Tuesday, March 1, 2011

French cassoulet, California style

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The bar at Vertical Wine Bistro
French food holds a special place in my heart. Michael and I have had some great food adventures in France. Foie gras on a buttered baguette at a Paris street fair on a rainy November afternoon. Fish soup with croutons, garlicky rouille and shredded gruyere, spooned up beside the harbor in Cassis, with which we drank amazing wine that never makes it to the U.S. Tiny fraises des bois, wild strawberries, from the produce market in Maillane, the Provencal village where we stayed with our kids a few spring breaks back

Despite the fact that everyone from Woody Allen to my late father made fun of California's obsession with sprouts and wheatgrass, Los Angeles has some fine French food. And few Cal-French chefs do it better than Laurent Quenioux, the James Beard Award-nominated chef behind Bistro LQ and, now, Vertical Wine Bistro in Pasadena, where I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner with a group of Los Angeles food writers a few months ago.

California rubs off on even the most French of chefs, it seems, because French food in Los Angeles is always on the lighter side. Even cassoulet, a hearty winter gratin of beans, sausages and various cuts of pork that in France will send you running for your favorite napping sofa, seemed more fresh and less fatty at Vertical.

Chef Quenioux swears by the Tarbais beans, fat white ones, creamy and smooth. It's off the menu now - winter's over, spring's here, haven't you heard? But get ready to channel your inner French chef and make it yourself, because I scored Chef Quenioux's recipe. Reading it, I can't imagine how the final product ended up tasting so light. There are some manly ingredients on this list.

Note: It may be hard to find cured garlic sausage and Toulouse sausage unless you have access to a good European-style butcher. Do the best you can. Ultimately, sausage is delicious. If you can't get the ones recommended here, choose your favorites.

Cassoulet at Vertical Wine Bistro
 Vertical Wine Bistro's Cassoulet De Toulouse

  • Salt and pepper
  • 250g pork skin (optional)
  • 500g pork belly, cubed 
  • 1 kg Tarbais beans, soaked overnight 
  • 1 large whole onion
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 200g duck fat
  • 1 bouquet garni with thyme, rosemary and bay 
  • 500g lamb shanks 
  • 2 pieces duck leg confit 
  • 1 cured garlic sausage 
  • 500g Toulouse sausage
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 garlic head, minced
  • 6 tomatoes, chopped 
  • 1 liter chicken stock
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp walnut oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
Chef Laurent Quenioux
Soak pork skin for 12 hours or overnight if using.
Sauté pork belly to render some of the fat in a large pot. Add the soaked beans to the pot and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Stud one whole onion with the cloves and add to the pot along with the bouquet garni and 50g duck fat. Cook for 1 1/2 hours on low heat on the stovetop.

Roast the lamb shanks in a 400F oven using 50g duck fat. Season with salt and pepper. Nestle cooked lamb into the beans.

Sauté the sausages and the confit. Remove from pan, set aside. Add the chopped onions, carrots, and garlic to pan and sauté until onions are translucent. Stir sautéed vegetables and tomatoes into the beans. Nestle sausages and confit on top, making sure confit is not crushed. Cook for 1-2 hours in oven at 350F, making sure to keep beans wet by adding water or chicken stock as needed.

Taste for salt and pepper. Layer the beans and meats in a large clay pot for presentation. Add 2 tablespoons of walnut oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle with the panko and 100g duck fat and place under broiler for 30 minutes to toast the panko and heat through.

Cassoulet ingredients

1 comment:

Crazy Eddie said...

My food education has finally come around to the point where I am learning about French food. So many people start with French food but, for some reason, I saved it for last. I am really enjoying learning all I can now, though, and your article was very informative and interesting. Thank you so much. By the way, congratulations for winning the Babble Top 100 Mama Food Blog List. I can see why you got listed. You have a gorgeous blog and I love your writing. Thanks!

Vegan Joy

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