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Cassoulet made easy? Well, easier, with D'Artagnan

D’Artagnan makes an all-inclusive cassoulet kit.

D\u2019Artagnan

D’Artagnan makes an all-inclusive cassoulet kit.

I was cocky. I'd nearly finished cooking school, I could make a genoise and a decent hollandaise. But, in much the way an amateur juggler who has mastered the basic three-ball cascade assumes she's ready for four, I was overconfident. In juggling, difficulty increases exponentially as you add objects. Maybe the same holds true in cooking, especially if one of the objects is duck confit.

I undertook cassoulet, that most beloved and controversial of meaty French bean stews. It took days, soaking beans, slowly simmering duck in its own fat, chopping, skimming and monitoring. Eventually, I opened the door to my dinner guests, feeling shaky and disheveled, all of my worldly possessions gleaming in a thin coating of duck fat.

Eighteen years later and I'm wiser. This time, I'll cheat. Thank goodness for the Internet, an all-inclusive cassoulet kit and overnight mail.

In The Cooking of Southwest France, cookbook author Paula Wolfert wrote, "Cassoulet is one of those dishes over which there is endless drama. Like bouillabaisse in Marseilles, paella in Spain, chili in Texas, it is a dish for which there are innumerable recipes and about which discussions quickly turn fierce."

Prosper Montagne, the author of the first Larousse Gastronomique, allowed that there were only three authentic recipes for this hearty winter dish from the Languedoc region in southwest France. Toulouse's version packs in mutton, duck confit, a local sausage and breast of pork; the town of Castelnaudary's dish instead features bacon skin, fresh pork, sausages and pork shank. That from Carcassonne has red partridge and sometimes mutton leg.

The basic idea is white kidney-shaped beans called tarbais, simmered for hours in an earthen dish called a "cassole" with a pile of different meats so the beans get creamy, the broth rich beyond belief and the top browned and crusty.

D'Artagnan, the New Jersey-based fine food company, has been offering a cassoulet kit for 15 years, according to Lily Hodge, director of public relations. It costs $83.99 plus shipping and feeds 12 and saves the headache of looking for specialty ingredients. Even in a bad economy, the price seemed reasonable for a dinner party. And it did feed 12, maybe more.

Plus Martha Stewart approves: Not long ago she had D'Artagnan founder Ariane Daguin on the her show to walk viewers through the process.

It's not an "add water, and presto" situation. There's still work to be done, but the hard parts (the pesky confit, the tracking down of exotic ingredients) are taken care of. A huge Styrofoam container, unpacked onto my kitchen counter, yielded numerous Cryovaced component parts (the beans and the meats) with details like parsley, onions and carrots left to my local grocer. An overnight bean soak, a bit of meat searing and parboiling, then the whole thing was assembled. A drizzle of molten duck fat over the top (queasy-making, but essential), then oven time. Two hours and 20 minutes later, I was opening the door to guests, my house fragrant, this cheater's brow sweat-free.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs.tampabay.com/ dining.

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D'Artagnan Cassoulet

The exotic ingredients for this recipe could be assembled yourself from grocery stores like Fresh Market or by calling Master Purveyors in Tampa at (813) 253-0865. Items marked with an asterisk come in the cassoulet kit offered at dartagnan.com.

* 2 pounds Coco Tarbais or great northern beans, rinsed and picked over

* 12 ounces ventreche (substitute pancetta if you can't find), in one piece

10 cloves garlic, peeled

2 medium onions, skinned and cut in half

1 carrot, coarsely chopped

Bouquet garni made of

5 parsley sprigs, 3 celery leaves, 1 thyme sprig,

1 bay leaf, 5 cloves and

10 peppercorns, wrapped in cheesecloth and tied

10 cups water

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

* 6 duck legs confit, cut in half at the joint

* 4 links (8.5 ounces) duck and Armagnac sausage, lightly browned, then cut in thirds crosswise

* 1 pound fresh bulk garlic sausage, cut into 12 slices

1 tablespoon tomato paste

* 6.5 ounces duck and veal demi-glace dissolved in 3 ½ cups water

*¼ cup duck fat, melted

Cover beans with water and soak overnight. Drain and put into a large, heavy casserole, preferably enameled cast iron, with ventreche, garlic, onions, carrot and bouquet garni. Cover with 10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring often, until beans are barely tender, about 1 hour. Drain beans, discard onions and bouquet garni. Cut ventreche into 1/2-inch squares.

Season beans with 1 teaspoon salt and several grindings of pepper.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place half of the bean mixture back into casserole. Add duck legs, browned duck sausages, chopped ventreche and garlic sausage slices, then cover with remaining beans.

Mix tomato paste into dissolved demi-glace, then pour over bean mixture. Drizzle duck fat over top.

Cover and bake until hot and bubbling, about 2 hours. (Cassoulet may be prepared ahead to this point, then cooled and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before proceeding. )

Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Uncover casserole and bake until top is browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.

Serves 12.

Source: D'Artagnan

Cassoulet made easy? Well, easier, with D'Artagnan 03/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 4:30am]

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