p1: Pistou (Soupe au Pistou)

T20150906_110606he Dish

I was going to save this week for one of my months that I planned to go vegetarian just for fun and exploration purposes, but that’s going to be a whiles away and we seriously have a buttload of basil leaves in our herb pot that just keep growing and needs use! Seriously, by this time I’ve scraped most of them off for this recipe or to dehydrate and the bastard is still going… it’s an herby monster… the mint isn’t much different.

Today we’re talking about Pistou, a name which we often use to signify two things: a pounded paste of basil, garlic, and olive oil (and sometimes other things); and the white bean-vegetable soup that is then flavored with this paste at the very end. And yes, as one can probably figure out even by now, there is much relation between pistou and pesto; the name itself comes from the Provencal dialect meaning ‘pounded,’ much like how pesto got its own name in Italy. The history of pistou can also be found in its Italian origins, the first mentioning of the condiment supposedly being by a Roman Poet named Virgil describing the pounding of certain ingredients into a green paste. In the 1800’s, the Provence people started making it themselves, and that’s about as much history as I was able to find online with a casual search.

The soup itself has been likened to the French version of Minestrone, its two staples being the ever-constant white beans and then a collection of vegetables; whatever kind one wants, though there are some classics which I’ll be looking to focus on. And of course there is also the tradition of including pasta, because why let beans and potatoes (did I mention there’s usually potaoes or some other root veg?) be the only starch? Well I guess that’s what all that garlicy-herb pungency is for, cutting through all that one-note goodness.

A Word On…

41d1a5306a33568b6b5f0d44216931a0Beans: actually, my very classic recipe from Larousse Gastronomique used a combination of white and kidney beans, but really one should never imagine making this soup with anything other than white beans, preferably dry that you’ve soaked overnight. I know canned beans are good, sometimes supposedly even better, but I just can’t shake the preference for doing it all myself; plus it’s probably cheaper anyways.

My last adventure with beans found me using Flageleot, which weren’t the CLASSIC white beans used in Cassoulet but they’re tender and delicious. Here, I actually found a link that did specifically mention them for this soup, which makes sense as it’s a lighter, vegetable-based thing where one would want a more delicate bean that won’t be covered up by tons of heavy meat and fatty flavors.

trofiePasta: probably the biggest reason to compare with minestrone, despite all those beans and starchy turnips or potatoes, most pistou soups still add pasta in there. There doesn’t seem to be a TRADITIONAL style, in effect many recipes state the option to use any small dried pasta good for soups (then again some even say to use basic noodles), heck the Buzzfeed linked one calls for those little ‘stars.’ That said, I think I’ve found the most perfectly classic style for this dish: it’s called ‘trofie,’ a hand-rolled pasta typically made in Liguria and shaped into small, elongated corkscrews. The region itself is in the Northwest region of Italy, hugging Piedmont and as such very close to the area of France known for pistou; the small shape itself makes it great for soup, much like shells and elbow macaroni. But even more convincing is what dish it’s typically used for: Pesto Pasta of course! And tossed with green beans and potatoes along with it, now where does that sound familiar?

T20150904_124947hough, as things are, trofie is practically impossible to find in any typical store; most likely if one wants it they either need to have an Italian friend or make it by hand themselves, and I’m not yet ready to re-visit my painfully horrible pasta-making skills. Fusilli would make a good substitute, though I might break each one in half or something. I myself decided to go with the next-most-suitable pasta for soups, Orzo; I have enough going on as is with the beans, pistou, and vegetables, I would actually like my pasta element to not stand out as well, and the small ‘grains’ that make up orzo pasta are perfect for this.

Pistou: so, what’s the difference between ‘pistou’ and ‘pesto?’ Often some tv shows and other recipes feature the French recipe that seems rather indistinguishable, but there are various versions that show stark personality traits. Firstly, this can be said for all things, there are never any Pine Nuts ground into pistou. Following that, the cheese itself CAN also be Parmesan, but different regions will switch this out for Pecorino or, most notably, a French Gruyere (Nice in particular); for the sake of fun, I’ll be trying out the latter. It is important when doing so, however, one REALLY try to find a good Comte Gruyere or something similar, as hard and dry as possible, close in texture to parmesan so it will hopefully melt and distribute into the paste ‘properly.’ Finally, the French pistou often will grind Tomatoes in as well; it’s not universal, but it seems to be utilized quite frequently, so of course I’m doing that too, just to see the results.

