Glandoulat: Red Beans and Pork with Carrots from the Southwest of France

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Cool name but really this is a delicious classic combination of pork and beans made all the more refined and nuanced because it’s another recipe from Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France.  It’s perfect for the cool weather months and simpler to prepare than a Cassoulet or Garbure (It’s been a while since I made a good Cassoulet now that I think about it. I should change that.)

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Like almost any bean dish, first we soak the red beans in plenty of water overnight. Next day I put the beans in a clay pot with an onion stuck with a couple cloves and a cinnamon stick. I do love cooking these dishes in clay pot and let them take their sweet time and simmer slowly. To flavor the dish we reach out to Pancetta, garlic, parsley, thyme and bay. I pureed all that in a food processor to a smooth paste. This stuff just smells great.

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In a separate pan, I seared pork shoulder chunks in fat. What fat? I’m sure one would wonder. Well, this is southwestern French cooking so traditionally we are using duck or goose fat. As it happens I have duck fat in my freezer….and pork fat…and bacon fat…and chicken fat. Nice fat collection that I use for different dishes. I usually save any fat from the surface of stock and add it to the appropriate jar. This is delicious stuff that lasts forever in the freezer and makes good dishes great.

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When the pork, seared in a mixture of duck and pork fat, was well colored I added chopped onions and carrots and sauteed that until they barely got some color on them. The entire contents of the pan then gets added to the beans in the clay pot plus the pancetta/garlic paste. Now we let the whole thing gently simmer and bubble away until the beans are very tender. The aroma as this happens is one of those most memorable comforting smells ever.

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This is a beans, pork and carrots dish. So now on to the carrots. Easy task this one. I peeled some nice organic carrots and sliced them crosswise. I then sauteed them in butter with a pinch of sugar until barely done. On another note these are some cool carrot pictures.

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I do love a good baguette with these types of French bean dishes. I have upped my game a bit since I last posted about a bean/baguette meal. Using my sourdough starter and a recipe based on the one from the Tartine book I made some delightful baguettes. They were definitely one of the best I’ve made so far. Deeply browned, crispy crackly and with a tender flavorful crumb and perfect for sopping up the awesome juices.

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To bring it all together I scraped any solidified fat from the beans and brought them to a gentle simmer again. Then I added the glazed carrots to the clay pot of beans and put them in the oven, uncovered. This melds the flavors together and starts developing a “crust” on the surface. I stirred the crust in and returned them back to the oven. I did this a few times until service time. The last flourish is to sprinkle the dish with a mixture of minced garlic and parsley, a couple of tablespoons of cognac and some sherry vinegar.

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Halibut en Paupiette, Leek Royale, Red Wine Sauce

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One thing off the top here: Leek royale is awesome velvety delicious stuff. Ok, now that I’m done with that, the rest of this dish is very good too even if my execution is not as ideal or refined as I would’ve liked.

Chef Daniel Bouloud made this, a version of it actually, popular when when he was working at Le Cirque. At his restaurant, Daniel, he kept the popular dish in spirit but updated it a lot. In this version here I am doing a hybrid of sorts. The classic original is a fish, usually sea bass, wrapped in thin slices of potato and pan fried in butter. It is then served on top of sauteed leeks with a rich red wine sauce.

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In his book, Daniel: My French Cuisine, we get the updated version of the classic. It’s a steamed bass fillet with potato lyonnaise “rolls”, a rich leek custard (the aforementioned royale) and the classic red wine sauce, a Bordelaise. I started working on the recipe with the leek custard because that takes the most amount of work and needs to set in the fridge. I simmered the green part of the leeks along with Italian parsley until tender. I then cooked the drained greens in some cream and blended the whole thing, strained it through a fine sieve, seasoned it and blended in eggs and more cream.

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To cook it, I lined a small loaf pan with plastic wrap for easy removal later. I wrapped it with aluminum foil and cooked in a bain marie in the oven until set. This took a bit longer than the recipe recommends. I let the royale cool and popped it in the fridge until dinner time. Before plating, I gently unmolded the royale and cut it into neat 1 inch cubes and let them temper and come to room temperature. I tasted a few on their own. It’s rich with a lovely flavor of leek and has such a great smooth and comforting texture. For a few days after serving it with this dish we enjoyed the leek custard leftovers as a random side dish with dinner. It also goes great spread on crispy bread for a snack.

