Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Beast of Carcasonne

The Beast

Nothing says both Carcasonne and Fall to me other than Charles the Hammer and his defense against the Moors.
Or was it the collapse of the power of the Cathars and their subsequent execution by the land-grabbing Catholic-leaning power merchants of the day.
Or is it the stuffing to the gills of local water fall during the autumnal cycle of liver gorging.
Actually, that sounds more like it, but no, I don't think that quite fits the bill.
Geese and Ducks have bills, right?
You certainly get a bill for their white gorged livers.
Hand-fed, btw, none of the disgusting machine-fed geese if you'd please.

Anyhow, Carcasonne and Fall say something with duck to me, but it's not foie gras.

It's cassoulet.


There's definitely a change that occurs with the seasons. In the summer, everything is quick. It's hot, so make it quick. Grill everything. Lots of fresh foods growing in the garden need magic preparation. Keep things simple and taste the flavors of everything growing and fresh.

There are exceptions in the summer to this of course. Smoking pork or brisket is good all times of year, but it's just nice to sit outside, have a cigar, a beer or two, and tend the pit.

In the fall and winter, it's different. It's braising time and the food is generally not as fresh. More reconstitution. More integration of flavors through slow cooking.

The processes take a while and the rewards are worth waiting for.

Well, cassoulet definitely fits that bill.

There are various varieties of these beast of winter food, though the primary homes of this dish come from three cities in the southwest of France, namely Castelnaudary, Toulouse, and Carcassonne. They are all great places in their own right, regardless of their size, history, or presence of walled city and their versions should each be tasted and enjoyed for their grand and heavy delight.
However, the master recipe that I've worked with for years is a fairly slow version of the recipe based on one publicized by the venerable chef, Pierre Franey.

The process involves doing several relatively easy dishes beforehand and then combining them in one relatively easy dish at the end. But it does take time. I even make it a little worse than the recipe because I make the garlic sausage that goes with the beans when you reconstitute them.

The Recipes
The recipe consists of 4 parts and a final assemblage of those parts thereby creating le grand cassoulet. Also, please check out Pierre Franey's Cooking in France. It's a classic cookbook investigating the countryside cuisines

Garlic Sausage

  • Sausage Casings!
  • 3.5# pork butt, cubed
  • 1/2# pork fat, cubed
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 head garlic, minced
  • 1 Tb black pepper, ground
  • 1 Tb salt
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried marjoram or oregano
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg, ground
  • 1/2 c. white wine

    1. Prepare the casings for usage!: If they were encased in salt, make sure you clean that stuff off. Then put it on your handy, dandy meat grinder with the sausage making attachment. I use a Kitchen Aid Mixer with the sausage attachment. I also tend to only use the large dye, no matter what. I don't know what it is, but I just like sausage chunky. If I have to, I'll run the meat through once without the sausage attachment, just the grinder alone, and then run it through a second time into the sausage using the large dye both times.
    2. Pre-Mix: In a large bowl, mix the meat parts with all that ground stuff. When appropriately mixed, add the wine and mix some more.
    3. Make sausages: Start-a-feedin' the sausage grinder-stuffer. Don't press too hard down on the sausage in the feeding process, but a little pressure won't kill the grinder. Tie off the sausages every 4-8".
    4. Fry one up and eat it, or use in the cassoulet.

    Duck Confit

  • 3 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp Five Spice [optional]
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 5# duck
  • 1# lard or duck fat (in spanish, manteca)
  • 6 garlic cloves

    1. Prepare duck rub: Combine the ingredients prior to the duck in a spice grinder. Whirrrrrrr!
    2. Check the duck: Make sure the duck is cleaned out. We don't need a bag of innards sitting in the inside cavity of the duck while you cook it. Keep them though. Duck innards is good eatin'! Keep the gizzards for this dish, but the rest...maybe for a latter day snack.
    3. Chop the duck: Not in small pieces. Cut the duck up like a normal human would. The pieces that you should use for the duck confit are the 2 breasts (with skin), the 2 legs (with skin), the 2 wings (with skin). Do not throw out the carcass yet [see special recipe at end of this].
    4. Jam that rub: Take the rub and rub it on the duck skin and all lil parts of the duck. Don't be shy.
    5. Bathe the duck: Heat a good size pot over medium heat. Add the fat and liquify. Place the duck pieces, including the gizzard, and the whole cloves of garlic in the oil. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium-lowish-low. Simmer for 75 minutes.
    6. Store the fatty duck in fat: Get an earthenware container that can hold the duck pieces. Put the duck pieces (inc. gizzard) in the container. Pour the fat from the dish through a strainer into the container to cover. Let stand till thoroughly cold. Cover closely and refrigerate for weeks (or a couple minutes depending on when you want to eat them).

