Regional French Cuisine: Languedoc: Cassoulet

30 11 2009

It starts out so innocently...

Cassoulet.  Anthony Bourdain has been known to refer to it as “the single heaviest dish in the French repertoire.”  I can’t say I disagree with him.  (Although tartiflette certainly gives it a run for its money.)  Like so many other classic dishes, there are many who claim to having invented cassoulet.  The three towns most adamant about their version being the “true” cassoulet are Castelnaudry, Carcassonne, and Toulouse.  Depending on who you ask, the meats used in the dish are pork (skin, belly, and/or sausage), duck or goose confit, and mutton.

Three fat sausages, sitting in the pan...

Everyone agrees that the dish contains white beans, and that it is named for a special cooking vessel, the cassole, which is shaped in such a way as to increase the amount of delicious crust that forms on top.  After consulting a handful of recipes, notably those from Paula Wolfert and Bourdain and Ruhlman, I drew up an outline of how I would be going about the cassoulet.

I inadvertently sent Nick on a wild goose chase for Toulouse sausages, which were nowhere to be found on Sunday morning.  Finally he just asked a butcher for a sausage he could put in cassoulet, and came home with three beautiful, handmade links and a few thick slices of pork belly.

While the beans simmered in a mixture of veal stock and water with an oignon piqué and some thyme, I trimmed the pork belly and threw the skin and bony bits in with the beans.  The rest I chopped into lardons which I started cooking over low heat in a good layer of duck fat.  When they were nice and crisp, I moved them to a paper towel-lined bowl to drain and began browning the sausages.  After that, the duck confit went in to crisp the skin (for snacking purposes) and to warm through (to make the shredding step easier).  Then, I drained off most of the fat, reserving it for later, and added some diced onions and carrots to the pot to pick up the fond that had formed.  The vegetables softened and the bottom of the pot now clean, several cloves of garlic jumped in to join the party.  Meanwhile, I drained the tender-but-not-yet-fully-cooked beans, reserving that liquid as well.  The vegetables and the crisped lardons went in with the beans, and I was finally ready to start assembling.

Easy as 1-2-3
1. Beans, Sausage, 2. Beans, Duck Confit, 3. More Beans

First a layer of fat, then beans, then hunks of sausage, followed by more beans, the shredded duck confit, and the rest of the beans to top it off.  Between each layer I sprinkled salt and drizzled a bit more fat.  At the end, I ladled the bean cooking liquid into the very full Dutch oven until I could see the level was just below the top of the beans.  And into the oven my cassoulet went.

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Talking (Leftover) Turkey

28 11 2009

When Nick went to the butcher on Thursday to pick up our Thanksgiving turkey, he was met with an unpleasant surprise.  The 4-kilo turkey I had ordered was actually 5.4 kilos!  After some debate and bargaining with the butcher, it came out that that was the smallest bird they had received that day, and they had indeed reserved it for me.  A three-pound difference might not sound like a big deal, but when the bird costs 6 euros 50 a kilo, and we were already unsure if a whole turkey would fit into our tiny oven, and it was already 3pm on Thanksgiving Day, it felt disastrous.

After some oven reconfiguration, we managed to get the turkey in without it touching the heating element, and it roasted up beautifully – since turkey isn’t the commodity in France that it is in the US, the ones you get here are never frozen or wrapped in plastic.  The air-dried skin browns and crisps like no other turkey I’ve made, and the flavor, like that of French chickens, is somehow just more.  The menu went off just as planned, except in lieu of the brittle I served the potimarron pie with bourbon-maple whipped cream.

We were joined by five friends, and actually have very few leftovers (one scoop of mashed potatoes, one spoonful of Brussels sprouts, one sliver of pie…) except for the turkey, of which about two and a half pounds remain.  Having spent 35 euros – that’s right, upwards of 50 bucks – we don’t want to let a single scrap go to waste.  Yesterday afternoon I made stock from the carcass, after Nick had cleaned it of meat.  Meanwhile, he simmered a piece of kombu in a pot of water in preparation for a very welcome light lunch: turkey miso soup.

Post-Thanksgiving lunch, photo by Nick

If you’ve never made miso soup before, you’re missing out on one of the simplest, fastest, and tastiest soups around.  It’s as easy as whisking a couple of spoonfuls of miso into a pot of hot dashi (the Japanese staple broth made with water, kombu seaweed, and bonito tuna flakes – which we have as yet been unable to find in Paris, so we did without – steeped for about five minutes) and garnishing with a few little pieces of whatever.  It should be brothy.  In this case, we used a bit of shredded turkey and some snipped chives, leftover from the mashed potatoes.  It made a fantastic day-after-Thanksgiving lunch.

