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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How to Make Traditional Cassoulet.

How to Make Traditional Cassoulet (And Why You Should Put Chicken in It!) | Serious Eats
First off, it's the shape of the pan.
A traditional cassole has a tapered shape that gives it an extremely high surface area to volume ratio.
More room for evaporation means better skin formation and better browning.
In fact, the last two pictures above are of cassoulets cooked in the exact same manner, the only difference being the vessel they are cooked in.

Unfortunately, it's tough to find a good cassoulet pot around here.

A regular cassoulet will form a crust in about 4 hours of cooking in a 150°C/300°F oven.
What about if you just cook your Dutch oven cassoulet for longer or hotter?
I tried a variety of time and temperature ranges.
At the very best, what you end up with is this:
Decent crust alright, but the crust is really formed by the beans and the meat, not by the liquid itself.
Underneath, the beans are too dry.

The second problem is the store-bought stock I'd been using.
Homemade chicken stock tends to be very high in gelatin, a result of the high amount of connective tissue in the bones and cartilage used to make it.
Store-bought stock, by contrast, is thin and watery.
It's this gelatin that forms the crusty raft on top of the cassoulet, giving it both crust and body.

It's these two problems—wrong pot, not enough gelatin in the stock—that lead many recipes to resort to using breadcrumbs to create an artificial crust.

So what's the solution? Well the obvious one is to just make your own goddam stock.
It's actually way easier than it sounds, though it again requires a bit of a time commitment.
I'll admit it: sometimes even I'm too lazy to make my own stock when I've already got a day-long project ahead of me.

So what's the next best thing?
Just fake it.
By blooming store-bought unflavored gelatin in regular store-bought stock, you can create a rich stock full of body that forms a raft just like the real deal.
I don't go easy on the gelatin either (remember, you have to make up for using the wrong-shaped pot as well).
A full three packets for a quart of liquid gives it the body and crust I'm looking for.

In order to get a cassoulet that stays nice and loose underneath while still building a crust up top, it's important not to drown that crust out.
If your liquid level starts to get too low, add more liquid (just plain water works) to the pot by carefully pouring it along the side of the pot so that it goes under the crust, not over it.

Creamy, flavor-packed beans with meltingly tender nubs of pork belly and sausage and chicken legs that fall off the bone in moist shreds, all in a rich, sticky liquid that drinks like liquid pork.
- Traditional French Cassoulet Recipe | Serious Eats
INGREDIENTS
1 pound dried cannellini beans
Kosher salt
1 quart homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
3 packets 85ml (3/4 ounces) unflavored gelatin (see note above)
2 tablespoons duck fat (optional)
8 ounces salt pork, cut into 2cm (3/4-inch) cubes
6 to 8 pieces of chicken thighs and drumsticks, or 4 whole chicken leg quarters
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound garlic sausage (2 to 4 links depending on size)
1 large onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
1 carrot, unpeeled, cut into 7.5cm/3-inch sections
2 stalks celery, cut into 7.5cm/3-inch sections
1 whole head garlic
4 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
6 cloves

DIRECTIONS
1.In a large bowl, cover beans with 3 quarts water and add 3 tablespoons salt. Stir to combine and let sit at room temperature overnight. Drain and rinse beans and set aside.
2.Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and preheat oven to 150°C/300°F.
Place stock in a large liquid measuring cup and sprinkle gelatin over the top. Set aside.
Heat duck fat (if using) in a large Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering.
Add salt pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, about 8 minutes.
Transfer to a large bowl and set aside. (If not using duck fat, cook pork with no additional fat.)
3.Season chicken pieces with pepper (do not add salt) and place skin side-down in now-empty pan.
Cook without moving until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
Flip chicken pieces and continue cooking until lightly browned on second side, about 3 minutes longer.
Transfer to bowl with salt pork.
4.Add sausages and cook, turning occasionally, until well-browned on both sides.
Transfer to bowl with salt pork and chicken.
Drain all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot.
5.Add onions to pot and cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
Cook until onions are translucent but not browned, about 4 minutes.
Add drained beans, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, cloves, and stock/gelatin mixture.
Bring to a simmer over high heat.
Reduce to low, cover Dutch oven and cook until beans are almost tender but retain a slight bite, about 45 minutes.
6.Using tongs, remove carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaves, and cloves and discard.
Add meats to pot and stir to incorporate, making sure that the chicken pieces end up on top of the beans with the skin facing upwards.
Beans should be almost completely submerged.
Transfer to oven and cook, uncovered, until a thin crust forms on top, about 2 hours, adding more water by pouring it carefully down the side of the pot as necessary to keep beans mostly covered.
7.Break crust with a spoon and shake pot gently to redistribute.
Return to oven and continue cooking, stopping to break and shake the crust every 30 minutes until you reach the 4 1/2 hour mark.
Return to oven and continue cooking undisturbed until the crust is deep brown and thick, about 5 to 6 hours total.
Serve immediately.

Why this recipe works:
Soaking the beans in salted water overnight helps keep them tender as they cook.
Chicken used in place of the traditional duck picks up tons of flavor from the other cured meat products and comes out meltingly tender and meaty.
Adding gelatin to the cooking liquid helps it form a better crust on the casserole as it bakes.
Note: If you are using homemade chicken stock that already has lots of gelatin (i.e., it should thicken and gel when chilled), you can omit the unflavored gelatin here; if your stock is store-bought, or if it's homemade but watery even when chilled, the unflavored gelatin is an essential ingredient.

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