20150906_113601Now, we need to discuss the MAKING of the paste; classically, this is done with a typical Mortar and Pestle, pounded down into a paste like an old medieval alchemist or doctor making their spice mixes. I’ve used these for making curry, and there certainly is an aspect to using these that brings the ingredients together in a wondrous way; but the fact is not everyone has one, or the time/patience to utilize it, so many recipes just throw all the ingredients into a food processor. I myself have both… and they both sort of suck balls. My MnP, a gift, is of a style that… makes no sense, ingredients just fly off the edge so it’s such a bitch trying to pound anything into a paste or powder. And my tiny food processor is great for certain things, but one thing it can’t do is get herbs or garlic or anything down to anything besides a rough mince; after that things just spin around. I tried a couple things to fix this, but nonetheless my following pics of pistou will not look that impressive… it tasted great mind you, just not so perfect.

Oh, forgot to even get to the point I wanted to make. I actually ended up starting with all the ingredients, minus oil, and trying to pound/blend them together; I would actually suggest, like good curry, one attacks this in stages. First, grind the basil and garlic, which are still gonna have that thicker paste result; THEN add the difficult moist and sticky tomato+cheese, which will paste up easily on their own but I think acted as a hindering lubricant to my herb and garlic. Don’t repeat my mistakes.

20150906_104721Vegetables: I’d like to TRY and keep the vegetable additions rather held back, so I’m only using the ones that seem to be rather vital or otherwise almost constantly used and distinct. Initially this means Green Beans and Zucchini, seems to be harder to find a recipe without them! Now, my first time seeing Leeks in a recipe, I figured it was a simple random regional preference, since it wasn’t in my Larousse book. But after seeing at least 75-80% of recipes using them, I figured I should get one to use as the base sauté instead of onions. The final requirement is an actual starch: many recipes use potatoes in here, sometimes with or without the pasta addition, though a scant couple I noticed include Turnip, including the Larousse. After much debating, my goal turned to actually utilize the turnip; with my recent experience seeing it used in the SE dish of Navarin d’Agneau, it’s likely the one that would be most classically used in France. Besides, with the pasta and beans, I’d rather go for the less starchy option, and turnip has that unique texture of veg+toober crossed, figured it’d offer a nice element.

And of course what’s my luck, they were all out of turnips when I went to the store to buy them! Oh well. In that case, I did a combo of a carrot and potato in hopes of getting a similar effect; and they’re both also commonly used in this veggie stuffed soup.

20150905_215922Soupe au Pistou
¾ cup Flageleot or other tender White Bean, Dried
1 Tb Olive Oil
1 Leek
5-6 cups Veggie Stock or Water
4oz Green Beans/Haricots Vert, de-stemmed
1 Carrot
1 Zucchini
1 White or Golden Potato
Tomato Leftovers from Pistou
3oz Orzo Pasta
Salt and Pepper
Pistou for service (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Soak Beans in at least 3X the amount of water for at least 6 hours or overnight20150906_103612
  2. Clean and slice white and light green parts of Leek, tossing it in dutch oven or other soup pot with oil on medium heat, sautéing until softer20150906_103800
  3. Drain beans and add to pot along with Stock/Water, bring to a boil and leave for 5 minutes20150906_104041
  4. Turn heat down to simmer and let cook at least an hour
  5. Cut Green Beans in small chunks and dice remaining vegetables into consistent size20150906_123011
  6. After an hour, add green beans and Carrot, leave to simmer 10-15 minutes20150906_124714
  7. Toss in Zucchini, Potato, and Tomato dice, simmer for another 15 minutes20150906_130023
  8. Finally mix in Orzo, season with Salt and Pepper, and continue simmering for a final 10 minutes
  9. Ladle soup into bowls and dollop in 1-3 spoonfuls of Pistou, as desired, for service while still piping hot20150906_131731
  10. Stir, let briefly cool, and enjoy

Pistou
20150906_1124353-4 Tb sliced Basil
5 Cloves Garlic
¾ cups (about 2oz) Aged Gruyere
1 Roma Tomato, de-seeded and diced
4 Tb Olive Oil

Directions

  1. Place Basil and Garlic in Mortar and Pestle or Food Processer, pound/grind/process until they turn into a paste
  2. Add Gruyere and about half of the Tomato, continuing until it comes together in a wet paste
  3. Slowly add in Olive Oil, mixing between tablespoons, until fully incorporated. Reserve and use as needed/desired20150906_114455

The Verdict

If considering this in the idea of it being the ‘French version of Minestrone,’ then this particular rendition of Pistou is spot on perfect. All the vegetables and beans were tender, soft, the orzo had this delightfully slippery effect, and the combo of beans and gruyere-mixed-pistou created this interesting addition of rich and creamy that I adored, especially with the tomato influence. And of course there’s that noted garlic-basil flavor that just permeates everything and stays subtly clinging to the roof of one’s mouth for a while even after eating. So in that sense, it was great.