But there’s plenty more turkey to be eaten.  As soon as I’m done writing, I plan on heading down to the kitchen and mixing up a big batch of herbed turkey salad: mayo, sage, chives, parsley, maybe a bit of crème fraîche and shallot.  I’ll eat it for lunch on top of some lettuce with a dollop of cranberry sauce, and hopefully there will be enough left to make a couple of weekday sandwiches.

Tonight or tomorrow I’ll put that fresh turkey stock to use in a turkey risotto.  Garnishes will include the rest of the fresh sage, chopped turkey (duh) and grated aged provolone.

So what are you doing with your turkey leftovers?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Treasures of the Languedoc

25 11 2009

Sepia tone makes everything look classy.

I couldn’t possibly do Languedoc month without talking about the wine.  There is as much, if not more, acreage in the Languedoc devoted to the growing of grapes and production of wine as in Bordeaux.  Some of my very favorite French wines are from the Languedoc, including Fitou (rare, but if you find a bottle, pick it up, you won’t be sorry), Corbières, and Minervois.  The wines of the region generally use a similar blend of grapes as is used in the Rhône valley, heavy on the Syrah, Mouvèdre, Carignane, and Grenache.  The reds are fruity yet bold, with enough structure to make them worth lingering over, and usually very food-friendly, as well.  The best part?  They’re also some of the least expensive French wines!  Chalk it up to a lack of name recognition, but you really get a lot of bang for your buck when buying wines from the Languedoc.

Another important product of the Languedoc is rice.  The majority of rice grown in France is along the coast of the Languedoc, particularly in the marshy Camargue near the Rhône river delta.  Camargue is also an important source of France’s salt.

Sel Gros de Camargue

I usually use sel gros de Camargue in my cooking, its crystals being roughly the same size as Kosher salt.  It is slightly moist though, which gives me a feeling of indulgence – the stuff feels a lot more expensive than it is (around 1 euro a kilo).  Of course, where there’s salt, there’s fleur de sel.

Fancy finishing salt

Fleur de sel is the crunchy, extra-white “flowers” that form on the top of the regular sea salt crystals under the right conditions.  It’s a great finishing salt – try sprinkling it over a steak or salad just before serving, or even on bread with butter if you don’t have the butter with the salt crystals built in.

And now for an update on the duck confit.  Last week, I rinsed and dried the duck legs while I melted all the duck fat in the house.  There was a minor duck fat-related tragedy when I opened one of my three (!) jars and discovered that mold had sprouted inside.  I set it aside, and to make up for the missing fat – I wanted to make sure the legs would be amply covered in fat as they cooked – I added a bit of lard.  The smell of the garlicky duck as the confit did its thing for three hours was insanely good.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make one giant batch of this to save all winter – I wouldn’t mind filling my house with that smell every month.  Or every week, for that matter.

Duck legs, post-confiting

Now the confit, legs, fat, and all, is resting in the bottom of my fridge, waiting for the Thanksgiving hoopla to be over so I can turn it into cassoulet.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Thanksgiving Menu Plan

19 11 2009

I was in a bit of a funk earlier this week.  I wasn’t even excited about Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.  But last night, Nick suggested we get our menu plan written down, and all of a sudden the excitement showed up.

The Menu:

Roast turkey
Turkey gravy (Remember the velouté? That’s pretty much it, with pan drippings added at the end.)
Wild mushroom bread pudding (Original recipe from this book, but now I wing it.)
Kick-Ass Cranberry Sauce (recipe below)
Sour cream and green onion mashed potatoes
Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions
Potimarron pie with (time willing) pine nut-sage brittle

Pop!

So enthused was I that I took a long detour on the way home from work today to pick up a bag of overpriced cranberries.  Last year I was unable to find fresh cranberries, and made do with a jar of Ocean Spray, but I missed the homemade stuff.  My recipe, for cranberry-orange-ginger sauce, has been a hit since its inception five years ago, and since I get to have it this year, I figure you should, too, if you want.

Just right

This year I was low on granulated sugar, so I used cassonade, aka raw sugar.  I think it’s made the sauce especially delicious, but I know from experience that it is just fine made with white sugar.  I also saw the bottle of Cointreau looking lonely on the shelf, and thought it might want to join in the fun.  I think some people like having whole cranberries in their homemade sauce, but I can’t help popping them.  Cranberry sauce is like the culinary equivalent of bubble wrap.  Once those little red jewels heat up, all it takes is a bit of pressure from the wooden spoon, and pop!  It is so intensely satisfying, and I can’t stop myself.  Before I know it, all the lovely berries are gone, and I’m left with a gorgeous, garnet-red, jammy sauce.  Still tastes good, though.

