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Vegetarian Cassoulet

Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

While a cassoulet isn’t totally new to me, I was pretty shocked to see the sheer amount of work that goes into a traditional cassoulet recipe. A traditional cassoulet recipe will typically contain pork, sausages, and white beans as well as a duck or goose confit and a nice topping of fried bread crumbs or cracklings and – get this – can take up to three days to prepare! I have made a couple of “cassoulets” in my day, but they have been nowhere near as labor intensive as this – I’m talking 30 minutes to prepare tops!

A confit on the other hand, was totally new to me. I have seen the term on menus, but never actually really knew what it was. Turns out it’s actually one of the oldest ways to preserve food. A confit is basically any kind of food that has been immersed in any kind of fat for both flavor and preservation. When stored in a cool place, confit can last for several months. Typically meats (most often waterfowl) are preserved in fats, while fruits are preserved in sugar.

For this challenge we had to make a confit and incorporate it into a cassoulet. We could choose any combination of meat or protein source that we wished, and we were encouraged to soak our own beans. There was an added challenge to make our own sausages as well. Three cassoulet recipes were provided: a traditional recipe, a vegetarian recipe, and a quick 30-minute cassoulet recipe. There were also various meat and vegetable confit recipes provided. I opted for the vegetarian cassoulet recipe along with a provided recipe for garlic confit.

The garlic confit came together rather easily. Most of it is really down time while it cooks in the oven. I only did half a recipe though – I couldn’t imagine having 65 garlic cloves sitting around in my fridge! I wasn’t really sure how to incorporate the confit into the cassoulet, so I just used it anywhere the recipe called for garlic or olive oil.

Since the challenge had been thrown out there to make our own sausages I decided I would also try to make the seitan sausage recipe that had been provided as part of December’s poaching challenge. I have only made seitan once before, and that was a baked recipe, so I was looking forward to trying out this method of poached seitan. It was certainly a bit of a process and where the bulk of my time was spent in this recipe. My sausage shaping skills are definitely lacking, and sadly they were no replacement for those tasty Field Roast sausages. In fact, they were rather bland. My husband and I both felt like they could’ve benefited from the addition of a little more salt and that might reflect a poor choice on my part in using a low sodium broth for my poaching liquid.

I also feel like my cassoulet was a little less than stellar. I’m not sure where I went wrong here because everyone had been saying great things about this recipe. Admittedly, I did have to replace the leeks in the cassoulet with onions because the two places I shop were out of the leeks that were called for, but I’m not sure if that would’ve made that much of a difference as far as flavor. Maybe it was a bad choice to use the garlic confit in place of the raw garlic in the recipe? Despite its drawbacks, I did like how the cassoulet recipe called for mashing a portion of the beans for a thicker broth; I really enjoyed that thicker consistency of this cassoulet from previous ones that I had made.

You can view all of the recipes used after the jump.

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