    Roast Pork Loin

  • 2.5 # pork tenderloin
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper to cover
  • 2 tsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 Tb olive oil

    1. Oven Heat!: Preheat the oven to 400F.
    2. Prepare the Pork: Slice the garlic into slivers. Jab your knife into the pork and insert garlic cloves all over the pork. Salt and pepper the outside of the pork.
    3. First Cooking: Put the pork on a roasting pan and bake 20 minutes.
    4. Second Cooking: Rotate pork 90 degrees and bake 20 more minutes.
    5. Glaze the Pork: Combine the molasses and olive oil in a container and mix sorta. Brush the glaze over the pork.
    6. Final Cooking: Put aluminum foil over the pork very loosely and bake for 20 more minutes.
    7. Eat or use in cassoulet.

    Lamb Ragout

  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp anise seeds
  • 2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2.5 # lamb, cut into 2" chunks
  • 2 Tb duck fat, lard or olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (approx 1 c.)
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 c. white wine (I tend to use the ubiquitous Picpoul de Pinel, but some crisp, cheap, non-oaky wine will do)
  • 3 Tb tomato paste
  • 2 c. stock (well, you could use lamb stock if you have it, or dark chicken stock, or normal chicken stock)
  • 4 sprigs of thyme or 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 c. parsley leaves

    1. Make the rub: Grind the first 5 ingredients in a spice grinder.
    2. Rub the rub: all over the lamb chunks.
    3. Brown the lamb: In a heavy, coverable skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil up. Add the lamb when the oil is at the right temperature (just about smoke point for the olive oil) and brown the lamb on all sides. Approximately 6-10 minutes.
    4. Add vegetable nutrients: Add onions and garlic and brown for 5 minutes.
    5. Simmerify the Wine: if you can remove excess fat from the dish, do so. If not, all ok. Add wine and boil it for 1 minute.
    6. Further simmerifying: Add the tomato paste and saute for 1-2 minutes.
    7. Even further simmerifying: Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Add the thyme, bay leaf and parsley. Cover tightly, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 hour.
    8. Eat! or use in the Cassoulet today, tomorrow or the next day.

    The Cassoulet

  • 1.5 # dried cannellini beans
  • 3 qt water
  • 1 large onion, halved, stuck with 4 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 carrot
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 # salt pork with rind
  • 1 # garlic sausage (above recipe - you can add 1/2 # more if you need it)
  • 2 Tb duck fat
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 14oz can crushed tomatoes
  • Lamb ragout (above recipe)
  • Duck config (above recipe)
  • Roast Pork (above recipe)
  • 1/3 c. toasted bread crumbs made from real bread
  • 3 Tb melted butter

    1. Bean Prep: Scan the dried beans for rocks and lousy beans. Put them in a large soup pan. Cover with the water. Add onion, bay leaf, carrot, salt, pepper and salt pork. Prick the garlic sausage in a few places and add to the pot. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
    2. Remove the sausage and set aside. Continue cooking beans for 30 minutes.
    3. Remove the salt pork. Slice off the rind from the salt pork. Return salt pork to the beans. Cut the rind into 1/4" pieces and reserve. Continue cooking beans for 30 minutes or until beans are tender.
    4. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the duck fat and add garlic, the diced pork rind and the chopped onions. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring often.
    5. Drain and reserve the beans, salt pork and cooking liquid. Discard the onion and bay leaf.
    6. Preheat oven to 400 F.
    7. Prep the Layers: In a large soup pan over medium-high heat, put in the beans, the tomato-onion mixture and the lamb ragout. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, cover, and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
    8. Cut the salt pork into 8-12 slices and set aside. Cut the garlic sausage into 1/2" slices.
    9. Put the duck confit into a pan you can warm, and warm it for a few minutes after the oil liquifies. Pull the meat out and pull the meat from the bones, slicing into edible pieces.
    10. Slice the roast pork into 12 slices.
    11. Finale: Get a large cassoulet pot.
    12. Spoon 1/3 bean mixture into the pot. Arrange pork slices over them. Spoon next 1/3 of the beans over the pork. Arrange duck meat over the beans. Spoon remaining beans over the top. Arrange salt pork and garlic sausage slices over the top. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the top. Dot melted butter over the bread crumbs.
    13. Bake 30 minutes. Check midway through and add some bean liquid if it looks a bit dry. When ready, the cassoulet should be hot and bubbly. Oh and good.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Beans, Beans, they're good for your heart...

