Tag Archives: Crazy Cooking Project

Cassoulet–Step 1, Duck Confit with the Anova Sous Vide

Crusty Cassoulet, ready to serve.

Crusty Cassoulet, ready to serve.

For many years, my in-laws would celebrate their New Year’s Day wedding anniversary by hosting an open house and serving Cassoulet. January 1, 2015 was their 50th anniversary, and a cassoulet open house seemed the perfect way to honor their golden year.

What is cassoulet? Essentially, it’s baked beans. In France, people will take whatever meats they have left over from their meals, put it in a pot with beans and bake it. However, not being French, and not having leftover meat enough for fifty people, I definitely had to start from scratch. I used the old Julia Child cookbook my mom-in-law had used, watched the Julia Child video on youtube and went from there. The idea of using duck confit came from the cookbook, and I decided that sounded extra rich and yummy.

I had made a ‘quick’ version of duck confit recently in order to get the duck fat for roasting veggies. The store was out of duck fat, so my only choice, really, was to render it myself. The duck meat itself wasn’t my prime target on that one. But, during my research, I had learned duck confit is traditionally made by covering the duck with salt, weighting it down and letting it cure for several days before covering it with lots more duck fat and then cooking it in the fat at a very precise low temperature for hours. Kind of finicky for me, but I was willing to do it.

Then, when I was looking for the directions again, I came across a recipe by Paula Wolfert. (I tried linking it here, but the site doesn’t allow linking–you can google it under Paula Wolfert Duck Confit.) She basically has you put the duck in a pouch and watch the water at 180F for five hours. Basically sous vide without any machine to help. This still requires pretty consistent attention. It just so happens, my husband bought me the”Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulator – 120V Circulator Cooker” for Christmas. I knew immediately what my first use of the new Sous Vide machine was going to be.

So, here’s how I did the confit for the party. It’s a lot of duck, but packed in its own fat, it should last for months. Either do a huge batch or reduce the quantity of spices and you’ll be fine. I don’t think there’s anything exact about that part. I saw several recipes that added lots of garlic to the mix, so next time, I might do a garlic confit. (I just didn’t want to flavor all my fat with garlic this time out.)

10 Duck leg quarters
6 TBSP Salt
4 TSPN freshly ground black pepper
two crumbled bay leaves
10 sprigs fresh thyme

I started by cleaning duck quarters and rubbing them with salt, pepper, and crumbled bay leaves. I had fresh thyme still alive in the garden, so I just layered fresh sprigs on each piece. I piled the duck into a sealable container and pressed it down with a piece of plastic and closed it up for three days in the fridge.
Raw salted duck

Duck in bags

After the duck had been salted for several days, I washed off as much of the herbs as I could and dried very thoroughly with paper towels.

I put two quarters into each quart sized vacuum sealable bag and used a vacuum/sealer (FoodSaver V2244 Vacuum Sealing System“>) to suck out all the air and seal the plastic closed.  (While I did this, I had the Anova set up in a huge pot with water warming to 180F.)
Duck in waterThen, I put all the bags in the huge pot with the Anova. I had filled the pot with very hot tap water, set the machine to 180F and left it to come to temperature while sealing the duck. This is the easy part.  I left the bags in the pot for a long time.  Wolfert said 5 hours, but I actually left mine on for a lot longer. More like ten.  My goal was to get to the point where everything looked rendered and the meat was falling off the bone when I poked at it through the plastic.

duck as it cooks

As you can see, the fat renders from the duck as it cooks.  This is probably around four or five hours of cooking when I took this photo.  Honestly, I had a meeting that evening, so I left my husband to pull the duck out while I was gone.  You just have to decide when it is done, but with confit, I think the more tender it gets the better.  Check it at five hours, then every hour after until you are satisfied it is melty enough for you.

cooled confit

This is the duck after the duck has cooled overnight. The yellow is the rendered fat, and the pink-jelly like stuff you can see if you look closely, is the rendered juices. At this point, I opened up the bags and scraped the fat into one bowl, the juices into another,and pulled off the meat from the bones so I could use chunks of the meat in the cassoulet. For regular use, I would just leave the duck in the bag until I needed it. Traditionally, you would take the whole piece, reheat it gently and pan fry the skin to a crisp golden yumminess. Since I was serving fifty people off the ten pieces, I had to remove the bone and put pieces throughout the dish instead.

(And sorry about the formatting on this post. I made the mistake of switching to ‘visual’ mode in WP, and couldn’t figure out how to make it look even.)


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Tomatillo Salsa

Compared to fifty pounds of cucumbers, this singular colander of tomatillos did not seem like much of a project. Even after finding a recipe online that looked promising, and reading the ingredient list that would include eight cups of chopped onion, three cups of chopped chile peppers and a cup of chopped jalapenos, I was still thinking it wouldn’t be that big a deal. What’s a bit of chopping? Adding to my determination was the fact that my hubby grew the tomatillos, onion and garlic (just 12 cloves). It’s been hard work keeping up with the steady flow of produce from the garden, and I hate wasting food.