Jewel-toned and super tasty!

Before I get to the cranberry recipe, I’d like to give you a few more ideas for your Thanksgiving spread this year.  I think any of these would be welcome additions to the holiday table.

Balsamic roasted beets with bacon and chestnuts
Potimarron-fingerling gratin with cider-braised leeks
Roast parsnips and apples
Cumin-maple sweet potatoes with spiced pecans
Date crumble bars
Brown butter ice cream (try it with apple pie!)

And now, the cranberry sauce…

Kick-Ass Cranberry Sauce

The first year I hosted my own Thanksgiving dinner, I had a grand total of three people at the table.  That didn’t stop me from going all out.  (Needless to say, we had leftovers for days.)  I wanted to give the cranberry sauce a bit of a kick, and I thought orange and ginger would do the job nicely.  They did – to quote my friend who shall remain nameless “Wow, Camille, you kicked my mom’s ass!” – and I’ve never since gone back to plain cranberry sauce.

1 bag (340 g) fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
1 cup / 250ml water
1 cup / 200g granulated sugar or cassonade (raw or turbinado sugar)
A pinch of salt
Juice and zest of 1 orange
2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
A splash of Cointreau (optional)

  1. Bring the water and sugar to a boil. You don’t have to do this first, but I like to hear the cranberries pop when they hit the pan.
  2. Add the cranberries, orange juice and zest, salt, ginger, and Cointreau (if using).  Return to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer until thickened and a deep garnet color, about 25 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a serving vessel and cool.  Chill, covered in plastic wrap, until needed.  (The sauce will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge.)

Makes about a pint – more than enough to accompany a turkey dinner for eight.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Trotter Gear and Duck Confit

17 11 2009

As part of my continuing infatuation with Fergus Henderson, I have made and cooked with his Trotter Gear recipe from Beyond Nose to Tail.  And I wrote all about it for the fabulous Nose to Tail at Home.  Here’s a little something to whet your appetite…

Chicken and Bacon Pie... er, sort of.

How did I get from pig’s feet to this tasty meat pie?  You’ll have to click over to my guest post to find out.

* * * * *

Speaking of preserved meats, I believe I mentioned that it was my goal to make cassoulet for Languedoc month.  I left out the part where I planned to make my own duck confit.  Well, the process has begun.  Using an amalgam of recipes from Robuchon and Ruhlman (what’s with the five-hour difference in cooking time, guys?), I have rubbed three duck legs with a mortar-and-pestled mixture of coarse sea salt, black peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves, and garlic.

Neither R nor R told me to do this, but it seemed like a good idea.

Now I have to wait two days to cover the legs in more duck fat and cook them ever so slowly until they just about fall apart.  It’s going to be tough, but the kitchen now smells like garlic and bay, and that’s never a bad thing.

Soak it up, little duckies

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Regional French Cheeses: Languedoc: Cathare

13 11 2009

It is my pleasure to announce the French region where we here at Croque-Camille will be spending November: the Languedoc!  This is another one (like Bourgogne) that I’ve been looking forward to almost all year.  My original plan has written “November – cassoulet.”  Of course I had to do a little digging to figure out which region, exactly, cassoulet exemplifies, so here we are in the Languedoc.

The Languedoc is a fairly large region that comprises a lot of the Southwestern part of France.  It stretches from the Spanish/Catalan border all the way to the Rhône river – the old capital was Toulouse, the new one Montpellier.  The region gets its name from the language used there prior to the French Revolution: Occitan.  Occitan is a romance language whose use was most widespread in the medieval period.  It was distinguished from dialects further North by the way they said “yes.”  In Occitan, they say “oc,” while in old French, they said “oi,” which became the present-day “oui.”  Get it?  Langue d’oc.  (Thank you, class in medieval French literature.  Who knew I’d ever need that tidbit again?)

Now, it just so happens that I correspond regularly in the blogosphere with an amateur cheese expert (oxymoron?  Nah.) who lives in the Languedoc.  I wrote to her for advice on regional cheeses, and among her suggestions was Cathare, a goat’s cheese embellished with an Occitan Cross, the symbol of the region.

Holy ashed cheese, Batman!