    ...the more you eat, the more soluable fiber that gets thrown in as a by-product of whatever tasty dish you made with the beans. I don't really eat a lot of beans during the summer. Maybe some fresh ones, especially fresh fava, but stewing beans or rehydrating them from their rock-like state in order to do something with them is not a summer activity. You will NOT find me out by the grill with dried beans. You will NOT find me enjoying a nice selection of pinto beans while sipping some Cava or Vin Santo at the beach. The time for rehydrating or using canned beans is now, in Autumn through Winter.

    There are some great recipes with beans that I have already cooked this season, though the beans have been primarily using white beans do not think for a moment that I am some white bean bigot who cannot find equivalent loveliness in other styles, shapes and colors of beans. However, there are some dishes with which I have little tolerance for modification in this regard. Cassoulet with black beans? It could be done, but ... I'm just not ready to do that yet.

    The recipe that I will be making tonight, which I have made many times in the past is another white bean recipe. It definitely falls into the comfort food category but it is not as weighty as something like a cassoulet or even a pistou. It does share one thing with the former, however, and that is the presence of pork, or at least a luscious pork product. The lovely Prosciutto de Parma. You could use Prosciutto from somewhere else, or even Serrano, but you want a nice ham in there. Maybe not Iberico because it should really just be consumed by itself, but the ham used herein should still be a good, thinly sliced, delectable ham. I haven't made this dish with smoked hams, not because I don't think it would be good, but I think the smokiness will drastically change the characteristics of the soup - not necessarily making it worse, just different.

 Emilia-Romagnan White Bean Soup

  • 1 Tb olive oil
  • 1 leek, cleaned and sliced finely
  • 6 real cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp white or black pepper
  • ------------------------------
  • 4 cans WHAT? of canellini beans. (see note-disclaimer)
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tb fresh thyme or oregano leaves or 1 tsp dried thyme or oregano leaves
  • 4-8 fresh basil leaves, ripped
  • 2 c. water or chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 2 c. Napa Cabbage, shredded
  • ------------------------------
  • extra virgin olive oil or maybe white truffle oil (check the smell-note)
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating (see other-note)
  • 1-2 good slices of prosciutto per person, torn up so it looks like more and you get a little piece of prosciutto in many of your spoonfuls.

    1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When it starts giving off its smell, add the leeks and garlic and reduce heat to medium. Add the 1 tsp of salt and pepper, and saute the leeks for about 4-5 minutes until they are softened but not browned.
    2. In the same large saucepan, add the beans and their liquid, 2 tsp salt, herbs and 2 c. of water or stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
    3. Remove 1 1/2 c. of beans from the pot. You might get some pieces of basil or leeks when you remove the beans. You can pick them out and return them to the pot, or live with it.
    4. Using an immersion blender, whir that baby in the saucepan and puree. You could use a blender instead, but the immersion blender is pretty handy for stuff like this and if you have one, it probably went all summer without being used, so give it a chance to show what it can do.
    5. After the pureeing has concluded, stir in reserved beans and shredded cabbage. Return the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes until the cabbage wilts.
    6. Divide the soup into bowls. Drizzle with olive oil. Grate some parmigiano-reggiano over each. Drop the ripped up prosciutto in the center so it looks nice.

    NOTE-DISCLAIMER : CANNED BEANS are ok. For cassoulet, I tend to bring them back from their rock like state through soaking, especially if there's a big ham hock or garlic sausage in the soaking liquid. This recipe is really easy and short, however, so let's just use the canned beans this time. I'm sure the recipe would benefit from soaking with something yummy, like garlic sausage, but you don't need to do that in order for the recipe to work.

    OTHER-NOTE : PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO is the cheese you want to use. The other parmesans from Argentina, or Wisconsin, or Canada are acceptable if you don't want to pay the big price, but I'm only saying that to be nice. You don't need a lot of parmigiano-reggiano for the flavor to be obviously better.
    Oh, and please, not the green can thing. It's better not to add any cheese than use that green can of sawdust.