B20150906_131815ut it wasn’t the version I myself wanted. I was hoping the pistou would end up a lot more like a classic, green-basil-heavy pesto but with a twist (see pistou picture at top of post), however the amount of cheese and tomatoes in this recipe were really significant. And the soup I was hoping would be lighter and simpler, creating a version that would highlight mainly the beans and pistou, ended up a full bowl of what I previously described. If I made this again, I know what I’m changing to get my preferred stylistic results: first, less tomato and cheese in the pistou, to which I’ll probably also use parmesan instead. Second, less beans and more liquid; I clearly needed much more water to actually thin this out from a chunky stew into an ingredient-filled broth, and have adjusted my recipe above as such. Speaking of which, I’ll also just use WATER instead of veggie stock, so the individual flavors/elements stand out even more (it’s actually a trick I learned when making curry). Out of personal interest, I think my next version will ditch the green beans and, hopefully, I’ll be able to use turnip this time instead of carrot+potato. With luck I’ll have derived a simple soup of beans, zucchini, and pasta, overflowing with the pungently herbal flavors of pestou that we love so much. Maybe I’ll try out some fussili or other pasta too.

20150904_113432Primary Pairing – English Cider

Okay, I’ll admit this one isn’t really a regional pairing, apples don’t even GROW that far south in France. Though one could make the argument that they have Cider in the Basque region of Spain, far north and close to SW France, but that’s still a completely different area than here, and I don’t think it justifies. At the end of the day though, it’s been quite a while since I’ve opened a bottle of cider for one of these pairings, and I just ended up craving one here. A good, chilled glass of only lightly effervescent, medium bodied fermented stone fruit, with a bit of that musky edge as it swishes around the mouth. It certainly capitalizes on the rustic nature of this dish without offering any stand-out disjunction aspects. No overpowering acidity, if there’s any sweetness it’s just slight and might help to offset any saltiness from the cheese, and they’re never too heavy for a dish like this. Since we’re not bound by region, I enjoy the idea of doing an English style cider of some sort, which always has that great focus on rich texture with less carbonation/effervescence, my preferred traits at the moment.

20150906_131627My Bottle: Aspall Imperial Cider

I had some debate over whether I should get this version or the Dry, the latter being about 2% lower in alcohol content, and worried if my choice might have too much body to it for a cider. I can say with certainty now that I didn’t need to worry, its 8.5% alcohol being perfectly medium in alcoholic body, higher for a cider but with a result even alongside typical whites and light red wines, and luckily without any of the added thick body that certain typically viscous English draft ciders can have via accompanying sugar content.

Speaking of which, very glad that it didn’t have any sweetness to it either, as expected of a fully-fermented Imperial beer/cider, as no noted salt character from the cheese made itself presence as I personally wondered if it would. What it did bring was this delightfully farmhouse, light earthy, almost bitter herby aroma (hard to tell what it was exactly, a bit unique but subtle and not in-your-face) quality that ended up mixing brilliantly with the light but lasting flavors of garlic and basil. Overall, delightful, simple/light-ish yet rich and fulfilling in spirit, much like the pistou itself.

Secondary Pairing – Corsican Rose

gazpacho-017With the breadth of pistou being produced between various regions in SE France, far Northern Italy, and some Islands between them, it feels fun to go to one of the areas that connect these two countries: Corsica. Located right off the Mediterranean coast, this French Island has some deeply Italian culinary roots, and is known for really one particular style of wine: Rose. Now, I have no damn clue what Buzzfeed was thinking with their ‘Rose or Red’ suggestion for this; there is absolutely NO reason to drink a red with this, even if one did maybe mix in some prosciutto or something. There’s no meat and nothing else that creates a chew to justify the needed tannins in the accompanying wine; heck, even a rose is pushing it, but the heartiness in various regional dishes here bring it into acceptable play. White or Rose would be the better suggestion, and this warm island should provide some nicely savory, herby pink-tinged glasses that would support this soup greatly with their structure.

p1: Cassoulet

We keep trying to say goodbye to winter this yeenhanced-buzz-2144-1385793782-0ar, but it just keeps coming over and over again. At the least, it gives me one more chance to make a last rich, hearty dish perfectly suited for a cold night indoors, and say one more farewell to this dreaded season of snow and winds.

