of higher quality than what bread crumbs provide, so I did a rough dice of 4 slices of really snazzy sandwich bread.

So why did I specifically mention the Saveur version of the recipe? Because in looking at it, all the complaints or nits I had to pick with Accidental Hedonist's version were addressed to my liking in the original. For example, after I browned all my meat and veggies in olive oil I instantly thought: Why didn't I do this in duck fat!? I have a whole giant tub of it for doing the confit... why did I use olive oil? Well, because I was following the recipe like an automaton... a bad habit, that as I get more experience cooking, I need to start breaking more... but the Saveur version calls for duck fat. Now, I can certainly see why the Accidental Hedonist author substituted olive oil, because who in this day and age has duck fat sitting in their fridge or has any idea of where to obtain it if they want it? (Savenor's for Boston area peeps) There was also an issue of giving times but not giving what the objective is... "cook for about 10 minutes" is significantly different than "cook until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes".

But overall, I thought the recipe was excellent and the cassoulet came out essentially perfect... can't think of much I would change other than using duck fat instead of olive oil. It requires a fair number of pots going at once... and thus entails some serious post cassoulet dish washing... but it's coordinated fairly well and I never felt that overwhelmed (and since I can't always handle Anna even using the microwave while I'm cooking, that's a pretty strong endorsement). The key being that you can start the beans on their simmer, before moving to the pork shoulder and pancetta... and once you get that simmering in it's sauce you can start browning the confit etc. Worked well I thought.

If you want to look back at my earlier cassoulet posts, go here... and you can check out the pictures here.