Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cassoulet of White Beans with Braised Pork, Sausage, and Chicken Confit

I recently needed and wanted to spend some quality bonding time with my kitchen. Oh sure, I've been cooking and baking a variety of dishes over the prior days, but I wanted to find a recipe that I could sink my teeth into -- both literally and figuratively.

This cassoulet recipe (courtesy of Fine Cooking) was exactly what I was looking for -- lots of prep, lots of ingredients, lots of steps.

The first step was to make the confit in advance of preparing the cassoulet. Now you will notice the recipe calls for a duck confit. I opted to work with chicken, as ducks, while available, can be quite a spendy product in Belize.

The process of making a confit is dead simple to do. Basically, you are covering your protein with a slew of olive oil and letting it bake, low and slow. This is the recipe I used and this is how it looked after about two hours in the oven:

I covered the confit and stuck in the fridge until the day came to make the cassoulet.

As I noted earlier, this recipe has lots of prep. Besides chopping and dicing, there's also a good deal of oven and stove time required. The day I decided to make this recipe happen, a couple of events made my day of cooking even more of a challenge. But more on this in a minute.

The first thing I did was cut up the pork shoulder into about 2-inch pieces. After tossing the meat with some olive oil and salt/pepper, I went to heat the saute pan. But guess what? We had ran out of butane. Fortunately, our supplier is located at the end of our lane and about 35-40 minutes later, I was cooking with gas and browning the pork. 

With that step out of the way, wine was added to the pan and reduced. Next came broth, garlic, and rosemary.

The pot was then covered and left to cook on low heat for about 1 hour.

While the pork simmered away, I moved on to making the veggies and tomato sauce. This step entailed browning up some diced bacon in some of the infused olive oil from the chicken confit. When the fat was rendered, the bacon was put into a bowl. More infused oil was added and diced carrots were cooked up until just tender and golden brown around the edges. The carrots went into the same bowl as the bacon. Another glug of infused oil went into the pan and onions were added. Those were cooked until soft and caramelized. Then the onions went into the bowl with the bacon and carrots.

Onward to the tomato sauce. In the same pan that the veggies were cooked in, another glug of oil went in and some minced garlic, which cooked for 20-30 seconds. Chopped tomatoes were added, along with some salt, and about 5 minutes later it reached a chunky consistency.

By this point, you can probably guess that the kitchen sink was filling up fairly fast with dirty pots, pans, and utensils. While I had a little break in the action, I figured I would tackle the stuff in the sink. Small problem. We had no water pressure. Sigh. The dishes were left as they were and I continued with the recipe. 

Now I was now coming into the home stretch. Sausages were browned up, set aside to cool, then cut into quarters.

While the sausages were cooling, I combined cooked beans with the veggie/bacon mixture and put it into a Dutch oven.

The sausage was put on top of the bean mixture, then a layer of pork shoulder, then the meat from the chicken confit.* The broth that the pork was cooked in was poured in, along with the bean cooking liquid.

The cassoulet was baked in a pre-heated 350-degree oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes.

During this baking time, I combined more of the infused olive oil with some breadcrumbs and grated cheese. When time was up for the cassoulet, I sprinkled the breadcrumb mixture over top and the pot was put back in the oven for another 45 minutes.

By this point, our water pressure returned and David kindly started on the now even bigger pile of dirty pots and pans.

After the cassoulet hit the 45 minute cooking mark, I removed it from the oven and let it rest for another 45 minutes.

It was then time to eat.

Both of us thought this was excellent. All of elements came shining through and worked together beautifully. However I wouldn't be so heavy handed with the breadcrumbs next time. We also agreed that it could use more liquid. As we had more than enough for leftovers, I added some homemade chicken stock, which did the trick.

So while there a couple of glitches during the process of making this meal, the time and effort were certainly worth it. This recipe will definitely enter into my rotation for a future kitchen bonding day.

* I used about 1 1/2 leg/thighs from the confit. Also, I halved the entire recipe, because I was only cooking for the two of us. If you make the full recipe, trust that you will have enough to feed an army.

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