The Dish

With a name based on the round clay dish it’s baked in, the “cassole,” Cassoulet adds itself very firmly into the long history that preceded and ended up forming the typical Casserole. Much like how we consider our casseroles today, the origins of this French peasant dish, attributed to the Languedoc region to the south (though it has spread from there quite nicely), stick around the idea of people at one time throwing whatever they had into a pot to the cook, usually some beans, sausages, preserved meat, etc. In fact there are many who even equate the ORIGINAL compilation as being during the siege of Castelnaudary in the Hundred Year War, with everything being mixed and eaten out of a giant cauldron, bolstering the soldier’s spirits and bellies to lead to victory! But really that’s just a story.

images8BMWL302In fact, true origin, or inspiration may be the better phrase, lay to Arab traders (or immigrants? Either way they traveled there, the south is right next to many an intercontinental connection) who introduced a stew of Mutton and Fava Beans. Which is interesting to note, that despite its long-held popularity with white haricot-style navy beans (and similar), the French never actually had any of these during the time of this dish’s supposed creation. Instead fava beans, and possibly lentils, were one of the only styles they could actually get their hands on. It wasn’t until Columbus’ journey back from America in the 1800’s that the popular dried white beans were introduced to Europe, spreading to France through Spain (French Queen Catherine de Medici facilitating the particular product) and thus exploding in popularity in both the dish and culture. France now has quite a few delicious white bean species to call their own.

Now, cassoulet is treated with an almost Holy reverence; in fact, the main Three Regions (and thus three main styles) in the Languedoc that make the dish each name their cassoulet after the Holy Trinity. Castelnaudary’s cassoulet is the “Father,” Carcassone’s the “Son,” and Toulouse’s the “Holy Ghost.” Quite a few other variations, some known from the regions that bore them, have popped up since these three, and the southern France is now filled with an army-full of slightly different recipes and methods for this. In fact the idea can, and has, spark quite the heated debate among Frenchmen of different beliefs to their practically-religious stew, lighting the flame of inspiration for many a quote to describe it. 2014-03-27 11.49.28In fact, in 1966 the Etats Generaux de la Gastronomie Francais, in light of all these inner arguments, officially decreed proper Proportions to what constitutes an actual cassoulet! They are: 30% Pork, Mutton, and/or Preserved Goose, and 70% Haricot Beans, Stock, Pork Skin, Herbs and Flavourings (and after reading this I think I’m technically off in some proportions, but mine tasted damn good so there!). It still leaves quite some room for personal interpretation, so the fun in creating that dish to warm your own heart, soul and stomach lives on… hopefully with less people hitting each other with a chair.

A Word On…

“What it is”:As somewhat stated in the opening, there are quite a few different kinds, and following that just as many different way of composing the dish. I’ll discuss the meat selection in a dish later, but figuring out how one wants to put everything together can be a daunting task. Final, little decisions are up to the cook, since the end dish will still end up reminiscent of some random region’s “style” of cassoulet anyways I’m sure, so here are the main things to remember.

Despite all the many tiny details in putting together this dish, at the end of the day cassoulet is a very simple thing. It’s Dry White Beans, cooked and mixed with Pork (or Mutton) Stew, baked in a Casserole dish with other meats and a crispy Breadcrumb topping. The beans can be cooked separately or with the Stew; traditionally with, which is what I do just to get all those flavors mixed around and all that good stuff. Finally, much like the Coq au Vin it’s always best to extend the making of it out by a day or so, letting the stewed flavors marry together.

If there’s anything in this whole post that you should pay attention to, I think that’s basically it. It can be big and confusing and overly complicated at times, and I know my writing style doesn’t help with this, but sometimes we just have to step back, take a deep breath, and look at a dish in its most basic, simple components. Good Luck.

Oh, one last thing. When it comes to things like duck confit and sausage, I’ve seen some recipes that layer them with the beans in the cassoulet, whole or sliced, while others just mix it in roughly. I say do what feels best for yourself in that regard, it’s all good.

C2014-03-30 14.30.42ooking Fat:Oh, fat is a VERY important part of this meal, and what you use to cook and sear things ever much so. One needs to sear all the meats in the stew, the sausage, sprinkle it over the breadcrumbs, etc. Butter and oil will only get you so far; if you really wanna keep this rich and traditional, I say make sure you have a lot of reserved, rendered animal fat, like of the Pork variety. I just used all the Duck Confit Fat I had leftover.

Garlic:A southern France dish, garlic is another very important ingredient in the cooking process. This can be added in multiple ways, easiest being to just sauté it with the other veggies, roast and top, blend in raw, etc. I liked this one recipe I found where they cook the whole heads IN the stew, removed and squeezed out (they get so soft), blended with raw garlic and then re-added before baking.

CAM00032Beans:Though the origin lay in the giant favas, White beans are the name of the game, and the French white bean to try and imitate is known as “Tarbais.” I have no clue where to find it, but I was able to pick up a different French white(ish) bean at whole foods on my shopping trip called “Flageolet.” Known as the “caviar of beans,” I’m not sure if cassoulet is the best dish to bring out their innate qualities, but they have a great creaminess, good texture, and are small! Which is a nice factor to have in this big hot mess of baked meat and starch.

