WARNING: THIS IS NOT VEGAN FRIENDLY POST
It's not an anti-vegan post - but is about the gratuitous consumption about the flesh, fat and bones of fellow living creatures... hmmmm,
Ducks are one of the few animals I like living as much as I like them roasted and succulent and sliding down my gullet.
Last week Melbourne faced a big fat chill that had everyone grumbling in public, fumbling with woollies and thermals and rugging up.( I know Sydney is miserable in winter but it isn't actually cold). I spent about 3 days in thermic misery before my New England cellular memory kicked in and I started feeling ok with the bracing feeling of cold pores and goose flesh wherever my thermals or polar fleecy had slipped...
It isn't that cold either - hovering around ten degrees, and 6 at night... but the feeling of cold and a deep need for slow snuggle food, reminded me that unlike Sydney, melbourne does facilitate the cooking and consumption of one of the great northern European comfort foods..... hmmmm..... cassoulet.
Cassoulet sounds like french for casserole - and it's kind of what it is, basically beans cooked in duck fat. My gallstone rotates just thinking about it, and my arteries harden..... -oh - but it is so unbelievably succulently wonderful, that....
My first cassoulet came out of a tin in Belle ile en Mer, about 8 years ago. I'd been sitting on a cliff face, doing my standard hypothermic plein-aire in ski gear act, when I heard a strange low moan howling around me, and realised it was me, involuntarily groaning as the wind gushed and ocean pounded and roared beneath me, and salt spray rose and stung me on the face.
At the time, I wasn't sitting on the exact cliff face shown in the pic above - but I have sat there before and since, and this pikkie gives you the general impression of intense cold and wind.....
Anyway - after catching my moans, I packed up my oilsticks and canvas, and staggered back to casa abel, were I gulped down some whisky while she opened a tin, and poured it into a pot on the stove......
In france - even tinnned food is gourmet - and this was an amazing revelation of the divine power of fat, to warm, soothe, comfort and tantalize the tasetbuds.
The key to cassoulet is 'confit de canard', for which the crude translation is 'duck jam'. It's a way of preserving the duck thighs in a generous amount of duck fat and salt, somewhat akin to corning beef. Our local deli sells confit style prepared duck legs for $5 a pop - but the proper ones are still almost raw, and need to be cooked slowly with some exquisite grease absorbing vegetable or bean...
I was inspired to buy some tinned confit de canard, combining them with fresh toulouse sausages and the special type of haricots blanc, that in Chili are called "porotos granados" and that you can get fresh once a year in long grainy red bods..... so that was how I learned to make the mayhem cassoulet.
Back in the antipodes - it never got that cold, so I'd never bothered, till now.
I took the tram into vic Markets and wandered over to the gourmette deli section, asking for duck confit. the french stall had some Perigord confit for $52 a tin (note to self, I thought: must stock up on 11 euro tins of duck confit if I ever go back to Europe), but after my eyebrows ascended my chrome dome in flabbergastination, they directed me towards the gourmette fowl stalls on the other side - where I could procure ONE confit thigh - shrink wrapped in vacuum sealed plastic for a mere $12.50. It would have to do. I wandered around the various sausage stalls till I found the nearest continental approximation of Saucise de toulouse ( Chorizo and Karakowska don't quite work for this), and picked up some dried canneloni beans, got the tram home, popped the beans in some water to soak overnight, and went out and got drunk.
Fortunately I'd had the foresight to prepare some stock a few months earlier from a peking duck that we bought from Footscray late last year to share with Renaissance girl's mum. We've also inherited her crock-pot - so this seemed like a fitting tribute, as well as a cosy entree into winter.
One saturday morning, I plugged in the crock pot, extracted the confit duck leg, and plonked it in the bottom, with the duck grease. I chopped up an onion, and some garlic, and put them in the fat. I then threw on the four italian sausages (which kind of doubled as a bouquet garni) and the drained beans. I then hauled the block of frozen duck stock and fleshy bones out of the freezer and banged it on the top. then I went back to bed for 12 hours. (OK - I turned the crock pot down from high to low after 7 or 8 hours)
When I recovered from the hangover, Renaissance girl and I filled our bellies and our souls with soft, creamy, beany, meaty goodness. Yum Yum.