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Weekend cooking [May. 7th, 2007|07:20 am]

Pat has made a French dish, cassoulet, a couple times for me, and I decided I was going to try to replicate it. The recipe is just complex enough that I generally wouldn't bother to try. This past weekend, though, I decided I would, just to prove that I could.

I departed from the recipe I had; it suggests that you cook the vegetables, then add the beans and let them cook in the oven for a couple hours, then add the meat. When Pat made it, she had it layered, with the meat on the bottom, and I didn't see how to do that with these instructions, so I ended up doing this:

First, I heated the casserole in the oven (which was set at 350), and threw in a glob of goose fat, enough to coat the vegetables. You can also use bacon fat or probably any other kind of fat or oil you like.

The turnips, onions, and garlic were all put into the casserole. The onion and turnips were diced, and the garlic (about a cup of buds) was put in whole... it was going to cook so long that it would be softer than the beans, and the flavor would have plenty of time to permeate the dish. They baked until they were soft enough to stick a fork in easily. This takes some time, but not as long as it takes beans to boil, so I would have started the beans earlier if I'd thought to do so.

(You can use turnips, parsnips, and/or carrots in cassoulet; there is no canonical recipe. I chose turnips because I had them on hand, and they were cheap when I bought them.)

While they were roasting, I cooked the meat... I boiled the chicken thighs for stock, and then cooked the other two meats (plus three strips of thick bacon - not enough to count as meat, but enough to count as seasoning) in a cast iron skillet: mergeza (a spicy lamb sausage), and buffalo.

(Why buffalo? Why not?)

Then I got rid of the chicken bones and cut up the chicken.

I had boiled the soaked beans for ten minutes, and drained them; this gave them a bit of initial tenderness, and got rid of some of the complex sugars that scientists think cause gas. Since I wanted to mix them with tomato, they had to boil longer, so I boiled them in the chicken stock, along with a bouquet garni, also called a "soup bundle" by some. Two ribs of celery, two small bay leaves, a few sprigs of italian parsley, two sprigs each of rosemary and thyme(and a sudden urging for sage, but I didn't know how to get to Scarborough Fair to get some), and the tops of some green onions. (Leek is more traditional, but I didn't have any leek.) The herbs and greens were bound with kitchen twine between the celery ribs. I let the beans boil until tender; they were going to be mixed with tomato, and once that happened, they weren't going to soften any more.

Then I drained off and reserved the stock, dumped the vegetables out of the casserole and put the meat in the bottom, added the vegetables and beans on top, and the mostly dead, but still gallant bouquet garni, along with enough stock that there was still some boiling action to go on, and then remembered the tomatoes; I opened a can of tomatoes and mixed it in with the beans and veggies.

I put it in the oven for an hour for some of the liquid to boil off, and then pulled the bouquet and sprinkled bread crumbs on top. Every 20 minutes, I checked it for any crusting action (if there is, it should be pierced and broken with a spoon - not stirred).

And then I served it, with plenty of water.

Beans (especially white beans, which is what you're supposed to use in cassoulet) have a lot of fiber. I've baked them to the point that they're drying up a bit. Lots of fiber + lots of water means comfortable regularity. Lots of fiber + little water can mean thirstiness (the fiber will draw some water out of you) and... well, let's just say that you want plenty of water, since dryness can cause discomfort.

Oftentimes, it's served with a green salad and white wine (if so, I'd probably pick Riesling - I like sweet wines), but I didn't have any salad making material.

I don't think I got enough liquid and bean starch in the final result; the remaining stock was awfully thick, and I never really got any crusting on top. The cassoulet was a little bit dry, as well... not that you'd take a bite and think it was, you know, *dry*, but the beans were no longer as tender as they were coming out of the boiling pot.

It makes for a good, tasty, and nutritious meal, and very filling.

From: kightp
2007-05-07 04:16 pm (UTC)
Good job! It sounds like your first attempt turned out a lot better than mine; it took me three or four tries to get what I think of as really *good* cassoulet.

Normally, I start the beans *way* before doing anything else. Like hours before - or even the night before. Only when the beans are as tender as I want them to be do I start the rest (because the beans can always sit on the stove top while you do the rest).

I suspect part of the dryness may have been due to the addition of turnips, which suck up a good deal of moisture themselves, and the way you treated the vegetables in general. The Julia Child version is almost entirely a beans-and-meat dish, and the only vegetables are the mirepoix of finely diced onion, celery and carrot, which are sauteed until soft and then cooked with the beans, so they practically dissolve and serve more as flavoring than vegetable.

Layering (with some stock & tomatoes ladeled on to each layer) also helps ensure that you get enough moisture. Also, the traditional recipe calls for sauteeing the bread crumbs in a fair bit of goose fat, so that when you put them on top of the casserole, they provide some slight seal against too much evaporation.

Details, details. Yours sounds *yummy*.
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[User Picture]From: essaying
2007-05-08 12:04 am (UTC)
Cooks Illustrated has a "simplified" cassoulet -- still pretty complicated as far as I'm concerned. Made it once and it was absolutely delicious except the beans weren't quite as done as I'd prefer -- next time I'd soak them first, or pre-boil them a bit.
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From: kightp
2007-05-08 12:44 am (UTC)
I enjoy complicated cooking. Once in a while. Probably because it's never been my *responsibility* to cook, so I can do it for fun, when the mood (and budget) strike.

(John, if you're interested in the CI simplified cassoulet recipe, you can get it here, if you sign up for their free 14-day trial membership. I've been tempted to sign up, print recipes like a madwoman and then let the membership expire...)
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