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?


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