Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cassoulet the Michael way

Julia makes a mean cassoulet, but boy is it a lot of time and work. My version, which is still a work in progress, still takes beaucoup de temps (at least 2 days), but better fits in with my cooking work ethic.

Day 1: The beans

You'll need:

  • 1 lbs of flageolet, which you'll never find, so use the white navy beans in the bulk section of Whole Foods
  • ~4 stems of fresh thyme
  • ~4 stems of fresh parsley 
  • 3 cloves of whole, but slightly smashed garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 large shallots, minced
  • 4 slices of Whole Foods bacon cut into small 1"-2" pieces
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes

Be rid of the fart sugars:  Sort the beans and place in a large pot. Cover with 3 inches of water, bring to a full boil and cook for 2 minutes. Cover and let stand for 1-2 hours. Drain and rinse well. Beans go back in the pot.

Ready the bacon: Quickly blanch the bacon to render some of the fat out. Julia would have you remove all the fat and salt, but that seems like a waste! Don't blanch at all and you end up with too much fat floating in the bean water.

Cook: To the pot, add in the shallots, bacon and herbs wrapped into a cheesecloth bouquet. Cover the beans with lots of water -- at least 10 cups. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Skim scum as necessary. Add boiling water if water level get too low. Cook for 1.5 hours until beans are just tender then add in all the juice plus half the can of chopped tomatoes. Cook for another 20 minutes or so. The beans should be tender, but will still be a little chalky ... only time will make them smooth like butter.  Once done, season to taste with salt and lots of pepper. Remove bouquet, cover and stick it in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours (36 is better.)

Day 2: The meat
This is the part where I get lazy. Real cassoulet was a means to repurpose leftovers, so cooking three meat dinners just to stick them in a pot with beans seems perhaps excessive. I make one meat dinner and buy the rest already prepared.

Braised lamb: The secret sauce!
You'll need:

  • 1.25 lbs of boned shoulder of lamp, which you'll never find. I've tried loin with mixed results. Jeff says to try a shank.
  • 1 cup minced shallots
  • 2 cloves of mashed garlic
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 stems fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup extra dry vermouth
  • 1.5 cups beef stock

Cut lamb into 1"-2" chunks, keep the bones, dry both thoroughly.  Brown the meat and bones a few pieces at a time in a very hot sauce pan with a little oil. Then slightly brown the shallots and garlic. Add in tomato paste, thyme (whole stems,) bay leaf, wine and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1.5 hours. Discard thyme stems, bay leaf and bones. Skim off fat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Save everything including the liquid!

Sausage: Julia would have you make your own sausage. I've never even attempted this. The Roasted red pepper and garlic chicken sausage from the meat case at Whole foods works quite well.

Bonus meat: Julia calls for a pork roast, but I've never been much a fan of the results. Seems like lots of people like duck in their cassoulet, but that's more work. So this time I decided a rotisserie chicken would be worth a try (duck, chicken ... they're both birds right?) I had half the chicken for lunch the day I cooked the beans, the other half a picked apart for the cassoulet. Seasoned with salt, pepper and a little cayenne pepper. The chicken ended up basically a non-entity in the cassoulet (As Jeff put it, "the chicken was unnecessary") but I'm not discounting the effects of the cayenne. The end result has just a tiny hint of heat in the beans which was nice. More research is required.

Final assembly: Layer beans and meats in your Le Creuset 5 quart roaster. Add in all the liquid from the lamb, then bean liquid until the level is just barely shy of the top layer of beans and meat.

I've never had much success with the bread crumb topping. This time I tried a box of sesame 360 crackers, which was better but still not fantastic. I think I'll try one more time with the crackers, but brown then in a mess of butter before adding them to the top. I also forgot to break the crust and allow the liquid to mix in with the topping a couple of times while it was baking, which might help as well.

Topping or no, the pot (uncovered) goes in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour.

1 comment:

  1. You make dried beans backwards.

    And admittedly outstanding results.

    This gets better each day you bring it to me for lunch. Have I run out of free lunches yet?