AAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH!

December 12, 2011

NOTE: Meant to put this up yesterday, after I edited photos. I didn’t edit photos. So here it is anyway.

I am but a bug — a mere bug, I tell you, and a splatted-flat one at that — on the windshield of life.

I have cooked for THREE FREAKING DAYS on this cassoulet. I get ready to assemble the final step only to find that my confited duck leg quarters have mold on the bottom of hte duck fat! Mold! Greenish-gray fuzzy stuff!

How in the blue hell it got on the BOTTOM of the duck fat in which the leg quarters were resting — nary a sign of such on the top — I have no clue. Obviously some sort of spore in my plastic thingy.

It may be that the mold had not infected the duck itself. It did not matter. Mold and meat of any kind just don’t get along together. I heaved a tragic sob or two and chunked the all four leg quarters, the quart of duck fat, and the container all in the trash.

And made the rest of the cassoulet, which you probably cannot call a cassoulet any more, without it. At least I have duck sausage. I thawed out some farm-made bratwurst to go with it. It won’t be confit, and it won’t be nearly as good as it should be, but, eh. One recovers however one can.

Here’s the full recipe, should you ever feel ambitious enough and flush enough to make it, because it’s a great consumer of money, time, effort and kitchen space.

  • 2 fresh ham hocks
  • 1 pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 6 ounces fresh pork skin with 1/4 inch of fat attached
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 pounds dried Tarbais or cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 ounces salt pork, skin removed
  • 1/3 cup duck fat (see Note)
  • 3 small carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • One 5-ounce piece of pancetta
  • One 5-ounce piece of prosciutto
  • 1 head of garlic, unpeeled, plus 4 small garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 large plum tomato, chopped
  • 2 quarts plus two cups chicken broth
  • Bouquet garni: 4 parsley sprigs, 3 small celery ribs, 2 thyme sprigs and 1 bay leaf, tied with string
  • 6 duck confit legs
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound French-style fresh pork sausages, such as saucisses de Toulouse, pricked with a fork
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  1. Put the ham hocks, pork shoulder cubes and skin in a large dish; season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In a bowl, cover the beans with 3 inches of water and soak overnight.
  2. The next day, in a medium saucepan, cover the salt pork and the seasoned skin with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer over moderate heat until the skin is supple, about 30 minutes. Drain and cool. Refrigerate the salt pork. Cut the pork skin into 5 long pieces, roll each piece into a bundle and tie with string.
  3. Dry the ham hocks and pork shoulder cubes with a paper towel. In a very large, enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the duck fat. Add half of the pork cubes and cook over moderately high heat until lightly browned all over; transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining pork cubes. Add the ham hocks to the casserole and brown them lightly. Add the carrots and onions and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden, about 7 minutes. Add the pancetta and brown it lightly. Add the prosciutto, the head of garlic and the tomato and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add 2 quarts of the broth, the bouquet garni, pork skin bundles and the browned pork and its juices and bring to a boil. Cover the casserole and gently simmer the ragout over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  4. Drain the beans. In a large saucepan, cover the beans with water and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Simmer the beans for 3 minutes, then drain. Add the beans to the ragout and simmer until the beans are just tender, about 2 hours. Let the ragout cool, then refrigerate overnight.
  5. Remove as much of the solidified fat as you can from the surface of the ragout; reserve 1/4 cup of the fat. Let the ragout return to room temperature. Pick out the ham hocks, pancetta and prosciutto. Cut the meats into bite-size pieces; discard the bones, skin and gristle. Pick out the pork skin bundles and the head of garlic and reserve. Discard the bouquet garni.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400°. Bring the ragout to a simmer. Cut the blanched salt pork into small pieces. Squeeze the cooked garlic cloves into a food processor. Add the salt pork and the raw garlic cloves and process to a smooth paste. Stir the paste into the ragout and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in all of the cooked and cured meats.
  7. Meanwhile, arrange the duck confit legs in a baking dish and roast just until heated through, about 15 minutes. Remove the meat from the bones in large pieces. Cut the skin into strips. Discard the bones.
  8. Turn the oven down to 325°. Untie and unroll the pork skin bundles. Line the bottom of a 5- to 6-quart earthenware casserole with the pork skin, fat side down. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer half of the ragout to the earthenware casserole. Top with the duck confit in an even layer, then cover with the rest of the ragout. Add the remaining 2 cups of broth to the cooking liquid in the cast-iron casserole and season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour the liquid over the ragout and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the reserved skimmed fat. Bake the cassoulet for 1 1/2 hours.
  9. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet. Add the sausages and cook over moderately high heat until browned all over. Let cool, then cut the sausages into 3-inch pieces.
  10. Reduce the oven temperature to 275°. Gently stir in the skin that has formed on the cassoulet. Nestle in the sausages and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of reserved fat. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Bake the cassoulet for 1 hour longer, until it is richly browned on the surface. Transfer to a cloth-lined rack and let rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.

 Along about step six, I started condensing and shortening the process. The head of garlic had mostly dissolved, anyway; I picked out what skins I could find. I think I got most of the bouquet garni, which had come untied; there may still be a thyme stem in there. I didn’t add the salt pork, because it seemed to me it had a gracious plenty of fat.

It probably won’t be fit to eat. I’ll let y’all know.

The bacon jam, on the other hand, is its usual wonderful self. I canned three half-pints and seven little four-ounce jars and had about six ounces left over that’s in my fridge for me to use. So three pounds of bacon will make about 3 1/2 pints of jam, give or take, if you’re measuring.

The four-ouncers will go into little gift boxes with savory crackers. One of the half-pints will go home with my Memphis guinea pig. The other two will be gifts for someone, or I’ll keep ’em myownself.

Here’s the recipe which, for the most part, I tripled. Note, though: I only used about a half-cup of maple syrup and about a half-cup of bourbon, and I was a little skimpy on the brown sugar, too, as last time, the stuff was too sweet.

  •  1 pound thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
    1 large sweet onion, cut into 1/4″ thick slices
    3 tablespoons light brown sugar
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1/4 teaspoon allspice
    1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    Pinch fresh grated nutmeg
    Pinch ground cloves
    1/2 teaspoon dry chipotle powder
    1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
    1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
    1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
    1/2 cup good quality bourbon
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
    1 tablespoon hot sauce

In a large skillet over medium high heat cook the bacon pieces until they begin to crisp at the edges but are still soft in the center, about 1 – 1 1/2 minutes per side.  Set aside to drain.  Pour all but one tablespoon of the bacon drippings from the pan.

Lower the heat to medium-low and add the onion and brown sugar.  Cook until the onions are well caramelized, about twenty minutes.  Add the garlic and spices and cook an additional five minutes.

Add the liquid ingredients and the bacon to the pan.  Increase the heat to medium heat bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about two hours.  Check the mixture every 30 minutes.  If the mixture becomes too dry add a few tablespoons of water.  You want the final mixture to be moist and very sticky.

Let the mixture cool slightly them put it into the bowl of a food processor, or blender, and pulse about 20 times, or until it reaches your preferred consistency.  (I prefer mine slightly chunky so you really notice the bacon.)

I’ve also made it a habit of adding a healthy shot of balsamic vinegar to mine, and this particular time, I left out the hot sauce (not certain I know why, but I think I just didn’t remember to add it).  And I let it simmer overnight on low in the crock-pot, which worked just fine.

Anyway, that’s some of the goodie-making out of the way. I’m going to get in here and fix something to go with this cassoulet-from-hell, of which there is enough for us and you and y’mama ‘n ’em and half the rest of the world, I think. I hope to hell it’s good.  I’d hate to have to throw it out.

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