Though of course, Navy Beans work just as great a substitute, along with Cannelini and other white beans. Just make sure you’re using Dried pods, unless you need to make a very quick, one-day version of this recipe, then you’ll need canned/precooked versions. Otherwise, you need at least 2 days to soak and cook the beans PROPERLY; lotsa issues with the dried stuff.

Meat: When initially starting this adventure into cassoulet, I thought forming/deciding on a recipe would be relatively simple; boy was I wrong. Not only is the options for protein inclusions long, but at times it can be quite indecisive recipe to recipe; it became very difficult figuring out what was “necessary” and what was an additional thrill. Just looking at the Holy Trinity alone (as mentioned above) shakes up the field one is trying so hard to narrow down: the Father contains pork loin and ham along with the sausage, with only a bit of goose; t2014-03-27 11.54.35he Son sticks purely to a leg of Mutton and maybe some partridge; and the Ghost uses everything in Father’s, adding in Lard, Mutton, and Duck/Goose. It was enough to make me lose faith that I’d ever make anything decent.

After much thought though, and reading up in my Larousse Gastronomique, I think I’ve come to figure out a tiered system to follow when trying to make as authentic a cassoulet as one can.

ABSOLUTE Requirements:

Shoulder of Pork and/or Mutton

Pork Skin/Rind

Sausage (pork)

Almost Absolute, or Strongly Considered options:

Duck/Goose Confit

Ham HocksSAMSUNG

Pancetta

Personal/Fun additions, Unrequired:
Pork Leg                                             
Ham                                     
Other Poultry Meat
Salt Pork or Fresh Lard                  
Pork Loin                            
Pork Belly
Prosciutto                                          
Etc

I always make sure to get my cooking pancetta cut nice and thick!

I always make sure to get my cooking pancetta cut nice and thick!

My decisions here are mainly based off the fact that you NEED to make a stew, thus needing pork shoulder (or mutton if following other regional styles). Pork skin has been deemed required of ALL cassoulets, as mentioned earlier in the 1966 decree. Sausage is very strongly traditional, whereas the Duck Confit is indeed regionally traditional but not used as fundamentally. Ham Hocks seem to make their way into a lot of recipes I’ve found, and are always a great addition in any soup or stew. Finally, though not discussed in any article I’ve found yet, it seems the addition of SOME form of Cured Pork is also quite popular, about at the same level as the Ham Hocks. Pancetta is seen in more recipes to fill that role, and I like the fat content it has and simpleness in comparison to Prosciutto.

Sausage:Definitely one of the required proteins, the traditional sausage used is from and called “Toulouse,” so if you have any butcher that makes Toulouse-style sausage then you’re good. If not, then no problem, luckily for us it’s a VERY easy sausage to find a substitute for. It’s basically just an all-pork sausage (continuing the piggy theme) that uses a lot of garlic as its spice/flavoring. So just try to find a garlic-pork brat or something (though I found that not as easy to find a quality version, had to visit 3 stores to get a tasty, coarsely-stuffed Ukranian) and you should be good.2 - Fruitpig Toulouse - Uncooked

Cracking:There’s a particular practice in the baking of this thick, crusty casserole that emphasize its wonderful top, so-called “Cracking the Crust.” The idea is simple, yet brilliant and wonderful. As the dish bakes, and the breadcrumby-top browns and gets crunchy, one takes a spoon (or other utensil) and smacks this against the surface, breaking the layer that’s starting to form. This is pushed down into the dish, the newly broken top is sprinkled with more duck fat (maybe more breadcrumbs) and left to bake another crust. This is broken again, and the process repeats, as many times as one wants. Very classic, traditional French recipes are said to do this at least 7 times; I find if one wants to use this practice then at least 3-4 times makes a good result. Not sure how many times I ended up doing it, properly at least, but it made a yummy looking, crunchy top.

The Dish:The whole recipe is named after a casserole dish, one should make sure they have a good dish. From what I remember, the “ideal” dish is something that is VERY wide, not actually that deep, so as to get the maximum crust to filling ratio. Though really any good ceramic or clay casserole dish would work.

The real thing I wanted to mention was just to not do what I did, and fill it all the way to the top, that baby WILL bubble over while it cooked (you’ll see what I mean in some pictures). Keep at least half an inch of space for safety.

Gotta strain that confit fat as it warms up, lotsa little meat and cooked bitties still floating around in there.

Gotta strain that confit fat as it warms up, lotsa little meat and cooked bitties still floating around in there.

