Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cassoulet Journal Entry #2: Shopping and Prep

In the spirit of the informal, family-style nature of serving and eating cassoulet I decided I didn't want to do a formal menu. I don't really like fussy dinners where each guest is served an exquisitely prepared plate with a single scallop with a dollop of creme fraiche seasoned with the tears of an Arctic gray wolf.  I would much rather go to a dinner where simple, delicious food is served in a communal style. With that in mind, I came up with this plan:

To start:

-Raw oysters. Because there is nothing I could cook that would be more delicious than a good, fresh oyster with a spritz of lemon.

-Duck Pate. I wanted to use the whole duck if possible, and pate would make good use of the innards.

-Rounded out with some nice cured meats, and olives and the like.


-Cassoulet. 'Nuff said.


-Cheese course. Unquestionably the best dessert.

So that's it. I figure the cassoulet and the pate would give me enough trouble so why bother cooking anything else. Maybe it's not the most thoughtfully composed menu ever, but I can't imagine a more delicious and satisfying one. Quite wine friendly too...


I bought my duck from the Hudson Valley Duck Farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket. The woman working the stand on this incredibly frigid morning was really helpful and knowledgeable and helped me pick out this beauty:

While at the market, I also bought some ground pork and bacon for the pate at the Roaming Acres Farm stand.  Great place for pork.

For the sausage I went to a place called Salumeria Biellese which was recommended to me by one of the people at Chambers Street Wines.

Super old-school, family owned, amazing products. They had the perfect, traditional style saucisson a l'ail (pork, red wine, garlic sausage), which I guess in Italy is called Cotechino. Natural casing, hand-tied with string, the whole 9...


After butchering the duck the first thing I did was marinate the duck legs and one of the breasts overnight in salt, black pepper, garlic, thyme and crushed up bay leaf.  

The plan is to confit the legs and later pan-sear the breast. While that was marinating I took all the extra skin and trimmings and rendered the fat by slowly melting it in a pot on low-heat. After the fat has rendered out you are left with pure duck fat, and duck skin "cracklings." 

The cracklings are sort of like crispy duck skin pork rinds or something. Incredibly delicious.

While the duck was marinating, I prepared the meats for the pate.

The one on top is ground pork, and the one on the bottom is duck breast, duck liver, and bits of fatty duck skin, each with thyme, garlic, 2 bay leaves, cognac, salt and pepper, and the duck one also has some black truffle mixed in.  These are left to marinate and cure for two nights in the fridge, before they are mixed, put in a terrine, and cooked.

to be continued...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cassoulet Journal, Entry #1

I know it's been a while since I've posted anything, but the truth is I just haven't been cooking a lot, or drinking much wine, and I don't feel like the world needs to read any more articles about the Super Bowl halftime show. I have tried to write something on a number of occasions, but the substance or the inspiration or both just weren't there. I personally find it annoying when the blogs I read go weeks and weeks without posting so I apologize for this blogging dryspell. But I do have an excuse...

I have been in the throes of planning a big dinner party, and all of my culinary imagination, and all of my money have been funneled into the endeavor. I've never hosted a real dinner party and it's turned out to be quite an undertaking. I've been spending most of my free time researching recipes, planning a menu, buying wines and writing shopping lists. I've been neglecting my practicing and instead I've been reading articles online about different types of sausages. My girlfriend even told me I've been mumbling about ingredients in my sleep. All this sturm und drang to make one simple dish: Cassoulet.

Cassoulet is a southern French dish which is basically a white bean casserole with different meats, usually some combination of pork, duck, goose, or lamb. It doesn't sound like anything special but when made well it's truly magical.  It is one of my all-time favorite foods, and I can't imagine a better way to brighten the dreary, slushy, bleakness of February in New York City. It looks something like this...

For whatever reason (most likely masochism) I've decided I want to make my cassoulet as traditionally and "from scratch" as possible. Cassoulet is one of those foods that is usually described as a "peasant dish," a phrase that implies rustic simplicity and affordability, the southern French countryside's version of "franks 'n' beans." But I'm finding what is simple and affordable for the French peasant is not necessarily so for the Brooklyn home cook. I can't go to my corner bodega and pick up a whole goose, for instance. There's also the issue of deciding on a recipe. There are roughly 17 gazillion regional variations of cassoulet, and the proponents of each one insists that their's is the one true and proper version and that any deviation from their method is punishable by being bludgeoned to death with petanque balls. And finally there's the time issue. The dish is cooked extremely slowly and requires a great deal of prep (soaking and cooking the beans, marinating the meat overnight, making the confit, etc.). You could write a novel, grow a "Duck Dynasty" style beard, and play 18 games of monopoly in the time it takes to make your cassoulet.

I know cassoulet is meant to be simple and earthy, thrown together with whatever leftovers you have from the night before, left over smoldering coals in your fireplace while you tend to your various daily chores. I'm aware that I'm probably overcomplicating a dish that is meant to be anything but complicated, but I want to do this as traditionally and painstakingly as possible the first time so I can have a better idea of what corners can be cut when I cook the dish in the future. And while it may sound like I'm complaining, the truth is there are very few ways I'd rather spend a day than reading archaic French cookbooks, rendering duck fat, and going to far-flung parts of New York City to buy Toulouse sausage.

Anyway, I'll keep a journal on this blog of my experiences as I plan and shop and cook for this party. Hopefully it will be informative, as well as entertaining, cause, you know, that's what blogs are for, or so I'm told...

In other news, I found an awesome deal on craigslist, and I am now the proud owner of the world's ugliest "Le Creuset!"

I'm told this is the rare, discontinued (I wonder why) "Kiwi" color. I'm thinking about naming it "the Incredible Hulque." Or maybe "Tom Creuse." Thoughts?