    SMELL-NOTE : Truffle oil is nice in this recipe, but not necessary at all. What also is not necessary is wasting truffle oil. If people have some, they buy it and keep it for some special occasion which might come 6 years later. Well, truffle oil fouls over time. Smell that oil before you use it. Don't ruin your soup or your impression of truffle oil by using something that has died.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009

    In Search of the Danish Colonel's Bread

    or Obrist Holky's Mighty Loaf

    Once upon a time, there was a savage war in central Europe. This war had some interesting characters who took on different faces depending on who they were talking to. The leaders blamed their enemies for the herecy and dystopia that would reign in their nations for all time should the call to proactively defend their nations not be answered. There was no mass media at that time; unless you consider The church of your nation-state as mass media. Regardless, people across central Europe took up the call.

    Obrist Holky, or Heinrich Holk, was a landed noble in the Danish aristocracy who embodied the multiple-face, determinedly opportunistic aspects of the leaders of the day. Holk fought for the Christian IV's Danish Army against those complete and utter scoundrel Imperials led by Count von Tilly (under whom Rene Descartes was lucky enough to have served). That didn't work so well as Denmark was a small nation and the Hapsburgs were rather large, so Herr Holk decided to use his considerable horse-related expertise to serve as cavalry commander with the Imperial Army under infamous Bohemian mercenary, Albrecht von Wallenstein. Holk found his new calling successful, serving as a leader of pillagers and rapists for the Holy Roman Empire -- notorious even in an age of atrocities so saieth Olesen Jens, Danish historian.

    Putting those political vacillations aside, Holk was known for his defensive contributions to the Danes and Pomeranians during the Siege of Straslund (incidently besieged by Holk's future commander, Albrecht von Wallenstein). Holk had reinforced the siege, but had to retire to seek additional forces. It was at this time, so the anecdotes go, that he had started his pillaging career in the neighboring Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was rather large at the time, extending from Silesia in the West all the way much into the Ukraine in the East. A grand breadbasket of the time that both the Empire and the Turks loved to bother, leaving small fry like Holk the freedom of destructive wunderlust that he so seemed to enjoy.

    Besides being a fine pillager, Holk was a serious horseman and landlord of farmers. Being in the breadbasket, Holk found a variety of different grains completely alien to the windswept western edge of Jutland from whence he came. From burned village to burned village, he would gather these grains and their corresponding baked products to bring back at least some personal plunder commensurate with his small force.

    Holk died from the plague, a few years after serving with Wallenstein at Luetzen against the Swedes. It was during the precursory dinner to that battle, that Holk's grand knowledge of grains became known to the officer corps of the Imperial Army, and even to Wallenstein himself. Holk had been tasked with guarding the supply train for the Army the previous week, and had tasted the poor excuse for bread the officers' chefs had been making. Holk knew that facing the Lion of the North (famed Gustavus Adolphus) at Luetzen might mean the death of the entire Army, so he resolved to use his learned expertise to bake bread worthy of this exceptional moment in time.

    The bread was amazing and achieved great renown throughout the officer corps. Many of the officers requested the recipe, but given that they were to go through a horrific battle the following day, the need to procure that recipe after the battle was forgotten. The tastes were written about years later, after the War, but Holk had died with the recipe...or so it seemed.

    The Holy Roman Empire, with whom Holk had both fought against and for, was always at odds with The Turk. Yet, those Empires bled both their men and their customs into each other's realms. The Conditorei and coffee houses for which Vienna has long been known slid into its consciousness by the Hapsburgs' ever-too-oft meetings with the Ottomans. In similar fashion, it was the Turks who preserved what became known as Holk's Prize, the Danish Colonel's Bread; for this bread was not actually his own recipe, but one from a village on the Polish-Lithuanian frontier which Holk (and the Turks) had visited. The recipe was then brought back to the streets of Istanbul to be enjoyed by the many bureaucrats of the Sultan's government.

