January 15, 2011

Daring Cooks’ Challenge: Cassoulet

I am a huge proponent of all things comforting. From cozying up with a good book on a rainy day to sipping a frothy cappuccino while surfing Facebook, I love the warm, fuzzy feeling of contentment that goes hand in hand with my favorite things.

I also like Snuggies.

In fact, I’m draped in a huge, purple, LSU-patterned Snuggie as we speak. It’s pretty fantastic. I wasn’t sure that it would be, but it is pretty fantastic.

You know what else is unexpectedly fantastic? Cassoulet.

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.

I had my doubts about this dish as its varying aromas wafted through my house over the course of its three-day journey to my tummy. Since I chose to use a garlic confit* rather than the regular duck version, the first day presented me with the distinct presence of everything pungent and garlicky. After peeling nearly fifty cloves of the stuff, my kitchen smelled like garlic, my cutting board smelled like garlic, and my hands smelled like garlic. By the time the confit was baked and chilled, I wasn’t entirely feeling the love.

*If you’re like me at the beginning of this challenge (i.e., completely unaware of what confit really is) allow me to explain. Simply put, confit is a manner of preserving food by cooking it in fat and storing it covered in that fat. I’m not entirely sure how long it lasted in the days of old, but nowadays it just hangs out in the fridge for a few days until you toss it in a pot of Cassoulet.

The next day brought the bulk of the work involved with this intensive dish. Preparing the Cassoulet for the oven consisted of first boiling the beans, bacon, and pork butt (adapted from beans, pork rind, and pork belly in this case) for about an hour. Once I completed that round, I cooked the sausage and then sautéed some onion and garlic in the remaining fat, having forgotten to toss in the bacon from the bean mixture along with them. The whole mixture had almost another three hours to party in the oven, so I figured it would still turn out just fine.

Once all of the pieces were ready, everything got layered in a casserole dish and baked for a couple hours. Then it chilled in the fridge overnight and baked for another hour or so the next day. Phew!

Throughout the process of making this Cassoulet, the smells emitting from the oven left me vaguely uneasy. On one hand, it smelled slightly good, yet slightly odd—kinda like French Chinese food. Interesting? Yes. Delicious? Not necessarily.

However, the second I tried a taste of the finished product, all my worries instantly disappeared as everything melted together in the perfect mild, savory bite. The beans were buttery soft and blended seamlessly with the roasted garlic cloves and other seasonings, all of it punctuated with yummy bits of sausage, bacon, and pork chunks. It’s such a unique taste that I can hardly describe it—it’s like learning about a completely new flavor. While this dish was clearly labor-intensive and hardly diet-friendly, it definitely has made my list of comfort foods and favorite things…even if it involved consuming entire cloves of garlic. As long as I keep my distance from those around me, it’s a delightful treat for one and all!

For all the Cassoulet info, hop on over to the Daring Kitchen.

14 comments:

  1. Oh delicious! Those are beautiful drool-worthy pictures. I will try making the garlic confit next time. Excellent job!

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  2. OH,I love that you loved how it turned out after your initial trepidation! It looks delicious, so creamy, and your photos really bring that out :) Thank you so much for taking part in our cassoulet challenge!

    OOps. forgot - to rid the smell of garlic from your hands, rub them around and against anything stainless steel under running water. Works every single time!

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  3. Your cassoulet looks great - and I love the fabric in the background! Super cute!

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  4. It is great that the final dish tasty so delicious and the photographs are wonderful. I love the colour and tenderness of the various meats.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

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  5. Now that is a cassoulet! Mm, the sauce looks rich and thick and delicious & that sausage looks fab. Just reading your description, you've inspired me to have another go. :)

    I bet your house smelled amazing with all that garlic, though I can see why you might have been a bit sick of it. 50 cloves? Woah. (That's a handy tip from Lisa about the stainless steel. I must try it!)

    Doh, I JUST noticed your tablecloth. It's so cute!

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  6. Well done on a great result!

    Sorry about the garlic fingers, but it's not really the worst thing that can happen in the kitchen, right?

    Stay JOLLY!
    D&S

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  7. @chef_d: Thank you! It's a bit of work, but I would recommend giving the garlic confit a try! All the roasting gives it a surprisingly mild flavor.

    @Lisa: I was so pleasantly surprised! You guys hosted a great challenge!

    Oh, and thanks for the tip about stainless steel! I've never heard of that!

    @blepharisma: Thanks!

    @Audax: Thank you!

    @Suzler: hehehe It was funny, since my house smelled so much of garlic at the beginning, but by the end it had completely transformed into cassoulet-y goodness.

    That tablecloth is actually an apron! With little black bows and ribbon. :D

    @David and Stacy: Thanks! You're right, garlic fingers aren't so bad. I think it must come with the territory. :D

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  8. Koci-your cassoulet looks absolutely divine, and yummy!
    It's a labor of love, time consuming, but so well worth it in the finished product!
    A good way to get rid of garlic smell from your fingers, is to just rub a cut half of a lemon, and after that, just pop it in your dishwasher for discinfecting your dishes, in the wash cycle!

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  9. I must aggree with your previous commentors, Koci, that cassoulet looks like it has very complex and delicately combined flavors. I also rather like your selection of apron backgrounds, so cute!

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  10. Ah cassoulet! The Snuggie for tummies! I love this dish and I think you must have some french ancestory that you have produced such an authentic version. Vive la cassoulet!

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  11. Wow! This looks excellent. And yes, thanks for the explanation on confit. There is still so much with cooking that I need to learn!
    I have yet to purchase a snuggie but I have thought about it quite a bit.

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  12. Koci, this looks straight up dreamy. Three days and 50 cloves of garlic?? Phew! The outcome looks like it was well worth it :)

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  13. This looks like marvelous winter food that my brood would enjoy - and since one of them usually assists me in preparing our menus, the use of word "pork butt" will afford me some amusement. Having married a Creole, the use of beans is kind of reminiscent of red beans and rice which is still traditionally cooked in New Orleans on Mondays.

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  14. Yay for Snuggies!! My hubby always makes fun of me, then I laugh at him as he shivers...And this cassoulet (one of my all time favorite dishes) look ah-ma-zing! I like the swap of garlic confit; it's different and I bet tasted great!

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