Cassoulet
1 lb dried Flageolet Beans
6 oz Pork Skin
Salt and Pepper
Duck Fat (lots of it)
1-2 Ham Hocks (unsmoked)
1 lb Pork Shoulder, cubed
1-2 oz thick-slice Pancetta, cubed
1 large or 2 small Heads of Garlic, whole
1 small Onion, large dice
2 Carrots, large dice
2 Bay Leaves
1 small can (6-8oz?) Whole Peeled Tomato, good quality
1 cup Red Wine
4 cups Dark Poultry Stock
½ a Duck’s worth Confit Meat (or two whole legs and thighs)
1 large or 2 medium-sized Garlic Pork Sausage + 5-8 cloves
¾-1 cup Breadcrumbs (home-made preferably)A Word On…

A Word On…

Directions – Day 12014-03-27 11.53.46

  1. Place Skin in large pot, covering with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer for half an hour, or until “tender”  and bends easy.2014-03-27 12.17.44
  2. Remove, letting cool briefly on the cutting board, reserving some of the cooking liquid in the fridge.
  3. Slice into large ribbons, carefully roll up into tight bundles, and tie with string (Note, should really make sure it’s not the colored, “wax” based ones… not good later on). Reserve.2014-03-27 13.19.49
  4. Take the chilled, reserved skin-water and cover the dried Beans by a couple inches (they will expand). Place in fridge overnight.2014-03-27 22.39.20
  5. Combine Ham Hocks and Pork Shoulder in bowl, tossing in a generous coating of salt and pepper. Cover and move to fridge overnight.2014-03-27 12.01.40

Directions – Day 2

  1. Heat up large Dutch Oven or similar pot to a medium-high temperature, tossing a nicely even layer of Duck Fat to coat the bottom.2014-03-28 13.34.42
  2. Pat Ham Hocks and Pork Shoulder dry. Lay in the Ham Hock/s and as many of the skin bundles as you can fit into the hot oil.2014-03-28 13.43.34
  3. Sear hocks on each side for 1-2 minutes, turning when browned. Roll the skin around occasionally to lightly crisp the edges and color the flat side. Remove both from pan.2014-03-28 13.59.37
  4. Lay the dried Shoulder into the pan, in batches if needed, touching and turning only once the side is browned. Remove once meat is well caramelized, about 5 minutes of cooking at most.2014-03-28 14.02.51
  5. Toss in chopped Pancetta, stirring around in the hot fat until golden (will not take long).2014-03-28 14.09.20
  6. Add in Onions, Carrots, Garlic Heads, and Bay Leaves, coating in fat and stirring every so often until edges are lightly caramelized.2014-03-28 13.32.42
  7. Remove Tomatoes from can, squeezing out as much of the juices as you can (reserve, don’t throw away). Crush in fingers and throw in with the veggies, cooking about 1-2 minutes.2014-03-28 14.10.48
  8. Deglaze pan with Wine, reducing the liquid by half.2014-03-28 14.15.18
  9. Re-add the removed meat and cover with tomato juice and 2 cups of Stock. Cover pan, bring to a simmer, and cook at least 1 ½ hours, or until “tender” (well, getting tender, don’t think it really matters).2014-03-28 14.22.47
  10. Drain and rinse the Beans thoroughly, adding them to a pot of boiling water. Simmer 2-3 minutes, drain and rinse once again.2014-03-28 13.32.56
  11. Add beans to simmering pot, cooking for 2-3 hours or until tender and cooked through.2014-03-28 17.24.52
  12. Remove from heat, let cool on counter and move to fridge (or other similarly cold area, bit pot…) to sit overnight.

Directions – Day 3

  1. Remove Hock, Shoulder meat, Skin, and Garlic Heads from the cold stew.2014-03-29 13.48.20
  2. Peel skin and meat from hocks, reserving skin on the side and Chopping/Shredding the meat along with the shoulder.
  3. Unroll and clean the skins (including the hock), slicing into flat rectangles. Transfer to line the bottom of a large, wide casserole dish, which you would have brushed with duck fat, covering the bottom and partway up the sides. (Sorry, I thought I got a picture of this but… guess I didn’t).2014-03-29 14.08.07
  4. Finely chop any skin leftover, mixing them back into the stew with the other chopped meat.
  5. Add another cup or so of Stock to the beans and meat, moving it back on the heat and bringing to a simmer.
  6. While this heats up, squeeze out the soft, cooked garlic pulp into a (mini) food processor. Add in the raw garlic and puree until smooth.
  7. Fold this into the stew, let simmer about 15 minutes.2014-03-29 14.03.51
  8. Ladle some of the hot mixture halfway up the casserole dish (or, halfway to how much you want to fill it).2014-03-29 14.08.03
  9. Reheat the Duck Confit: roast in baking dish at 375-400F. Once excess fat has melted off and starts sizzling, remove from oven.2014-03-29 14.33.11
  10. Pour melted fat into large sauté pan heated to medium, use to cook your Pork Sausage through (time will depend on size, I suggest covering pan).2014-03-29 14.33.05
  11. Remove skin from duck and pull meat from bones, shredding the larger pieces. Layer this evenly on top of the stew in the casserole, and cover in the other half of the mixture.
  12. Let cooked sausage rest on cutting board, slice on a bias, and arrange on top of casserole.2014-03-29 14.47.11
  13. Gently spread a final thin layer of remaining meat and beans over the sausage. From here, either move to finish the dish or cover and transfer fridge, reserving for the next day.

