Monday, September 3, 2007

I woke up today with France on my mind

Truth be told I wake up with France on my mind most days, however recently those thoughts have pervaded my mind more often. Perhaps it is because I was suppose to go on a trip to Burgundy with Clive Coates through my graduate program and it fell through, or it is just the amount of cooking and dining out I have been doing lately of the cuisine. Since I moved to Boston last January I have eaten at more French restaurants in this short time than I have in my entire career. These have not all been great experiences, but some of them have been amazing.

As for the cooking portion, I have always loved cooking French cuisine, but starting my Masters degree in Gastronomy at Boston University has propelled my love for the cuisine even further. Last semester I took an online class with Jacques Pepin and another professor Dr. Claflin from BU being the instructors. It was a phenomenal way to get my mind to look at the cuisine in a different way. Not only did the culture get reinforced for different dishes I have always cooked, but it inspired me to cook more regionally with all cuisines. I specifically fell in love with the Southwestern portion of the country and with the help of Paula Wolfret's writing, I have been able to experiment more with that regionalism found there.

Too often as chefs we are instructed in the ways of haute cuisine and I think that many of us have missed out on the wonderful peasant cuisines found in regional cooking in many countries. It is not always necessary to take a dish and stack it as high as possible, put three sauces on it, maybe some carrot foam and a cracker made from some unpronounceable chemical. Sometimes just a dish of tomato braised beans, with some garlic sausage, maybe a piece of duck confit, and a couple pieces of braised pork, combined and slow cooked for hours can be the best thing in the world, by-the-way we call that dish cassoulet, more specifically from the town of Toulouse in southwest France.

So with my opening blog I give you a bit of my passion for French cuisine and hope to have interaction with many food lovers across the globe. It is my hope to give you a few words on food each day, perhaps some restaurant reviews as I dine out often and just my general thoughts on what I am cooking each day and perhaps a recipe to go along with it. I am a busy graduate student and hop to give you a feeling of what it is to be a passionate chef and foodie setting himself out upon a new direction in a different world. Seeing as I mentioned cassoulet and I have so many friends who hear me talk about it, I thought I share with you my version of the dish.


2 lbs. of dried haricot beans (Tarbais if available, otherwise use navy beans)
1 lb. boneless pork shoulder cut into large chunks
10 oz. Pork skin with fat attached (Your local butcher can get this, or use fat back)
2 fresh ham hocks, cracked in half
2 medium onions, diced large
3 carrots, diced large
1 whole carrot, peeled and left whole
1 whole onion, peeled and left whole
6 springs of thyme tied together with 1/2 bunch of flat leaf parsley
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 Tablespoon of tomato paste
2 quarts of home-made chicken stock
6 legs of duck or goose confit with meat removed into large chunks
1 lb. of Toulouse sausage cut into large chucks (if unavailable use a fresh garlic flavored sausage)
Bread crumbs as needed
Salt and Pepper

Serves 10-12

12 hours or the night before preparing your cassoulet, season the pork, hocks and skin liberally with salt and pepper and let sit in the refrigerator. Separately place the beans in a bowl and cover with water until about one inch over the level of the beans and let sit overnight as well.
2. When ready to begin, simmer the pork skin in water until it is soft and takes on a translucency. Remove it from the water shock it in cold water and then tie it into a roll with strong.
3. Heat a large cast iron pot over medium-high heat. Add a couple tablespoons of fat from your duck confit to the pan and brown the pieces of pork shoulder. Add the half of the carrots and onions then saute until the onions begin to caramelize. Next add the tomato paste, garlic cloves, stock, tied pork skin, bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer under the pork is very tender, or about 1.5-2 hours.
While the pork is simmering drain the beans of their soaking liquid and rinse under cold water. Place the beans into a separate large pot along with the whole peeled onion and carrot, ham hocks and the bundle of thyme and parsley. Cover with fresh water and bring to a boil, lower heat to bring pot down to a simmer and allow to simmer for two hours or until the beans are tender.
5. When both the pork and the beans have become tender, remove from the heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes or until the ham hocks can be safely removed and the meat can be pulled from the bones and shredded. Discard the whole onion and carrot from the beans along with the bone from the ham hock after you have removed the meat.
6. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees.
7. Unite the pork skin from the pork ragout and use it to line the bottom and sides of a large cast iron dutch oven or similar coated stoneware vessel like the ones made by Emile Enrie. Place 1/3 of the beans into the bottom of the pot and season with pepper and salt. Then place one-half of the assorted meats (braised pork, ham hock, confit, sausage) on top of the beans, repeat the layer of beans, then meat and then the final 1/3 of the beans. Pour enough liquid from the braise and if necessary beans in order to just cover the top layer. Top the beans with a few tablespoons of the fat used to make the confit and then place a liberal coating of bread crumbs on top.
8. Place the pot into the pre-heated oven for one hour. When one hour has elapsed reduce the heat to 275 degress and continue to cook for another three hours. During the cooking time periodically check to make sure that the top of the cassoulet is moist, if it starts to dry add some of the cooking liquid from the beans.
9. Remove the pot from the oven and refrigerate it overnight.
10. The next day remove the pot from the oven and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the pot back into the oven for another hour and then reduce to 275 degrees again and cook for another three hours, remembering to continuously keep the top of the cassoulet moist.
11. At this point the cassoulet is ready to serve, remove from the oven and spoon onto a large plate or serving bowl making sure each person gets some beans and a bit of each of the meats. This dish is best served with an appropriate full-bodied Bordeaux.

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