Cathare is a raw-milk cheese, aged only a couple of weeks (sorry Americans – it’s unavailable in the US due to silly regulatory laws).  The rind is thin and wrinkly, with ash coating only the top of the slim wheel.  The cheese just inside the completely edible rind is smooth and gooey, while the inside is just a bit firmer and drier.  The cheese definitely has that goaty tang with a hint of chalkiness, but the flavor is full and rich.  The ash contributes no grittiness, as is always my (generally unfounded) fear.  It would be nicely complimented by a dry yet fruity white wine.

It should come as no surprise that I am sending this in to La Fête du Fromage Chez Loulou.  As always, look for the roundup on the 15th – there’s always something new!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Talented and Gifted (TAG)

11 11 2009

I have a bad habit of letting recognition from my fellow bloggers go unacknowledged for way too long.  I do really appreciate the mentions and links, I just have a hard time working them into my regular posts.  But let enough of them pile up, and boom!  Instant post!  Perfect for those unexpected days off work when you planned to get a lot of work done but instead spent the afternoon playing video games.  (Being a grown-up is sometimes every bit as awesome as I thought it would be.)

Without further ado, the first/longest-neglected award in my collection:

Thanks, Jenni!

I have Jenni of Pastry Methods and Techniques to thank for this one.  If you are as-yet unfamiliar with her blog, I highly recommend checking it out as it is both Informative and Hilarious. 

The Zombie Chicken Award is given to “the blogger who believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken– excellence, grace, and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words.” 

I’m flattered, and I hope it never comes to that.  But if it does, I know just the guy to take care of all those zombie chickens, by way of grill, oven, or cast-iron skillet: Ryan, of Nose to Tail at Home.  (Technically, the rules say five winners or I suffer a horrible death at the hands/beaks of a horde of zombie chickens, but Jenni ignored the rules and she’s still around, so I’m going to take my chances.)  Back to Ryan, he’s cooking his way through Fergus Henderson’s now-classic Nose to Tail Eating.  It’s a wild ride.

Next up, Hungry Dog gave me the One Lovely Blog Award.  The award exists to spread the love for favorite blogs, especially new or new-to-you ones.  I admit I haven’t been adding many blogs to my already too-long reading list of late (other than Hungry Dog, which is an enjoyable, relatable read by a girl who “lives in San Francisco at the top of a hill”).  But my friend Lissa has finally started writing the blog she’s been talking about since moving to Paris a year ago, so I’d like to pass this award along to her, at Researching Paris.

Finally, Jennifer (aka Loulou) has made me a “victim” of the Kreativ Blogger Award.  The rules for this one are as follows: write seven random/interesting things about yourself and coerce seven others to share their quirks and secrets with us.  Here goes:

  • I am a night person.  (How I ended up in an early-morning industry is a mystery.)
  • I was a total Beatlemaniac in high school… in the ’90’s.
  • I just read Rant by Chuck Palahniuk (hometown hero) and can’t stop thinking about it.
  • I won’t eat canned peaches or green beans, but I will eat canned pears or corn.
  • Cheap, poor quality chocolate makes me angry.
  • In the winter, I hang my socks on the towel warmer while I shower.  Warm toes make me happy.
  • I am completely overthinking this.

And the  seven: Jenni, Hungry Dog, Hope, Andrea, Ken, Jeanne, and Hails.

Thanks again to all who tagged me!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Now We’re Cooking With Mustard!

9 11 2009

October, aka Burgundy Month, may be over, but it has left a lasting impression on my kitchen in the form of Large Quantities of Mustard.  Mustard, believe it or not, does expire, so now I’m faced with the enviable task of figuring out what to do with all of it.  Vinaigrette is easy – the more mustard you add to it, the easier it is to emulsify! – but no one wants to eat salad every night, no matter how beautiful and flavorful the dressing.

Shortly after our return from Dijon, I had a cauliflower from the CSA panier idling in the fridge.  Cauliflower in cheese sauce is a classic, but it occurred to me to swap out the cheese for a healthy dose of fresh mustard.  I whipped up a quick béchamel sauce (remember last week’s velouté?  Same thing, only with milk instead of stock), using an 8:1 ratio of milk to roux – going for saucy, not soupy.  Meanwhile, I was roasting bite-size chunks of cauliflower in the oven.  When the sauce was ready, I whisked in a few big spoonfuls of mustard, then tossed the sauce with the cauliflower and popped it back in the oven for a few minutes to get a delicious tan.

Like a cheese-less cauliflower gratin

And it was fantastic.  We ate it as a main course, but it would make a great side dish, too.

