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cassoulet, tarbais and D'Artagnan

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Last weekend I made the most recent (2009) CI recipe for cassoulet (no poulty, just sausage and pork) and it was pretty good but definitely nothing special. Since I was trying it out to see if I wanted to make it for a "french-themed" dinner party, it definitely needed more going for it. I think that mediocre (at best) sausage was at least part of the problem. so I looked for a source for french garlic sausage and found D'Artagnan (which has free shipping through tomorrow). Now I'm wondering if I should buy the whole cassoulet kit. Has anyone used it?
Also, are the Tarbais that much better than Great Northern or Cannellini? I used the latter from the bulk bin at Whole Foods and thought they were pretty good. I've also read that its more difficult to get the correct texture with the Tarbais. True?

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  1. How much pork skin did you use?

    1 Reply
    1. re: paulj

      I used 4 oz of salt pork which appeared to have a rind on it. None of the (many) cassoulet recipes I've looked at over the past couple of weeks have called specifically for pork skin. In fact, this time I was going to use the french pancetta that D'Artagnan sells.

    2. I bought the whole cassoulet kit for Christmas dinner 2009. Everyone loved it and the ingredients were all excellent. It's definitely rich and not heart healthy (the can of duck fat - yikes) but we all felt it was well worth it. I think it was $89 + shipping and could have easily served 8-10 people along with a lovely salad and bread. I don't know that I would do it again, but we were all very pleased.

      5 Replies
      1. re: melcarr

        How important were the sausages and beans in that kit? Or was it the pork, duck, duck fat, and demi-glace that put it over the top?

        1. re: paulj

          I'm wondering about the beans myself but I'm betting the garlic sausage adds at least as much as the duck confit. The sausage I used when I made the Cooks Illustrated recipe was Irish garlic sausage and was kind of eh. I think a really good sausage would have added a lot. I'm sure the duck confit adds a lot too.

          1. re: lisaud

            IMHO Paula Wolfert's recipe trumps all others extant. And yes, the garlic sausage is essential. The only sub I've ever liked was a REALLY good freshly made Kielbasa from a Polish deli. It was suitably garlicky and full-flavored.

        2. re: melcarr

          Believe it or not, I read a little about duck fat and it seems that it is considered a relatively good fat, certainly no worse than plain old butter. The cassoulet kit is up to $99 but there is no shipping if I order by midnight tomorrow but I don't really want to use the duck sausage or the demiglace so I might just order the duck legs, garlic sausage, and the pancetta. Did you find the Tarbais beans amazing? I've read that they're harder to get the right consistency than other beans.

          1. re: lisaud

            the Tarbais beans cook to a silky consistency that I've not found with any other kind.

            By the way -- cassoulet with pork is frequently referred to as Confit de Toulouse (also because of the Toulouse sausages) -- cassoulet with confit de canard is usually called cassoulet de Castelnaudary (a town famous for the stuff).

            Whatever you do, don't obsess too much - this is just the French version of pork and beans, for the most part...it's supposed to be simple, hearty farmhouse food.

        3. lisaud: Tarbais ($18/pound) vs. Great Northern ($1/pound). If you buy the Tarbais, you will like them better, because you think they're worth more. It's all in the fat and protein. Wet cardboard with the right duck confit and Toulouse sausages will have you in foodgasm.

          12 Replies
          1. re: kaleokahu

            If you something a bit more exotic than Great Northerns, but nearly as cheap, try Mayocoba (also call Peruano) beans.

            1. re: paulj

              Hi, paulj: Are the Myocoba beans better than any other heirloom bean? What distinguishes them? Thanks.

            2. re: kaleokahu

              thanks for all your replies. I am definitely going to try the kit...with theTarbais beans.( I'm quite certain I won't be unduly influenced to like them simply because I paid more. On the contrary, I'lll be looking for reasons why to like them less so I won't feel compelled to buy them the next time!)

              Jaifoie - How is the duck sausage. I"m was thinking of asking D'Artagnan if I could double up on the garlic sausage and not use the duck just in case someone doesn't like duck (I know my guests are all pork eaters). Also, when you add extra demi-glace do you dilute it or use it full strength?