Directions – Finishing (possible Day 4)

  1. If having spent night in the fridge, remove in the morning, letting it naturally warm to room temperature.
  2. Heat oven to 350F.2014-03-30 14.36.25
  3. Sprinkle a thin, even layer of Breadcrumbs over the top, carefully pouring some of the duck fat over them.
  4. Move into oven at least 2 hours before service.
  5. Check ever 15-20 minutes; when the top is browned and starting to crust, push it down with a spoon, dragging in any really caramelized and crispy bits that may form on the edge of the dish.2014-03-30 16.42.26
  6. Sprinkle on a bit more breadcrumbs and duck fat to re-fill in the spaces, close the oven and repeat at least 3-4 more times, until satisfied. I suggest a total of 3 hours cooking to yield the perfect evenly browned, deeply colored top.2014-03-30 18.09.04
  7. Remove from oven, let rest 5-10 minutes and serve, scooping carefully to get every layer of sausage, confit, skin, and stew.
  8. Enjoy the result of your long efforts.

The Verdict

I have been wanting to make this guy ever since I started planning the Duck Confit itself, but the multi-day prep kept me needing a certain kind of work schedule for the week, things kept coming up, and a recipe I had hoped to make one or two weeks after the maillard got pushed back over a month. And let me say, it was worth the wait.2014-03-30 18.40.18

It wasn’t quite as intense and overpowering in the fat and richness department as I actually thought it’d be, which I certainly don’t mind. Instead the flavor filled and flowed through the palette, a gently powerful warmth and fullness perfectly characteristic of any proper, winter-derived casserole. The beans were soft and creamy, banishing any negative memory I’ve had of legumes forever, replacing with the delicious perfection of white haricot heaven.

Soft meats, chewy sausage, rich chunks of pork skin and confit round the mouthfeel up, bolstered by a thickly crunchy top and spicy garlic undertone. All of it combining into a deeply satisfying mouthful to get you through any part of the cold months.

Primary Pairing – Cahors

2014-03-30 18.39.22Despite its oft tendencies for concentrated, super-dark wine, Malbec rarely has that much going for it in the tannin and, often, acid and body content. Which makes the hot, hot Southwestern region of Cahors PERFECT to eat with this area dish. Did you know that Malbec was originally a French grape, and only travelled to Chile and Argentina due to certain immigrants? It wasn’t that well liked by the growers though, so when they found their chance to get rid of it (via vineyard replanting after a bad freeze), they took it, with the vine being decimated in numbers. Cahors, though, still sticks to using their regional grape, pressing and fermenting it out into the inky, higher alcohol glass-fillers, sometimes even adding a bit of the supper-tannic and fellow inky grape Tannat.

And this dish needs a good amount of body and richness to stand up with the strong, meaty and beany stewed flavors, but the only actual texture to be found is from the slightly chewy sausage. So though tannin is much requested, we don’t want a lot, which is where the Malbec comes into its element, pairing amazingly with these oddly disjointed requirements.

If you can’t find a Cahors, Madiran would be my second main pick; it’s close and just as dark, using pure tannat grapes. Other southwestern regions could offer some greatly suitable options, but it’s harder to find anything besides those two. Bordeaux wines would serve an easier to find and similarly good pairing, preferably the darker varieties from the Left Bank; though the Right Bank St. Emilion and similar would offer a nicely refreshing, slightly acidic possibility to cut through the dish quite deliciously. Finally, South American Malbec is generally NOT a good substitute, unless it’s a good quality, concentrated and oak aged version.

My Bottle:2009 Château Eugénie Cahors (Cuvee Reservée de l’Aïeul)

There wasn’t all that much to this particular bottle, but it suited its purpose just fine. A bit of tart perfume on the nose and some plummy cassis in the mouth and that was it; the delight in this guy stuck, as many French wines do, in how it filled the mouth. And fill it did, along with a good mouthful of cassoulet, the two standing poignantly side by side, neither of them standing down or messing with the other, simply letting me enjoy the flavors and components of each without issue. Let me just say that the bottle didn’t last long past dinner in our house.

