Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cassoulet Step 1 - Duck Confit

Last night I went out and picked up some groceries so I could begin the fairly involved process of making cassoulet. The only snag so far is that the recipe I'm using called for cubed pancetta and I asked for thinly sliced... oh well... I'll just chop it up and use it like bacon. Savenor's also didn't have any fresh oregano, so I might have to make due with dried if I don't find any today. I spent probably $40 on meat products for this stew, so it's not exactly a bargain hunter's dream... kind of strange for what is supposed to be a peasant's dish, but the fact that I did all my shopping at Savenor's probably contributed a lot to that. Regardless, the finished product is so good I think it's worth the cost.

Cassoulet is a two or three day affair, which while considerably shortened from the classical version, is still a pretty significant outlay of time. To do it in two days, you'll have to make the confit the morning before you make the stew since it needs two hours of cooking and two hours of cooling all on its own... otherwise you could make the confit completely separately and store it in the fridge until needed.  I haven't completely decided whether I'm going to make the stew tonight or tomorrow, but I set it up so I could make it tonight.

The first thing to do is start the salt cure of the duck legs...  which takes 8-24 hours...  it's not a "real" salt cure, but long enough to get the flavors.  4 duck legs (including thighs), a tablespoon of kosher salt(I used 1/2 a tablespoon of sea salt instead), a 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, 10 sprigs of thyme, and 4 bay leaves crumbled were all tossed into a large bowl...  covered in plastic wrap...  amd then thrown into the refrigerator.  

If you're planning on making the stew the following day, take your pound of flageolet beans(or other white beans) and put them in a dutch oven with 7.5 cups of water to soak overnight.

After 8-24 hours, it's time to actually make our confit. Set the oven to 300 degrees, and melt your 6-8 cups of duck fat in a saucepan over medium heat (5-10 minutes). While that's happening, arrange your duck legs in a small baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet (so you can maneuver the pan without getting splashed with duck fat), and then sprinkle with the thyme and bay leaves. Pour the melted duck fat over the legs until just covered... if you run a little short you can finish with vegetable oil. Your dish should look something like this. Two hours in the oven should be long enough to get the meat meltingly tender while rendering most of the fat from the skin. Carefully transfer the dish to a wire rack, and you should have something like this.... give it two hours to cool, and voilĂ , duck confit. If you're storing it for later use(up to a month), I'd place the legs into another container and pour the duck fat over top.

Next up, we start the cassoulet proper.