              1. re: lisaud

                lisaud: You understand that the Tarbais are marketed as such under threat of litigation, right? Much like Champagne. That's $15 of the $18 price.

                1. re: lisaud

                  If your guests like pork, I can't imagine that they wouldn't like the confit.

                  kaleokahu - I live in a location where I can buy Tarbais beans for only a fraction more than haricot blancs, so the price difference is immaterial. Yes, there is a difference.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    kaleokahu - first, I'm curious enough to spend the money once just to see the difference - if there is one. Isn't it possible that the reason they are so strictly controlled, and therefore perceived and priced as being superior, may be that they are? The decision about whether they are "superior enough" to spend SO much more, regardless of what drives the pirce that high, becomes highly subjective.

                    SUnshine842 - I was concerned about the duck sausage, not the confit. Actually, my husband loves pork and dislikes dark meat poultry and probably will not even try the confit duck. But that's easy to eat around. If I disperse pieces of duck sausage throughout, he will not be able to avoid it.

                    1. re: lisaud

                      I'll stick with my affirmation -- duck doesn't taste like poultry -- with the coarser-grained texture and richer, much more pronounced flavor, it's much more like red meat than any other bird, probably because the flesh of a French duck is red -- both the "white" and the "dark" are a deep red that looks more like beef than poultry.

                      The duck sausage would be sliced -- thus easy to avoid...but I hope he tries it nonetheless, because it doesn't taste anything at all like dark meat poultry.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        The folks at D'Artagnan won't sub an extra garlic sausage for the duck so I guess I'm getting it. Actually they said its a mix of duck and pork anyway and it sounds yummy. I saw another thread about the kit with some very positive reviews so I'm looking forward to trying it including the TARBAIS!

                        1. re: lisaud

                          I'll be surprised if he doesn't like the duck AND the sausage.

                      2. re: lisaud

                        lisaud: I bit with the tarbais the first time around, too, just to be true to the recipe. Both my butcher (a chef, too) and the clerk at Delaurentis claimed there was no difference--except price. The result was excelent, but hardly "OMG, that's what beans are supposed to taste like!"

                        Suggestion: Buy both, and make a batch of each.

                    2. re: lisaud

                      Do you mean skipping the duck confit or the duck sausage (both in the kit)?

                      Anyway, I ordered the kit not long ago and actually preferred the duck-armagnac sausages to the garlic sausages, but variety is important in this dish, and I'd encourage you not to narrow too much what you include.

                      I ordered an extra bag of the tarbais beans, because soon I'll be able to make my own cassoulet with home-made duck confit and my own selection of sausages. One reason I ordered the kit is to have a point of comparison.

                      I'm glad I got the extra Tarbais beans though, because they would be hard or impossible to match with any other handier beans. Most of them hold their shape well under long cooking but a small percentage does burst and add a delicate thickening to the dish. Northern beans would go to mush. Limas would, well, be limas. Large cannellinis might work.

                      1. re: Bada Bing

                        I meant just skipping the duck sausage since i will leave the duck legs whole so if someone doesn't want duck (like my husband) they can avoid it but I will probably use the duck sausage too.. I will probably add some pork shoulder to it also.

                  2. I've bought fresh Guinea Hen & a variety of sausages from D'Artagnan, so can attest to the high quality of their products.

                    However, I'd never spend the $$ for their "Cassoulet kit". "Cassoulet" was & is meant to be a peasant dish. It's our traditional New Year's Day dish wherein I use up whatever is left from the Xmas roast goose, along with wine-poached chicken breast, turkey kielbasa, & turkey andouille sausages. Use good old Great Northern Beans as well, along with rendered goose fat that I always save for cooking from the Xmas roast goose. Is a huge, rich, crowd-pleaser & is far more economical that D'Artagnan's "kit".

                    Frankly, if I were you, I'd buy & roast a duck (rendering the fat) before I bought a few measly pieces of confit & some "special" beans from D'Artagnan. Much more bang for your buck & confit nothwithstanding, just as authentic.