Secondary Pairing – Dopplebock

Something about the absolute rustic-ness, soft meat-heavy and browned stew of this just makes me crave a nice foamy glass of beer. After another consultation with my beer friend, she made the perfect suggestion of picking a Dopplebock, which was soon followed by my own reaction of “Of Course! Makes so much sense!” At least I was close, my tastebuds craving something on the darker, hoppy amber-malty side.

For those who don’t know what a dopplebock is, it’s basically a beer made with Lager Yeast, generally used for those really light, pale, fresher styled fermented items. Unlike other lagers, such as pilsner or certain wheat beers, Dopplebocks use MUCH darker roasted malts(barley), resulting in a drink of amber to dark brown complexion. This thus ends up as a very malty, nicely caramelized and sorta rich flavor, much more so than lighter lagers (or the simple “Bock”), which retains a certain freshness and cleanness in its character from the delicate lager yeast and fermentation process (which is cool, slow and gentle). With the hop level being at a low-ish strength, one has a very refreshing drink with a scrumptious texture and body, perfect to match the cassoulet’s chew much like the Cahors Tannin, with the light hops and distinctive clean character standing up to through the fat and flavor.

2014-03-30 18.39.57Coincidentally lucky for me, I actually still had a couple bottles of my homemade doppelbock in the fridge! So I was able to enjoy a glass of wine and beer with this delicious dish, and they both behaved very nice and similarly. I’ll admit it wasn’t the best quality dopplebock vs what one could find in a store, but all of its flavor and technical notes held and shone through in the mouth without detracting from the food. Put simply, both beer and cassoulet could be tasted at the same time without any aspect being destroyed or lowered in quality; a perfect pairing.

Other beer substitutes, if one can’t find a decent dopple or want to try other things, would probably be a good, darker colored Rye beer, maybe one of the Belgian Trappist Ales, or Porters.

Honorable Mention for your Consideration– Young Red Banyuls, Maury, and other VDN

mauryOr “Vin doux Naturels,” are Fortified Sweet Wines made in the same or similar technique as Port, and are a specialty of many regions in Southern France, especially those found in Roussillon (next to Languedoc). The frontrunner in known popularity is Banyuls, though others such as Maury, Muscat Beaumes de Venise (in Rhone), etc can make options that are just as good. Besides the sweet, orange colored Muscat wines, most of these (again like Port) are made with red grapes, almost exclusively Grenache, yielding liquid that’s dark, fruity and tannic in youth ageing to deeply brown, smooth amber elixers when aged (at the winery, not at your house, won’t happen sorry).

Of course, these are all Dessert wines, something one would never usually consider along with anything but a sweet treat at the end of the meal, or as a digestif to sip and contemplate on a lonely night in front of the fireplace. Used correctly, however, I think these are wines that could do beautifully with certain savory dishes, of which I think Cassoulet stands out as a strong contender, considering certain requirements are met. The well aged, rancio white and dark brown versions are of course out of the picture, but the dark young reds still have great potential. Same with the Vintage Ports, they possess a richness in body and chewy tannins that, on their own, go amazing with any rich and heavy foods. A strong enough acid base is required in these wines to stand up to the sugar content, and this can cut through the fatty skin and stew meat with little to no problem.

When we deal with Sweetness in wine, it’s usually contended by pairing with similarly just-as-sweet dishes so the wine doesn’t overpower and disrupt its non-sweet flavors (somewhat complex process, don’t even know the specifics myself haha). On the other hand, we can ALSO use sweetness to cut through certain kinds of senses; in particular, it’s used quite successfully with Spicy and Salty foods. When done a certain way, with the confit and sausage and seasoned beans and etc, cassoulet can naturally have a strong Salt backbone to it (not like “oh my god so much salt” of course, but in the sense of bacon and cured items have on their own). Thus, I believe it can stand up to these hot, dusty sweet wines from one of its home regions, and make a very unique and beautiful pairing. I could talk more about what kinds of flavors and aromas one could get from these Grenache-centric fortified bombs and how it’d go with cassoulet, but I’ve already written enough s#$& as it is.

My main suggestion, particularly for the everyday shopper, is to try and find a Maury wine; they’re the same style as Banyuls, though usually seen at lower quality (definitely more Rustic) and often offer a better deal price wise. The Maury region also has a dry style, “Maury Sec” AOC, and Banyuls has a separate dry AOC called Colliures, so one could also get a powerful dry wine from either region if they don’t want something sweet.