    As it so happens, Kim (who is of Lithuanian descent) came home with a spectacular bread full of wonderful flavor, unclassifiable grains and righteous density.
    It is my conjecture that this fine bread which she encountered in Vienna (Virginia, that is) a bakery of Turkish origin ...
    who uses the moniker Danish Kernel Bread (muddling the renown of Holk's discovery of whatever Polish-Lithuanian village had first created it) ...
    is indeed a descendant of Holk's Mighty Loaf.
    When I taste it, I taste the history of man's love of baked grains, and the secrets that are so difficult to uncover in the realm of baking, regardless of any spurious involvement with the tale of Holk's bread. I have not yet reproduced it fully, but I am definitely striving ahead. Here are the results of my experiments as of date:

    Obrist Holky's Mighty Loaf

  • 1 1/3 c. water
  • 2 Tb Butter, softened
  • 3 Tb honey
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 c. flax meal
  • 1/4 c. spelt flour
  • 1 c. bread flour
  • 1/2 c. flax seeds
  • 1/2 c. sunflower seeds

    1. Liquids: In a mixing bowl (maybe for a mixer with a dough hook attachment), combine water, butter, honey, yeast and salt. Let sit about 5 minutes.
    2. Flours: Slowly add the flours and flax meal while the dough hook does its thing on a low mixing setting. Continue to mix until the flours and liquids are well incorporated.
    3. Seeds: Add the flax and sunflower seeds and continue to mix until the seeds are well integrated.
    4. Fold and Rise: Pull out dough and put on floured surface or silpat. Fold for about a minute and then let sit in a bread shape. Keep a semi-damp kitchen towel over the dough and let the dough rise for 2 hours.
    5. Preheat the over to 425 F with a bread stone at the bottom and space for a loaf of bread.
    6. Bake: Dust the dough with corn meal and put on the baking stone. Cook for 35 minutes.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Gourmet has died, but the Braising Season Begins least in the northern hemisphere, somewhat north of the Tropic of Cancer and yet south of the Arctic Circle for it is always braising season there, albeit their frozen wastes are splattered with the blubber-filled beasts who survive, or provide other not-so-blubber filled creatures with the sustenance they require, be they carnivorous, omnivorous or just blood-sucking.

    But today's meal is not about blood-sucking, rather marrow-sucking. If I was a zombie [and perhaps Gourmet would come back as such], I know that I would not just focus on brains or the flesh hanging from the calcium timbers of some rib cage of an unfortunate victim. Their skeletal goo would be feasted upon and relished. There is no table-side decorum in the zombie world. It is perfectly acceptable to pick the bone up and slurp out the marrow without worrying about what the other diners would think of you. Although there are many lovely accoutrements or settings, place or fish knives, strawberry, salad, or cake forks, cream soup or melon spoons, these might be appropo at a restaurant like Daniel, but to the zombie there is no reason not to just pick up the bone, gnaw the flesh and suck out the comforting marrow of the braised meat - if only zombies had the patience to braise...

    Today's post is a complete regurgitation of a recipe from Daniel Boulud's Braise: A Journey Through International Cuisine book. Some people ask what 10 albums (to use the term from the ancient English) you would keep on a desert island. This is definitely one of the 10 cookbooks I would bring to a desert island, unless of course the weather was supremely tropical and long-cooking was out of the question.

    Anyhow, buy the book, it's worth it for the rest of the recipes, too. Kim did a great job of foraging forward on this one

    Spicy Oxtails with Pears and Sweet Potatoes

  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 4# oxtails, excess fat removed
  • course sea salt pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (or more)
  • 1 2" piece of ginger, chopped
  • 1 Tb chili powder
  • 2 Spanish onions, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 c. dry vermouth
  • 1/4 c. light soy sauce
  • 1 Tb hoisin
  • 1 tsp red chili paste (or more)
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 Tb light brown sugar
  • 1 Tb toasted sesame seeds
  • 2# sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
  • 4 Bosc pears, peeled,cored, finely diced
  • 2 bunches of scallions, trimmed and cut into thirds

    1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275.
    2. In a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat, warm the olive oil. Season the oxtails with salt and pepper and sear until golden brown on all sides - about 15-20 minutes. Transfer the oxtails to a plate and spoon off all but 1 Tb fat.
    3. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the onions and the garlic, ginger, and chili powder. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes (do not burn chili powder). Add the onions and saute for about 10 minutes.
    4. Raise the heat to medium. Deglaze the pot with vermouth and soy sauce, scraping up the bottom clingy bits. Stir in the hoisin and chili paste. Return the oxtails to the pot. Stir in 1 c. water, the sugar, and sesame seeds and bring to simmer.
    5. Cover the pot, transfer it to the oven and braise for 3 hours - adding sweet potatoes and pears after 1.5 hours, and the scallions after 2 hours.