Here is what I had hoped to create this week: an easy cassoulet I found in the big yellow Gourmet cookbook. The hearty classic was going to be a perfect Sunday supper. About halfway into the cooking process however, I was forced to veer off course – an ordering snafu by the butcher had led me to do some quick recipe adjusting. Let me start at the beginning of my cassoulet quest and you’ll see how the deconstructed cassoulet came to be…
SATURDAY AM: After calling around to various markets I found a butcher who could order me the duck leg confit I’d need for the cassoulet. It’d be in by 10AM so I caffeinated up and headed to the market to pick up my supplies. As he handed over the package of what looked like 6 confit’d duck legs I was ecstatic. I strolled casually around the market while other shoppers gazed at my cart in wonder – “what is she making with that?” they must have thought, “she probably really knows her way around a kitchen”…. I was on cloud 9.
SATURDAY PM: Upon returning home from a dinner out I placed 1 pound of dried Great Northern beans in a bowl, covered them with cold water by two inches and let them sit overnight.
SUNDAY AM: I bounded into the kitchen – drained the now swollen beans and placed them in my dutch oven. In with the beans went 2 tbsp garlic, 2 cups chopped onion, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 2 cups beef broth and 8 cups of water. While that came to a boil I assembled my bouquet garni…
Bouquet garni: gather the following in cheesecloth, fasten with kitchen twine.
1 (3-inch) piece celery, cut into thirds
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 Turkish bay leaf
3 whole cloves
3 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
Drop the bouquet garni in the pot, lower heat and simmer the beans for about 15 minutes before adding a 14 oz can of stewed tomatoes. I then let the beans simmer away for quite some time – about 2.5 hours. (The recipe calls for much less time than that but this is where my recipe begins, and the Gourmet tested one ends.)
I then turned my attention to dissecting the duck confit. Upon opening the package I had bought the day before I realized that this was no duck confit, it was just 6 raw duck legs. Oh great! Now what!? My beautiful Toulousean dinner was ruined! I began thinking of other things to do with the duck, it was certainly too late to make my own confit before this post was due and I didn’t want to just have keilbasa cassoulet… I took to the internet to figure out the best way to roast duck legs. This would have to do. I would roast the duck separately, tweak the simmering beans and kielbasa part of the dish and somehow combine it all in the end.
The recipe I found for roast duck legs would take a total of 4 hours but it was going to be pretty simple and sounded delicious. I rinsed three of the duck legs and patted them dry. I then made a salt rub consisting of:
1 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 large bay leaf, crumbled
I sprinkled the rub on both sides of the legs, placed them on a cooking sheet, covered them and let them sit in the fridge for about 2 hours.
SUNDAY PM: I now have the duck figured out but I’m still contemplating what to do with the pot of simmering beans in broth and sliced kielbasa… side note: I love all encased meats for their inherently unfussy nature. Yea, you heard me duck, you are a high maintenance protein.
Back to the kielbasa… I decided since it was just two of us for dinner I’d sear off the kielbasa, ladle some of the beans n’broth in with the meat and cook them off in individual bakers. Here I have seared the sliced kielbasa in some bacon fat, you know, for flavors sake, and placed them in the bottom of the bakers.
In the leftover bacon fat I tossed a tsp of minced garlic and homemade bread crumbs. I let the crumbs crisp a bit and the garlic become fragrant – about 5 minutes. I then took it off the heat and tossed in fresh chopped parsely. I could have just eaten the bowl of the bread crumb topping, it was too good. I topped the bakers with the crumbs a few minutes before placing them in the oven but that didn’t happen for another two hours or so…
Fast forward, it’s now about 6PM, I started this endeavor at 11AM, I’m hungry and fading, I open a bottle of wine. Now, it’s back to the duck. I retrieved it from the fridge, let them come down in temperature a bit, brushed off the excess salt mixture, set the oven to 325° and started heating a large skillet. In the hot pan I placed the legs skin side down. I let that sear for about 4 minutes then flipped to the underside. I then placed them back on a baking sheet and got them into the hot oven.
At this point I can actually see an end to this meal. In about an hours time I would take the duck out of the oven, bake the mini cassoulets, marry the two and enjoy.
In real time – the duck took about an hour to reach the recommended 165° and while the duck rested I baked off the casseroles for about 15-20 minutes.
The layers of flavor in this dish, albeit not the one I was originally intending, was unbelievable. The salty bursts of meaty flavor from both the kielbasa and duck paired so well with the crunchy topping and the hearty beans. After all the scrambling it turned out to be a pretty solid dish, one that I’d absolutely make again, I’d even go as far as saying that I’m glad the butcher messed up. I feel as though I’ve mastered a new protein, rediscovered the beauty of kielbasa, and reworked a classic dish. Productive weekend.