Saturday, March 22, 2014

7 Years of The Essential Rhubarb Pie (Now With Cassoulet)

I have to start this blog by wishing The Essential Rhubarb Pie a happy birthday.  It has been exactly 7 years since my first post.  I can't believe I have been around this long.  I do love having this blog.  I love having a recipe archive of my ideas.  I love being able to review publicly my food experiences. Most of all, I love the friends I have made in the food blogging world.

There is a new term out there in the food world these days.  It’s called “food gentrification”.  It relates to the fact that once a food that was once the territory of the lower socioeconomic classes becomes trendy, it becomes expensive and soon only those higher on the socioeconomic ladder can afford it.  Think of food like short ribs, quinoa, kale, and most recently collard greens.  Prices for these items has skyrocketed due to demand from privileged foodies.  

I don’t think food gentrification is anything new.  Dishes that were considered “peasant food” in other countries are seen as exotic and high-end by American foodies.  What does an American pay for osso bucco at an Italian restaurant?  How about coq au vin?  What a European peasant might have seen as an economic, one-pot meal designed to make the most of tough meats and a lack of time to spend fussing over the stove, has become haute cuisine for contemporary Americans.  Who is home for hours at a stretch to cook a stew or a pot of dried beans?  What if you can’t afford a slow cooker?

I didn’t mean for this post to sound too political, but I couldn’t help thinking of these things as I made my very first cassoulet this weekend.  Somewhere in a farmhouse in the French countryside, a farmer’s wife throws her homegrown beans in a pot, she stews some tough cuts of pork in a bottle of plonk from a neighboring vineyard, and she throws in some duck confit that she made herself from the ducks in her backyard pond.  Maybe I’m romanticizing it a bit, but the idea is that a cassoulet was once a dish made from foods that were readily available, chosen for their flavor, and not meant to be expensive. 

Since I started experimenting with cooking my own beans last year I have wanted to try my hand at cassoulet.  I began compiling recipes and ideas for how I could make it myself. 

Making cassoulet is no simple feat for a suburban dwelling, full-time-employed American.  It is no cheap feat either.  One issue I bump up against is the ever-present duck confit.  That is not an easy ingredient to find.  None of the stores near my house carry it.  There are two sources in the city where I can buy it.  One sells it for $8 a leg and another sells it for $13 a leg.  The cheaper of the two stores tends to run out.  As luck would have it, the cheaper store had only one left, so I had to buy the other three at the more expensive store.  That's another factor that gentrifies cuisine.  I have been told that even though plenty of French home cooks don't regularly make their own duck confit, it's easily and cheaply available in all markets.  Also, to make the dish feel more authentic, I used imported cannellini beans.  I made the pork stew with loin because it's hard to get small amounts of shoulder unless you have access to a butcher willing to cut up just a pound of shoulder for you.  

With all that in mind, I started on.  I cooked my beans with herbs and fatback.  I stewed pork loin in wine, chicken stock, tomatoes, and garlic.  I browned some hot turkey sausages and threw them in the pot with duck confit legs, pork stew, and the beans.  That went into the oven for two hours before I covered it with buttery breadcrumbs and put it in another five minutes.  

I didn't cook everything in one pot.  I used a stock pot for my beans, a sauté pan for my pork, and put everything together in my Romertopf clay pot.  Not very French, but it worked for me.

My duck fell off the bones while I was serving and so I have that unattractive bone sitting in the pot for this photo.  

I thought my cassoulet was a bit dry.  At least it wasn't soupy.  

(dis)Ordered Cassoulet

For Beans

  • 1 pound cannellini or other white beans
  • 7 cups of water
  • 3" piece of fat back
  • Several sprigs of thyme and rosemary
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

Carefully sort through beans for unwanted debris.  Soak beans in water overnight.  Drain and add 7 cups of fresh water, onion, garlic, herbs, and fat back.  Bring pot to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook about an hour or until beans are tender.  Remove the onion, garlic, and fatback.  Remove the stems of the herb sprigs.

For pork stew

  • 2 Tbl duck fat or olive oil
  • 2 oz. pancetta, cut into small pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs of celery, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds pork loin (or shoulder) cut into chunks
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups of chicken broth

Heat the fat or the oil in a large pan.  Add the pancetta and cook until crisp.  Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the carrots and celery and cook until they take on some color.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.  Remove from pan and cook the pork chunks until they are browned on the outside.  Add the vegetables back to the pan with the wine, tomatoes, and chicken broth.  Simmer for about an hour.

For final assembly

  • 4 duck confit legs
  • 4-6 turkey (or preferred meat) spicy sausage
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbl butter

Brown the sausage on all sides.  Gently heat the confit legs.  Place about a third of the beans at the bottom of a casserole, dutch oven, or clay pot.  Place the legs on top.  Place another third of the beans on top and pour the pork stew over it.  Place another third of the beans on top and nestle in the sausages.

If you aren't using a terra cotta pot, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  If you are using a terra-cotta pot, soak it in water, put it in a cold oven and bring the temperature to 350 degrees.

Cook for about two hours.  While it is cooking, heat the butter in a pan and add the breadcrumbs.  Cook until crispy and buttery.  Cover the top of the cassoulet with the breadcrumbs and cook and additional 15 minutes.


bellini said...

I found a macaroni and cheese casserole at a local restaurant for an inflated price recently even if if did have exotic cheeses in the mix. I have never tried a cassoulet but have made a similar dish with lamb shanks. I will just drool over your efforts.

Katie Zeller said...

Congratulations on your 7 years! You're right about the duck confit - it's cheap here - about 9 dollars for a tin with 4 - 5 leg/thighs in it. I always have a tin on hand for 'emergencies' Your cassoulet looks lovely - interesting with the pork stew.

The Duo Dishes said...

Congrats on your 7th year of blogging! That's an amazing feat. Can you believe time flies? It's also interesting to think about how many dishes you may have made in this time, and how many you still have to try!

Blond Duck said...

Aww. I've never tried. Cassolets scare me. Congrats on your 7 years!

Sue said...

OMG, I've been such a irregular blogger and commenter lately that I forgot to wish you Happy Blogiversary. HB!!! AND I forgot my own. Is it the 7 year itch maybe?...

This dish sounds and looks amazing. The tracking down of the confit is a pain, though. I can’t remember if you’re a fan of slow cookers. (I don’t have one, but people swear by them.) So why couldn’t you buy some duck legs, rub them with salt and garlic, refrigerate them for a day, cook them in duck fat in a slow cooker and call it confit? Without a slow cooker, it IS much more of a bore to cook the legs. And I love that you bought imported beans, just to get in the mood. Anyhoo, great recipe.

Emily said...

I admire you for making a cassoulet. I don't have the patience for it! It looks and sounds delicious! Happy 7 year blogiversary, woman! Can you believe you've been blogging 7 years? That's crazy~