We FINALLY did it. Kelly and I have been talking for years about making a proper cassoulet, and this past weekend our "someday" became reality! Why so long? Cassoulet is a bit intimidating... a traditional French dish, that while a comfort food, takes literally days of preparation. Also, there are lots of different recipes for cassoulet... as stated in Kelly's post about it: "it is not a recipe in France. It is a way to argue between villages." So picking a recipe is challenging. Kelly did most of the work on this, honestly... she researched a bunch of recipes and came up with a hybrid to make it "our own." Check out her excellent post on the final result. Basically, making cassoulet is like putting together a puzzle... beans, sausage, cured pork, duck confit, seasonings...
|The cassoulet puzzle pieces.|
Photo courtesy of Corey Woodruff.
My main role in this puzzle was making the duck confit. While you can certainly buy duck confit, this has been on my list of things to make forever, and if we were going to wait this long to make cassoulet it had to have as much from-scratch as possible. This paid off big time. Our cassoulet was rich, meaty, flavorful, perfectly cooked... so effing good. The effort showed, and was worth it times 10.
Making duck confit is arduous in the same sense that making cassoulet is... the difficult parts are finding the ingredients and planning ahead. Actually cooking it is almost effortless. In my research I figured out a couple of things: 1. buying duck fat is expensive, 2. buying individual duck legs is impossible in St. Louis grocery stores, 3. you can confit with olive oil! Number 3 was my favorite revelation... both Micheal Ruhlman and local St. Louis chef Cassy Vires use olive oil to make duck confit. This was a huge relief, as I have the utmost respect for both of them, and their recipes have worked well for me in the past. (see my posts about meeting Ruhlman and making Cassy's "cheat" turducken.)
|Picking the duck confit meat off the bones. It's great for your skin! :)|
Photo courtesy of Corey Woodruff
With the Olive Oil Salvation, I now only had one obstacle: I could only readily get whole duck. I would have to butcher the duck to get the pieces I could use for confit. I have some experience with cutting up birds (I even DEBONED them for a monster turducken once!), so I just went for it. Don't be intimidated, you guys. You basically just use the bones as guides for where to cut. And guess what? the confit is getting shredded later, so even if you do "butcher" the butchering... it's all good. Breathe deep and start cuttin'. I cut the legs off, including as much of the thigh meat I could, and also cut out the breast meat. This gave me 4 nice-size pieces of meat for the confit, and a whole carcass for making a huge pot of rich duck stock. No waste, all taste!
|The cassoulet getting layered.|
Photo courtesy of Corey Woodruff
Olive Oil Duck Confit
-2 duck breasts
-2 duck leg/thigh portions
-6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
-1 teaspoon dried thyme
-2 Tablespoons salt
-2 shallots, sliced
-5 sprigs fresh thyme
-about 4 cups olive oil
Rub the duck pieces with the garlic, dried thyme and salt. Let sit overnight, up to 2 days.
Rinse the duck off, reserving the garlic cloves. Pat dry and place in a dutch oven with the garlic, shallots and fresh thyme. Cover completely with olive oil. Place in a 225ºF oven and let cook about 3 hours, checking occasionally to make sure the oil is not bubbling and is still covering the meat completely.
Remove from oven and let cool a bit. Remove the duck pieces and strain the oil. Store the duck and the oil together, for up to a month. Use meat in cassoulet, rillettes, whatever your heart desires.
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