The Daring Cooks January 2011 Challenge: Confit and Cassoulet

As each new year rolls around, millions of people make resolutions, among the most popular being to lose weight, get fit, stop smoking, or get out of debt. So, just how many of these people really stick to their resolutions? I’ve read that the number hovers around 20% … and with odds like that, well, you know.

I’m hoping to buck the 20% trend with my resolution for this year. I’ve been blogging about food for a few years now, but have never given this blog the time it truly needs to be great. Well, that’s what I resolve to do in 2011, and part of that resolution is to participate in The Daring Kitchen’s Daring Cooks Challenge each month. So, without further ado …

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.

The first step in this Daring Cooks adventure was to make a confit. Jenni and Lisa gave us a number of options, including a duck confit from Michael Ruhlman, a chicken confit from Emeril Lagasse, and a garlic confit as a vegetarian option. For multiple reasons, I chose to make the chicken confit. The first reason is because I planned to serve the finished cassoulet at our weekly Tuesday night family dinner and my mother just doesn’t do duck. The second reason is because my husband (the professional chef) has made Ruhlman’s duck confit recipe before (and I’ve eaten it), and we both found it to be way to salty.

Next up was the cassoulet preparation. The recipe Jenni and Lisa chose is considered to be a “traditional” recipe, originating from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles cookbook and then “tweaked” by Michael Ruhlman on an episode of the Travel Channel’s No Reservations. The recipe is spread out over three days to make it less complicated and less time consuming.

After all was said and done, I wasn’t completely happy with this recipe. I found that it could have been easily prepared in much less time. In addition, by layering all of the ingredients in one large pot, everything just sort of “mushed” together; it all had the same texture and there was no crispness to the confit or pork belly. To be honest, it looked pretty bad. On the positive side, it did taste good … but I knew it could be better.

We had plenty of leftovers (the recipe said it made 6 to 8 servings, but it was closer to 10 to 12) so on our second consumption, I deconstructed what was in the pot. I took out what was left of the confit, the pork belly, and the sausage and crisped them up in a pan in a bit of olive oil. This finally provided the look and texture I had wanted originally. It also allowed for a much more photogenic bowl of cassoulet. Trust me, you do not want to see the pictures from the first go round.

I’ve included both the recipe for the chicken confit and the cassoulet below, along with some notes about what I would do differently next time. If you do decide to make it, leave me a comment and let me know how it turns out for you!

Chicken Confit (Using Olive Oil) by Emeril Lagasse (via Food Network)

  • 4 chicken leg portions with thighs attached, excess fat trimmed and reserved (about 2 pounds total)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 4 cups olive oil

1. Lay the leg portions on a platter, skin side down. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the kosher salt and black pepper. Place the garlic cloves, bay leaves, and sprigs of thyme on each of two leg portions. Lay the remaining two leg portions, flesh to flesh, on top. Put the reserved fat from the chicken in the bottom of a glass or plastic container. Top with the sandwiched leg portions. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Remove the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and chicken fat and reserve. Rinse the chicken with cool water, rubbing off some of the salt and pepper. Pat dry with paper towels.

3. Put the reserved garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and chicken fat in the bottom of an enameled cast iron pot. Sprinkle evenly with the peppercorns and salt. Lay the chicken on top, skin side down. Add the olive oil. Cover and bake for 12 to 14 hours, or until the meat pulls away from the bone.

NOTES: I substituted 2 cups melted duck fat for the olive oil. This wasn’t enough to cover the chicken completely so I topped it off with one cup of olive oil. Delicious.

Cassoulet by Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman

  • 5 cups Tarbais beans or white beans
  • 2 pounds fresh pork belly
  • 1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 pound pork rind
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup duck fat
  • 6 pork sausages
  • 3 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 4 confit duck (or chicken) legs

Day One:

Place the beans in the large bowl and cover with cold water so that there are at least 2 or 3 inches of water above the top of the beans. Soak overnight.

Day Two:

Drain and rinse the beans and place in the large pot. Add the pork belly, the quartered onion, 1/4 pound of the pork rind, and the bouquet garni. Cover with water, add salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour. Let cool for 20 minutes, then discard the onion and the bouquet garni. Remove the pork belly, cut it into 2-inch squares, and set aside. (If you plan to wait another day before finishing the dish, wait to cut the pork belly until then.) Strain the beans and the rind and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid separately.

In a sauté pan, heat all but 1 tablespoon of the duck fat over medium-high heat until it shimmers and becomes transparent. Carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside, draining on paper towels. In the same pan, over medium-high heat, brown the sliced onions, the garlic and the reserved squares of pork rind from the beans (not the unused pork rind; you’ll need that later). Once browned, remove from the heat and transfer to the blender. Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining duck fat and purée until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the uncooked pork rind in the bottom of a deep ovenproof earthenware dish. You’re looking to line the inside, almost like a pie crust. Arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers, beginning with a layer of beans, then sausages, then more beans, then pork belly, beans, duck confit and finally more beans, adding a dab of the onion and pork rind purée between each layer. (Don’t get fancy. Just pile, dab, stack and pile. It doesn’t have to be pretty.) Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving 1 cup in the refrigerator for later use. Cook the cassoulet in the oven for 1 hour, then reduce the heat to 250°F and cook for another hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight.

Day Three:

Preheat the oven to 350°F again. Cook the cassoulet for an hour. Break the crust on the top with the spoon and add 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Reduce the heat to 250°F and continue cooking another 15 minutes, or until screamingly hot through and through. Serve.

NOTES: Lisa found the use of the pork rind to be necessary and I felt it would be too so I left it out. Where pork rind is called for in the onion & garlic purée, I simply sautéed a few strips of bacon and used that instead. Additionally, before assembling the cassoulet, I suggest sautéeing the cubes of pork belly and the duck (or chicken) confit as I mentioned previously. Finally, to shorten the overall time suggested in this recipe, you could easily finish the dish on day two and serve that evening.

Oh, for more cassoulet adventures, check out the other Daring Kitchen cooks!

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  • Denise

    WOWOWOWOW, congrats. Very impressive. Great challenge, and perhaps I need to look into this, but not this month. Too lazy, as I make a cassoulet, that while nowhere nearly as authentic (and laborious), is easy and really good.

  • She Brews Good Ale

    Gorgeous photo; I like the idea of a deconstructed cassoulet. Sometimes ingenuity is borne of dissatisfaction!

  • Kimberly


    @Denise – After making this recipe, I think a simple cassoulet recipe sounds perfect!

    @Marika – How did I not think to call it “deconstructed?” Genius!