The only items I needed to purchase from the store were the peppers, lemon juice, some spices and more jars. My supply was depleted by the pickle party last month. When I got to PCC, there were maybe a dozen withered and lame looking Anaheim peppers out for sale. The produce manager on duty was happy to inform me that she’d just received a new box from Full Circle farms and brought it out for me to pick through. Now here were some fresh, fleshy and succulent peppers that were also local and organic! Yay.

When I got home I spent a good twenty minutes removing the paper husks from the tomatillos. The task is made much easier if you put the fruit in a bowl of water and peel the paper off underneath the surface. Once they were cleaned, I just had to chop them up. It turns out that I don’t like the smell of raw tomatillos. In fact, it is downright nauseating. I’ve never had a problem with cooked tomatillos, and green salsa is generally my favorite. Some things are just better in their cooked form. By the time I was done chopping them up, I was looking forward to replacing the scent with the onion.

I used about four of the onions we had harvested the day before to get the eight cups needed for the recipe. By the time I was done, my eyes were watering and I was over the sickly sweet smell of the tomatillos. I’ve heard there are various things to do to help with chopping onion, but I’ve never had anything work. I’ve tried burning a candle nearby, holding bread in my mouth and chilling the onion without success. I refuse to buy a pair of those silly looking goggles I’ve seen at the store.

The picture I took of the jalapenos was too blurry, but the Anaheims look pretty good. Just imagine a smaller pile next to them, a pair of rubber gloves and about an hour or more of seed removal and chopping time.

The tomatillos, onion, peppers, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, pepper, oregano (also from our garden) all went into a pot and cooked for half an hour before being packed into hot jars and then put through a long hot water bath. At the end of four hours, we have ten pints of green tomatillos salsa. By the time it had all cooked down, the inside of our house smelled like a restaurant.

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Pickle Party 2011

Fifty pounds of cucumbers doesn't really look like that much in a box like this.

I was at the produce section looking for bananas when I felt compelled to pick up a couple of pickling cucumbers the produce guy, P.J., had just put out. I rolled the cool bumpy veggies in my hand, thinking over the sagacity of getting into a canning project. P.J. must have seen the look on my face–something between longing and desire?–and made me an offer on a case I couldn’t refuse. The price was substantially lower, per pound, than that of the regular retail and the notion of getting an entire case of cucumbers was appealing to me at some deep spiritual, domestic goddess level. I make jam, jelly, and pickles; I am woman!

I am, however, also experienced enough in the realm of pickle making to know that I would be a complete idiot to attempt the task by myself. Besides, canning and preserving parties are a great way to get together and have fun with others to accomplish what could be a rather odious chore if done solo. I put a note on Facebook about my idea and had several people interested. When the day arrived, there were enough of us to make the work fun and enjoyable even if tiring. The term “Crazy Cooking Project” was more than just bandied about.

We talked a bit about the irony that we weren’t really saving money by our efforts. A jar of dill pickles from the store doesn’t cost all that much. The certainty of what is in the jars–fresh local cucumbers, onion and garlic from my own garden, dill from a local farmer’s market, grape leaves from the arbor just outside my back door–plus the inherent feeling of accomplishment at making them ourselves is what seems to spur us on. Besides, the variety of what we created is different than what the store offers. I’d never heard of “Dutch Lunch Pickles” until M. found the recipe in “The Joy of Pickling.”

Pickling, canning and preserving are home-based arts that have become less survival driven necessities and more pleasure arts/crafts. Like sewing and knitting, other skills that were practically required to survive in years gone by, canning has become an optional luxury. It’s almost impossible to make a skirt for less than what you can buy one for at Target. Knitting a sweater costs way more than picking one up at Costco. The difference of course, is about quality and style and the sense of accomplishment. Being able to say “I made this” in a world of mass-produced goods and where people are losing the skill to make almost anything feels pretty damn good.

For me, though, the best part about the pickle party was that it really was a party. Being an “at-home” mom who spends most of my time at home by myself, the day of working with others not my spouse and not my kids was….fun. Really fun. Call ’em “Crazy Cooking Projects” if you want, but bring them on just the same!

At the end of the day, those chairs felt great.

After six hours of pretty much non-stop labor, we ended up with:
12 pints Garlic Dills
10 pints “Dutch Lunch Pickles”
12 pints sweet and sour gherkin style
6 pints sweet and spicy with red pepper and garlic
10 pints “Dutch Lunch, no garlic”
12 Quarts straight dill

Sorted and grouped by size.

We quartered and brined about 25 pounds.

Jars filled with cukes, spices and brine, ready to seal.

Some genius solved the hot water/picking up the jar lids with a magnet and a stick. I almost cried with joy.


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