                    21 Replies
                    1. re: Breezychow

                      Breezychow - I am aware that cassoulet is a "peasant way'" of using everything one has on hand so things don't get wasted but ...one has to cook like a french peasant to begin with to have the leftovers on hand. Other wise you have to buy it and, these days, high quality "peasant food" (which is really wholesome food) costs more because they are things not commonly found in our modern day lifestyles. Ironic but true.
                      As for the Tarbais...well the unexamined life and all that. I'm guessing that if I make another cassoulet, I;ll prbably to back to the whole foods cannellini beans (which were quite good).
                      Finally, I appreciate your suggestions but I don't cook goose or duck and, frankly, have no desire to do so just to add it to the cassoulet.

                      1. re: lisaud

                        Pardon et moi, madame.

                        I only brought up roasting your own duck because one can buy a whole 4#-5# duck (around here at least) for around $12-$15, get a couple of pounds of good quality dried cannelini or Great Norther beans for a couple of bucks, & decent sausauges for around $5 more. Adding in some white wine, seasonings, etc., & you're still a good deal shy of what D'Artagnan charges for their "kit" & end up with a lot more (& higher quality) to show for it.

                        1. re: Breezychow

                          Actually, Breezychow, if you want to use actual duck confit and make a dish as large as the D'Artagnan kit--it completely fills, threatens to overfill, a 7qt dutch oven--it would not be at all easy to save a lot of money relative to the kit price. Duck parts and duck fat for the confit are expensive. (One duck does not render enough fat for that much confit.) And also, duck breast meat is not really well suited to confit, so you'd really need two ducks at least, to get 4 whole legs, which I'd call the minimum. The D'Artagnan kit includes 6 legs. And I don't think their quality is in question. Price, sure. But quality, I don't think so, unless you speak from experience of disappointment.

                          That said, I won't diss your home-style approach: I am no cassoulet purist. There's more than one way to make a delicious meats and beans pot.

                          But genuine aged duck confit is a very distinctive ingredient, and it takes at least several weeks, preferably months, to produce.

                          1. re: Bada Bing

                            I'm with Breezychow. I have been 'confiting' my own duck for years now and it has provided me with more duck fat than I know what to do with, as well as enough confit for cassoulet.

                            Breast meat is beautifully suited to confit. It's just that it is suited to other uses as well. I generally confit two ducks at the same time and confit one breast. The other I use for stand alone dinners.

                            Frankly, if my cassoulet was going to cost a C note, I wouldn't bother. It is a dish of meat and beans. I generally use JC's cassoulet recipe as a guide and use whatever meat I have as leftovers to fill in. If my pork is ham hocks or side meat or canadian bacon, it doesn't matter overly, I have used every kind of sausage and meats as varied as leftover leg of lamb and pot roast. If you have a well flavored sausage, duck or goose confit and other meats and beans, you are going to have a lovely cassoulet.

                            1. re: NanH

                              How do you do confit?

                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                I use this recipe for the confit

                                http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                and take advantage of those lovely livers to make this for the meal the night the duck is sitting

                                http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                If you wanted to get everything going all at once, I would buy three ducks. Cut them into legs and breasts and slowly heat the rest of carcass to render the fat. That should give you pretty close to enough fat to do the legs. If it's not, cook a couple of the breasts to get the fat from them. Once you've done three or four, you always have enough fat, with plenty let over for popcorn and fried potatoes. It's easy and cheap.

                                I am not sure what you mean by 'aged' confit taking months to produce. Once it's cured, cooked and in the fat, it's done.

                                1. re: NanH

                                  Three ducks would surely give enough fat for six legs, and then you'd have lots of other good stuff left over.

                                  But I differ about the confit designation. The word simply means"preserve," but in the case of duck and some other meats--but unlike, say, peach preserves--don't you agree that the character of the meat changes a good deal with time?

                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                    If it were true that the character of the meat changes over time, then I guarantee there would be a French producer (or 2 or a hundred) who touted their aging process.

                                    Since they don't, I'm going to say it doesn't change enough to make a noticeable difference.

                                    (if it were true, then one would expect all sorts of preserved meat products -- corned beef comes to mind -- to similarly change over time...but they don't)

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      Commercial sellers now don't use traditional confit methods but instead--for reasons of economy and flexibilty--they use the sous-vide approach of sealing parts in plastic and cooking the parts in their own juices and fats. That allows them to produce smaller packages that still have some stability and can be shipped to any quantity specification. It would be prohibitively expensive to try to market traditional confit, because once you crack the seal, the stuff has got to be eaten soon.

                                      And cured meats do age. Italian Proscuitto, for instance, is cured in salt but then cannot be sold until it is aged two years. Jamón ibérico from Spain is aged a year or more where the cheaper Jamón Serrano is aged only some weeks. USA is not so into regulating food production (except for safety reasons), so it is up to individual purveyors to insist upon the gentler and longer aging of their Country Hams as explanation for their higher price point.

                                      I've made both short-aged and long-aged confits and also tried the D'Artagnan kit, which uses the sous vide approach. My favorite has been the long-aged one, but none have been bad.

                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                        Hams are irrelevant to this discussion, because they are left open to the air, not hermetically sealed.

                                        And no, it isn't impossible to market traditional confit -- there are small producers all over France to do it on a small-industrial level -- and it's real confit, much of it hand-packed and process in large pressure-canning equipment (ALL meat product have to be packed under pressure.)

                                        So I stand by my statement that if hermetically-sealed confits changed that much with aging, there'd be truckloads of the stuff on the shelves.(all emblazoned with Medailles d'Or/d'Argent/Bronze from the Concours General Agricole held in Paris.)

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          By your logic, the confit should last almost indefinitely and unchanged in its "hermetic" environment, like a canned food. But that's not the case with traditional confit, which also isn't packed under pressure.

                                          1. re: Bada Bing

                                            truly traditional confit (as in that prepared before M. Parmentier and M. Pasteur presented their lifes' work) isn't sealed -- you're correct. But it can't be sold unsealed, because it flies in the face of every health and safety hygiene ruling on the planet. I don't even know anybody who *doesn't* can it via steam or pressure for their own home use. (okay -- they keep it in the fridge if it's going to be eaten within a few months)

                                            (any changes that undergoes would more commonly be known as decomposition.)

                                            Confit is hermetically sealed -- not *like* a canned food, but because it *is* a canned food.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              Our interaction on this point is going nowhere, clearly. You have your certainties. I'll bow out saying that I do make the "traditional" form, among other approaches, and I'm speaking simply from a sense of my comparative impressions about different approaches to duck confit, all of which I've tried. We're just going to differ here.

                                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                                and I'm speaking from the point of view of living in the middle of a country that awards medals for every aspect of flavor and taste you can imagine, for darned near anything you can chew and swallow.

                                                If it existed, they'd recognize it.

                            2. re: Bada Bing

                              I have had D'Artagnon's confit duck legs. And while I've never been disappointed with D'Artagnon's quality, the legs were quite small & not all that meaty. In addition, I wasn't crazy about the spicing/flavoring. But that's just personal preference.

                              And while duck breast may not be the cut of choice for confit, there's no rule that duck has to be preserved in order to tastefully make it's way into a proper & delicious cassoulet. My leftover Xmas roast goose isn't made into a confit before using in cassoulet, & it's wonderful - every little bit of it.

                              Like you said, there's no such thing as a cassoulet purist - there are many many ways to make an excellent one. I was just trying to point out that one need not spend an arm & a leg to do so.

                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                There are some regional variations of cassoulet that don't have ANY confit in them. Pork and sausage only.

                                There are no Cassoulet Cops out there...and les grandmeres made it with what they had on hand...whether it was pork, goose or duck...lingots, haricots blancs, or Tarbais...and everybody ate it and nobody cared.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  Well, people seem to be countering my point with what I thought was already my point! Oh, well. How I put things is not clear enough. Or maybe this happens because, whatever is literally said, people can suppose that they're being told they should not be happy with something they are in fact happy with (like saying, "Your cassoulet isn't REAL cassoulet").

                                  In my message that initiated these replies, my whole point begins with "if you want to use actual duck confit..." If not, nothing that I said amounts to telling anyone what they ought to do.

                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                    um...I was only adding additional information...any reason why you're unloading on me?

                                    and nobody is countering your point...you made the statement that D'Artagnan's kit is as cheap as it gets ("it would not be at all easy to save a lot of money relative to the kit price")

                                    Breezy offered up a cheaper alternative...and you even asked her HOW to do so?

                                    My mention that cassoulet doesn't HAVE to have confit would bring the price down even more subtantially...

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      My apologies. But I wasn't meaning to unload on you in particular: it isn't possible to indicate a reply to more than one message (unless you name everyone in the reply).

                                      My only intention, which actually counters more directly the points made by NanH, is to say that duck confit is a special ingredient that one can leave out as one wishes, but one cannot sub it out without consequences. Also, duck poached in fat yesterday is not much like duck poached in fat and then stored in that fat for several months.

                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                        "Also, duck poached in fat yesterday is not much like duck poached in fat and then stored in that fat for several months."

                                        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                                        It's not? Could have fooled me. Once it's in the fat and cooled, I have noticed very little difference in the confit I have had after a few days, or the confit I have had after a few months, and certainly not after it has been cooked in a pot with a lot of other meats and beans.

                                        And I am not sure why you feel you are countering my point, since I also said the confit is a necessary ingredient.

                                        Since you promoted the Dartagnan cassoulet kit, is their confit aged?

                                        1. re: Bada Bing

                                          "Also, duck poached in fat yesterday is not much like duck poached in fat and then stored in that fat for several months."

                                          And thank God for that - lol!! Frankly, in my opinion - you're wrong. Duck poached in its own fat & used immediately is TERRIFIC, & definitely different from duck poached in fat & stored in that fat for several months. Duck stored in its own fat for months isn't automatically "confit" - there's more involved, & seasoning is key. Without that it's just old duck stored in its own fat. Sorry.

                          2. I made Paula Wolfert's cassoulet for the November COTM. I didn't order from D'Artagnan, so I can't speak to the kit, but I did order Tarbais beans from another source. I wouldn't bother in the future. With dried beans, freshness actually does matter. We may not think of dried beans as something that goes "bad", and they don't in a food safety sense, but if they get too old, the texture does suffer. I think it would be better to use a substitute bean in a brand that you know has a high turnover than to order a bean of unknown age from abroad. The beans I ordered were definitely over the hill. You may have a different experience with beans from D'Artagnan, so go for it if you are curious. But as in many things, it might be better to have a less specifically "authentic", but higher quality, product.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: MelMM

                              I agree very much about the bean-age thing. More than a year or so is asking for trouble, regardless of the original bean's qualities. But seldom can you know how old a bean is from packaging. Best bet is to look for a place with high turnover, like a busy Latin market or even a Walmart.

                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                Agree completely. High turnover is the key. In many places, that may mean Goya beans in a regular supermarket if you have even a modest Latin American population shopping there, or a specialty shop or a Wal-Mart, as you've suggested. It all depends upon where the highest turnover is in your area. Buying beans online is a big unknown, because it is impossible to guess the turnover. But it's a pretty safe bet that the population buying Great Northern beans anywhere in the US is larger than the population buying imported Tarbais beans.

                                By the way, the Tarbais beans I bought were a French label, but were actually grown in Argentina. A fact not disclosed when I ordered. Last thing you want is beans grown in the Americas, shipped to France, then back to the US at large mark-up. A perfect recipe for overpriced, poor-quality beans.

                                1. re: MelMM

                                  <Buying beans online is a big unknown, because it is impossible to guess the turnover.>

                                  Unless you buy them from Rancho Gordo. http://www.ranchogordo.com/

                                  1. re: MelMM

                                    Have to second Goya brand beans - they're fabulous. Both the dried & canned.