Shopping for Cassoulet Night
Reading James Norton’s piece predicting cassoulet-making parties, http://www.chow.com/media/7247 , I thought I’d share some of the mostly local sources for the cassoulet dinner I attended last month.
Goose confit, saucisson a l'ail and saucisson de Toulouse from Fatted Calf
Ventreche ordered in advance from Draeger’s in Danville
Pork skin from Ranch 99 in Dublin
Halal lamb (couldn’t find fresh mutton) from Rahma Mediterranean Market in Dublin
Ham hocks from Andronico’s in Berkeley
Haricots tarbais ordered from Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Label-Rouge-Fre...
Pastis from BevMo
French cheeses from the southwest from Berkeley’s Cheeseboard
Baguettes for croutons from La Boulange in San Francisco
Walnut bread and rustic baguette from Acme in Berkeley
Jean-Vire Basque linens ordered from South Pasadena
Pillivuyt Coupe French white porcelain dinnerware from Williams-Sonoma in Pleasanton
My hyper-organized friend de chow had the foresight and good sense to corner the market on Fatted Calf’s goose confit when it was available in December, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/583108 , banking nearly 200 dollars worth in his freezer for the winter’s Toulouse style cassoulet. The goose was fantastic and well worth seeking out. The pale and skinny garlic sausage was mild and pleasant, whereas the Toulouse sausage was disappointingly dry. Yet, I’ll have to say that my favorite meaty bite in the cassoulet was the ventreche, poached with savories to a melting tenderness then baked on top of the beans to a crispy brown.
I bought some locally grown flageolet from Santa Rosa’s Tierra Vegetables to play around with in advance. Marrow beans were already sold out. Evie had warned me that this had been a difficult harvest, and the quality wasn’t up to previous years. This crop turned out to not hold their firmness sufficiently in test batches and we went looking for alternatives. Instead my host ordered imported tarbais from Amazon, which had a nice bite after long cooking and absorbed all the delicious flavors.
The wines came from our cellars, including a bottle of Blanquette bubbly that was a souvenir of my visit to the region in 2006. Once again, Cahors proved itself to be the best partner for cassoulet at the table, even though tasted without food, it was outgunned by the Burgundy and Bordeaux.
N. V. Le Berceau MaisonVergnes A.O.C. Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale
1993 Rene Engel “Les Brulees” 1er cru Vosne-Romanee (Esquin Imports
)1982 Ch. Sociando-Mallet Haut-Médoc (Kermit Lynch, importer)
1998 Ch. Pineraie Cahors (Kermit Lynch, importer)
1982 Ch. Doisy-Daene Barsac (Kermit Lynch, importer)
N. V. Don Narciso Brandy
Cassoulet Night photos
2005 thread on cassoulet ingredients
2006 thread on Toulouse, Carcasonne and Castelnaudry
Culinary Olympics: Cassoulet Division
A Different Stripe Basque table linens marry practicality with pizzazz
And to think, all these years I've just browned a few aromatic vegetables in oil, added herbs and whatever sausages and mixed meats were at hand, some soaked dried flageolets or other bulk beans, meat or game stock from the freezer, let it simmer away ... Never had any complaints! :-) Not as fancy obviously, but it illustrates the earthy versatility of cassoulet which is, after all, a folk dish.
By the way, despite a slight mystique in the US where it is a novel ingredient, poultry confit is not hard to make at all. A friend made duck confit in quantity around Christmas, from instructions out of one of the food magazines (I think it's on epicurious, but not sure). It took some salting, and the duck more or less cooked itself in the duck fat. Reheated, served as part of a feast -- delicious. (With among other Pinot-Noir wines the '96 L'Arlot "Forêts" which by the way drinks exquisitely now -- essence of aromatic anise-y Pinot Noir; some heavier 96 red Burgundies are still closed). I took the confit bones home, processed into duck stock, now reposing in the freezer -- maybe for a future cassoulet!
Cassoulet is a peasant dish. I've made it over the years, as well as trying the results of friends' cooking. Throwing everything together as you describe that can make a credible pot of beans and weenies, but often results in mushy or undercooked beans, falling apart sausages, and muddled flavors. This is veering into Home Cooking board territory, so I'll stop here just by saying that the timing of le mariage of the beans and meats, building the stock, proper selection of the type of beans all make a big difference.
If you look back over the old posts for making duck or goose confit, you'll find several posts from me. The process is not hard at all but sourcing fresh goose legs is difficult in this area. And, I believe that aging the confit is critical. Two months is my preferred timing, and not in the freezer. I was a bit dismayed when my friend put his stash in the freezer, but that's what Fatted Calf advised.
re: Melanie Wong
Melanie: "timing of le mariage of the beans and meats, building the stock, proper selection of the type of beans all make a big difference." Yes indeed, for brevity I took all of that for granted above, having begun (decades ago) with examples of real French cassoulets. Those points are important, whether using very specific ingredients as listed above, or more common ingredients. "Mushy or undercooked beans, falling apart sausages, and muddled flavors" can result either way, if one is careless or inexperienced. My point is that with experience, those problems don't arise and the cassoulet concept, like many good peasant dishes, is broad enough to admit endless delicious variations. Cassoulets have been celebrated in mainstream US cookbooks for generations -- I just checked examples from 1949 and 1950 showing recipes adapted from France (one book had both Languedoc and Castelnaudary variations).
I too dislike the idea of freezing confits. One reason for the advice may be a point often overlooked: the anaerobic bacteria risk. Foods preserved under fat (even refrigerated) have caused botulism -- I'm thinking of famous cases, with fresh garlic and cooked mushrooms, each kept under olive oil. Commercial meat preserves (unlike home versions) are pressure-autoclaved at high enough temps. to prevent this. Further cooking (as in a cassoulet) would destroy anaerobic toxins, but not if someone nibbles the confit as-is.
I'm so jealous of this cassoulet dinner that I don't know what to do with myself. I might cry.
Have you found other good local sources for Toulouse, since you found the Fatted Calf's dry (as have I, though, if we were talking about gumbo, which we aren't, I've found their andouille the best that I've had not in Louisiana).
Babe, I know the feeling, believe me. This cassoulet had a very long gestation period, and then the week before the dinner date, I was getting daily emails of what cooking steps had been completed. I had a hard time sleeping the night before, and felt like a little kid on the night before Christmas!
I have not tried them, but there've been a few recs for the Saucisse de Toulouse made by Fabriques Delices.
Oh, and i've found the list of cheeses from the region that were purchased at the Cheeseboard: St Marcellin, Papillon Roquefort, Vallee d’aspe chevre, Istara Ossau-Iraty, and a tomme of the region.
Tierra had a short crop last harvest. It caught me by surprise that the marrow beans were already gone by January.
For rwo, Tierra's farmstand is on my way home and doesn't require a special trip, whereas Rancho Gordo does. Normally, Tierra's flageolet would be fine, but this was a weird year and the character was different. I didn't feel like asking my friend to play around with another grower's crop when there's a high probability of getting the same result.
Reasons why it can be a very bad idea to "age" locally made or homemade confits at refrigerator temperatures (or above) relate to the specifics of anaerobic bacteria. The topic requires a bit of explanation and it applies to more foods than just confit. I put the details and some references in a separate posting: