Well, the time has come to jump into duck. Gwyneth’s cookbook is filled with duck-themed recipes, and I have yet to try any of them. Mostly because the majority of the duck recipes require duck bacon, a notoriously hard-to-obtain ingredient which has been written about on this blog far too much, but also simply because duck just isn’t that pleasant to cook or eat in the summer. It’s so rich and buttery and thick! Much better in the winter. But Friday I returned home from work to find two boxes of duck bacon and six legs of duck confit in my fridge, so thus my fate was sealed: Duck Cassoulet.
The picture in the book makes this look pretty damn appetizing, I must say, and Gwyneth also says it’s a great “one-pot weekend supper.” Which sounds perfect for someone who hates dishes as much as me! Unfortunately, Gwyneth is flat-out lying to us. This isn’t even close to a one-pot supper. In fact, I would go so far as to state that this recipe calls for the MOST dishes from any single recipe thus completed. At one point, I had three burners AND the oven going at the same time. So, no. Not even close.
The recipe called for me to make a “bouquet garni,” of which I had only the faintest idea of what it actually even WAS. I was pretty sure I knew what it was, but figured I should Google, just in case. Making the bouquet garni required me to purchase some cheesecloth, a kitchen tool I have never felt the need to previously own. If you had told me three months ago that soon I would be the kind of guy with duck confit and duck bacon in his fridge, homemade vegetable stock and duck fat (as we’ll see later) in his freezer, and a big pack of cheesecloth in his drawers, I would have laughed at you. ESPECIALLY if you would have told me this would all be inspired by Margot Tenenbaum. But now I am that guy, apparently.
To get things started, I drained and rinsed a few cans of cannellini beans (it was pointed out to me just how expensive these damn beans are, which is true — for some reason, they are significantly more expensive than the other beans on the shelves. Of course they are! Why would we settle for anything less?) and put them in a saucepan, along with a crushed garlic clove, my beautiful bouquet garni, and, randomly, two big, green outer leaves from a leek. I covered the ingredients with cold water and let it simmer on the stove while I prepared the rest of the dish.
For some reason, I find this kind of a weird way to begin.
And then we get to the duck bacon. Finally, all these long, painful weeks. All those blank stares from butchers. All that money. Leads to this: Six thick slabs of duck bacon. I expected angels to sing when I opened the box. Or, at the very least, I thought I’d get the key to the city. Instead, I just got duck grease all over my hands. How anticlimactic. Gwyneth wants me to remove all the fat from the bacon except for one slice, which is extremely easy to do – the fat is hardly even connected to the duck. It just falls right off. I reserved the fat in the freezer, because I know future recipes will call for duck fat, and I am NOT wasting this stuff. It’s probably the closest to cooking with actual gold we’ll get in this book (or maybe not? God, I hope there are no recipes that require gold). I then chopped the duck bacon into “lardoons,” which is a rich person’s word for “chunks.”
It’s here! It’s here! It looks… pretty normal!
I threw the bacon chunks into my nice, new heavy pot (thanks, parents!) and let it cook for a few minutes. And, holy crap this stuff smelled good. Although not at all like bacon, let’s be honest. It just smelled like duck. Which smells good, but not like bacon, which is what I was mistakenly expecting. Oh, well. After the bacon was allowed to sizzle and brown for a bit, I then dumped in a diced onion and four sliced cloves of garlic. I cooked that for 15 minutes on low, letting the onions slowly soften in the duck fat. I really can’t express how fantastic this smelled. Just writing about it literally made my stomach grumble right now.
I actually could have stopped here and been happy.
Next, I dumped a can of whole, peeled tomatoes in and crushed them with a wooden spoon (an act which maybe 90% of Gwyneth’s recipes calls for; I should consider buying my whole, peeled tomatoes in bulk). The tomato/bacon mixture is left to simmer for 30 minutes, and then it’s time to get a third pot out. Just a simple one-pot supper, right?
In a large frying pan, I was instructed to brown both sides of my duck confit. This wasn’t that exciting of a process, and took much longer than instructed. I blame our electric stove, though. I can’t wait to move to a place with a gas stove. The browned duck legs were then removed to a plate, and I poured some olive oil into the frying pan, which still had a bit of duck fat in it. I also added two crushed cloves of garlic, and let the pan warm a bit. Meanwhile, I took half of a baguette and blended it in a food processor, to make fresh bread crumbs. I then dumped the bread crumbs into the garlic-and-oil frying pan and stirred for a couple minutes, until the crumbs browned a bit and smelled like garlic. Finally, I mixed in some chopped parsley. Homemade parsley bread crumbs! Wonderful.
Duck confit, it turns out, is actually kind of disgusting to cook with.
So now we’ve got a pile of dishes. But we’re almost done! And we can start consolidating into one pot, FINALLY. I drained the beans and discarded my bouquet garni, sadly, even though I was so proud of it. I was instructed to reserve some of the “bean water,” which sounds gross but actually smelled pretty good.
Then, we assemble the cassoulet. The tomato mixture has cooked down a little, which is perfect. I stir the beans into the pot, and then am instructed to “nestle in” the duck legs. Well, the bones take up a lot of room, and I don’t really enjoy the idea of a casserole in which I have to work around big duck bones, so I end up removing the duck meat from the leg bones and just mixing the de-boned meat into the cassoulet. This may not be conventional or authentic or whatever, but I don’t think it will be the end of the world. Anyway, I layer the top with the bread crumbs, and then dump a cup and a half of the “bean water” over the whole cassoulet, which is kind of weird. Then I pop it in the oven for 30 minutes, and get to work on an outrageously tall pile of dishes. Really, one-pot my ass.
The cassoulet, before I decided to get rid of the bones.
The finished product.
But after all that, the cassoulet is really good. I mean, it’s a lot of duck, and a lot of other good, high-quality ingredients that cost a lot of money. So how could it be bad? In fact, it better not be, after how much work it took to get that damn duck bacon. Which, really, is ultimately overshadowed by the duck confit. But now I’ll be eating duck for lunch all week at work, which will make me feel fancy, so I guess that’s a plus? I don’t know, this recipe is delicious, but worth it? Probably not. At the very least, use regular bacon instead of duck bacon. No one will even notice.
So now we’re in the thick of it, duck-wise. I’ve got many more duck recipes in the future, many of which will feature duck bacon much more heavily. I also plan on doing a taste test this week, to compare duck bacon to other types of bacon. Because I just wasn’t satisfied with the amount of duck bacon in this recipe. All that work and headache to get it, and it’s just tossed into a pot with 100 other ingredients? I can’t be sure I could even tell what the stuff tasted like. So a taste test is definitely called for. We’ll see: can duck bacon defeat pork bacon? Ha, just kidding, of course it won’t.