Still looking for ways to incorporate mustard into my menus, I thought I’d check the selection of exotic (well, to the people who stock the vegetables at Monoprix, anyway) greens at my local Asian market (ok, one of the many).  Mustard greens sounded like they might end up a little one-dimensional, but broccoli greens seemed right on.  (Not entirely sure what these are called in English.  In French, they’re labeled “feuilles de brocoli,” and they look a bit like broccoli rabe or rapini, but don’t taste bitter the way those do.)  Using this recipe sketch as a jumping off point  – which I have done many times, all recipes should be written this way – I softened some shallots in a pan before adding sliced broccoli greens until they wilted.  A splash of white wine vinegar and a couple of large dollops of mustard went in next, and when the greens were coated to my liking, I served them up next to loaded cheeseburgers – dark leafy greens make any meal healthy, right?

Mustardy broccoli greens

I never did much actual cooking with mustard before, but you can believe I’m going to keep at it!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





I’ve Been Leaving On My Things…

6 11 2009

Bonus points to anyone who gets that reference before I go ahead and explain it.  (These are honor system bonus points.)

It may be noted that I am a huge nerd, but I’ve been wanting to post this song forever – it seems like a good little Friday evening post, because let’s face it, I’m not so much of a nerd that I would prefer to spend my whole Friday night on the computer, I’ve got better things to do like drink beer on the couch with my husband and I’m going to stop now before this sentence reaches Proustian lengths.

I find it unbelievable that there are only two YouTube videos dedicated to this They Might Be Giants classic, one a live version from 1992, and the other this fan video, which is clearly the product of a significant amount of effort (and which has better sound).  Enjoy!

So what’s your favorite food song?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





How To Make A Cream Soup

3 11 2009

When I was in culinary school, we had to memorize three different methods for making cream soups.  I couldn’t tell you now how, specifically, any of them went, but I do know how to whip up a cream soup when I want one, so something must have sunk in.  I got a couple of heads of broccoli in my CSA panier last week, and on a recent cold, rainy (i.e. par for the course) evening, cream of broccoli soup sounded like just the ticket.  Cream soup is a great way to get kids to eat vegetables they don’t ordinarily like (just ask my mom – this was the only way I would eat broccoli or asparagus as a child) and may even cause a change of heart towards those very vegetables.  I can actually pinpoint the day I started liking asparagus, and a cream soup was responsible.  But enough about me.

Cream of Broccoli Soup - no cream necessary!

A cream soup is essentially made in four steps:

1. The Velouté

Velouté is a classic French sauce made from stock and blonde roux.  Blonde roux is made by cooking equal parts butter and flour until they begin to smell slightly toasty.  The ratio, according to Ruhlman, is 10 parts liquid to one part roux.  (In school we learned 8:1, but I trust Ruhlman and I figured the puréed broccoli would eventually help to thicken the soup if necessary.)  So I had about 800 ml/29 oz. of stock.  It was so close to a nice, round quart that I decided to go ahead and top it up with 100 ml/3 oz. of milk, thus creating a sort of velouté/béchamel hybrid.  Going from the ratio, I would need 3 oz. of roux.  I melted 1.5 oz. of butter and when it stopped foaming, I added 1.5 oz. of flour.  I stirred it with a wooden spoon until it started to smell like parbaked pie dough.  Then, bit by bit, I whisked in the stock/milk mixture.  Once it was all incorporated, I seasoned it with a bit of salt and pepper and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.

2. The Garnish

What? Garnish?  Now?  Yes.  While the velouté is simmering is the perfect time to prep the vegetables for the soup.  In this case, I washed and trimmed the broccoli and cut it, stems and all, into small pieces.  I set aside a small bowlful of the prettiest florets for garnish, then put them in a strainer, which I then placed over the simmering soup base.  I slapped a lid on top for a few minutes, and voilà!  Pretty steamed broccoli florets for later garnishing purposes!

Yay for mulititasking!

3. The Flavor

When the velouté is ready – taste it, it should feel silky smooth on your palate – throw in the chopped vegetables that will become the main flavor of the soup.  Simmer until very tender.  The actual amount of time will depend on how small you cut your vegetable; this time, the broccoli took about 15 minutes.

4. Purée and Finish

Almost there!  Purée the soup – I used my trusty immersion blender, but you can also do it in batches in a traditional one, just be careful not to overfill the jar.  Strain it, if you’re so inclined (I wasn’t) and finish with a swirl of cream if you’re feeling decadent (not necessary but adds a touch of luxury).  Reheat the garnish in the soup and serve.

The fresh green color and great broccoli flavor spell healthy to me!

Piece of cake.  Or should I say bowl of soup?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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