Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Daring Cooks' Challenges No. 3 - Cassoulet.

Well, cassoulet, eh?  I have made plenty of cheat versions of this in my time but have never done an authentic one.  It's great timing in that this is perfect food for the cold weather and the dark days but really bad timing in that this is the time of year when people are trying to cut back a bit on the calories after all the excesses of the festive season.  I dread to think how many calories in a portion of this and I'm certainly not going to try and work it out as we have been eating mountains of it!

Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

So, I chose to follow the fairly traditional recipe of Bourdain and Ruhlman but I have made a few little changes and I'll put my adapted version up here for my own use.  The first thing I did was to halve the quantities of everything and I am so glad I did as even this makes a mountain of the stuff and, as you will be able to tell from the ingredients, it is very filling and very calorific.  The other changes I will be tempted to try next time are 1) this recipe doesn't have the breadcrumb topping that a lot of cassoulet recipes have and I would like to try that.  It did need a little something to add texture.  As it was, we served it with crispy garlic bread which served the purpose; and 2) I notice Delia roasts her pork belly in her version - I think I would like to try that too as I do love a caramelised, roasted pork belly.

I also cheated and didn't make my own duck confit.  This is because it was actually easier for me to get duck confit than fresh duck legs and I have made duck confit in the past so didn't feel it would matter too much.

Be warned - this takes 3 days to make but is ideal for cooking for guests as there is nothing to do except put in the oven on the last day.

Recipe - Cassoulet (based on recipe by Bourdain and Ruhlman)

Ingredients - 
550g dried cannelini beans
450g fresh pork belly
1 onion, quartered
1 bouquet garni
salt and pepper
30g duck fat or dripping
6 Toulouse sausages
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 head of garlic
16 slices of thick cut smoked bacon
2 confit duck legs

Method -

1. Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water so there are at least 2 or 3 inches of water above the top of the beans.  Soak overnight.
2. Drain and rinse the beans and place in a large pot.  
3. Add the pork belly, the quartered onion and the bouquet garni.
4. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30 mins.  Season with salt and pepper and continue to simmer until the beans are tender, about 30mins more.
5. Let cool for 20 mins then discard the onion and the bouquet garni.
6. Remove the pork belly, cut it into squares and set aside.
7. Strain the beans and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid separately.
8. In a saute pan, heat the dripping over a medium-high heat until it shimmers and becomes transparent.
9. Carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides.
10. Remove sausages and set aside.
11. In the same pan, over medium-high heat, brown two onions, sliced, and one clove of garlic, sliced.
12. Once browned, remove from the heat and transfer to the blender and puree until smooth.
13. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/GM 4.
14. Line the bottom of a deep ovenproof dish with the bacon.

15. Slice the remaining onions.
16. Peel the remaining garlic bulbs and cut into big chunks or leave whole.
17. Strip the duck meat from the bones and rip into bite-size chunks.

18. Cut sausages into chunks.
19. Arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers.  begin with beans, then sausages, then more beans, then pork belly, beans, duck, then finally more beans.  Add a dab of the onion puree and a scattering of onion and garlic to each layer.

20. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving about 240mls in the fridge for use later.
21. Cook in the oven for one hour then reduce the heat to 250F/130C/GM 1/2 and cook for another hour.
22. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Refrigerate overnight.
23. Cook at 350F/180C/GM 4 for one hour.
24. Add extra bean cooking liquid if needed.
25. Reduce heat to 250F/130C/GM 1/2 and continue cooking for another 15 mins then serve.

So, the verdict?  It was absolutely gorgeous - really filling and hearty.  But it is a faff and I have had dishes with beans and chorizo and the like which can be put together in an hour and taste brilliant too.  I think I will try it again with the breadcrumb topping and with roasting the pork and see how that goes.  I certainly would consider this if I was feeding guests on a cold day but I wouldn't make this at home just for us.  Loved the challenge and am really glad I did it.  I think making the confit was the main point of the challenge so I obviously cheated on that, but, hey, I know I can do that whereas I have never made a proper cassoulet before so I'm happy. 


  1. wow... a heck of a lot of work but... can i come round and help you eat it? Looks soooooo good! x

  2. It looks really delicious and well worth the effort.

  3. This looks well worth the work and calories.

    Plan B

  4. Thanks so much for joining us in our cassoulet challenge! Your final dish looks awesome, and I'm with the bunch who agree that the pork belly needs caramelization prior to adding to the cassoulet, so I confit'd and seared it :)

    Beautiful job all around, and I'm glad you liked it! Alawys fun to try something new!

  5. Your cassoulet looks like it turned out great! I agree that its too much work for most times, but it was sooo good!

  6. Wonderful you finally got to a proper cassoulet at last. Your photos are lovely and you are lucky to be able to find duck confit so easily. Great work on this challenge.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  7. Well done on a great result!

    It didn't occur to us that we could buy a packet of duck confit? Good to know, but we'll always aim to make our own because it would be a bit of a waste to let someone else get the awesome smells bursting out of the oven.

    Stay JOLLY!

  8. Dom - all gone now, took us 3 days to get through it all - great!

    Kath - Yes, I think it was worth the effort.

    Chef Bee - Ha ha - yes, worth the calories - luckily I hadn't made a New Year's resolution to lose weight!

    Lisa - thank you for the challenge, and yes, I will caramelise the pork belly next time although it was still nice the way it was.

    Faith - Thanks. I agree.

    Audax - We have a local butcher who do a mail order service. They're pretty good and supply a lot of famous restaurants, etc. The other good thing about them is that their poultry has several qualifiactions for being raised and looked after well. A little pricey, though, so I don't think my cassoulet will have quite come out as cheap as 87p per portion. Worth the extra for me to cut down on the time spent making it just now.

    David and Stacey - Making confit is so easy that I wouldn't hesitate to do it again - was just struggling for time this time round - and couldn't find fresh whole duck legs! Thanks for compliment.