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Next I prepared the red wine sauce by reducing stock, plenty of red wine and some port along with shallots and thyme. Then I whisked in a crap load of butter until we had a glossy rich sauce. Chef Bouloud uses a vegetable sheeter to make long perfect sheets of potato which he uses to make strips to wrap the fish. I don’t have one of those contraptions so I bought the longest potatoes I could get my hand on and used the mandolin to make long paper thin sheets. This worked pretty well. I seasoned the halibut fillets with salt and pepper and some thyme. Then I brushed the potato sheets with clarified butter and used them to wrap the fish.

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The mistake I made here is to let the wrapped fish sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. The salt drew some moisture out of the fish in the meantime. So, it was a bit of a pain to get the fish to brown in clarified butter when I was cooking it for dinner. With some careful gentle heat I got the potato/fish packets cooked well, but next time I will wrap and fry the fish right away.

To plate, I poured some sauce on the plate and topped it with the fish. I put a couple of royale cubes on the side. I dressed a small salad made primarily of parsley leaves with lemon and olive oil. The salad went between the leek custard cubes. The flavors were awesome and the whole thing worked. With a bit of care with cooking the fish the dish could be quiet spectacular.

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Le Ratatouille

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Summer is winding down (sure it is October, but this is Houston…summer goes all the way to November sometimes) and the summer produce is really at its peak (and it’s cheapest). Even the run-of-the-mill supermarket tomatoes are very good this time of year. They are sweet and with the right balance of acidity. The red bell peppers are large, plump and -at $0.50 a piece- a bargain. One of my favorite summer dishes that I love to make around this time of year is a good Ratatouille. It’s a simple stew of tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions and eggplants (sometimes zucchini goes in there too).

Versions of this delicious Provencal vegetable stew are numerous and they vary from very straightforward (saute all the veggies together) to the more elaborate (cook each vegetable separately, combine afterwards,…). This recipe is decidedly in the more elaborate camp, but it really is a pleasure to make in a few stages and I enjoy the process and love the amazing results. It is so good that I have not made another version in years. Cooking all the vegetables together in one pot really does not give each type a chance to shine. Instead you get a homogeneous mishmash of vegetables. Not necessarily a horrible thing, but usually not what I am after.

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The recipe I use every time is based on one from Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Grains and Greens book that she titles “Madame Saucourt’s Fabulous Ratatouille”. I still need to get around to trying Francis Lam’s Weapon Grade Ratatouille just to see if that name is apt! Lam describes his version that takes hours to cook as roasted vegetables bound together by reduced tomato juice/jam and onions. Sounds excellent.

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To prepare the various vegetables, Ms. Wolfert goes through a few steps:

  • The red peppers get rubbed with oil, broiled till charred then peeled and cut into pieces
  • The onions are sliced into thin strips
  • Tomatoes get pureed in the food processor
  • The zucchini and eggplant are cut into cubes and salted well. Then they are rinsed, dried and deep fried in plenty of olive oil

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The only shortcut I take in my version is for the zucchini and eggplant. Instead of deep frying, I cut the eggplant into thick rounds, brush them with oil and broil them or grill them (after salting, draining and drying). To prepare  the zucchini I cut them into large cubes and then pan fry them in olive oil until golden on all sides. The original recipe makes a large amount, something like a gallon or so. I usually make half of that and it is enough for a large meal and several small ones throughout the week.

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To bring it all together the onions are cooked long and slow in plenty of olive oil and some water until soft and golden. Then we add garlic and herbs (thyme, rosemary, parsley, bay leaves, celery leaves) along with a healthy dose of white wine. The mixture is cooked for some more time before adding the pureed tomatoes. The flavor building keeps going for another hour or more with the mixture bubbling and reducing. Now we assemble the Ratatouille.

I use a pretty clay pot I have (one of many) to layer the tomato mixture first then the prepared zucchini, eggplant and peppers. I add in another dose of white wine and the whole thing simmers gently for another hour or two making sure it does not burn or stick. If the Ratatouille has too much liquid, I gently drain as much of it as possible and reduce it separately. A final adjustment of some red wine vinegar if needed and a fresh sprinkling of herbs round out the dish. This is delicious warm or at room temperature. I love it with crusty bread and I’ve been known to enjoy it with steamed burghul or even pita bread.

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Cassoulet and Green Salad, Country Bread and Red Wine, Walnut Tart – A Dinner from Southwest France

A long titled post suitable to a properly labor-intensive and delicious cold-weather meal. Both the Toulouse-style Cassoulet and the Walnut Tart are based on Paula Wolfert’s recipes in her book “The Cooking of Southwest France“. The bread is the Pain de Campagne (country bread) recipe from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread baker’s Apprentice“.

Making a proper Cassoulet is a good bit of work and to get the most out of this dish you really should not cut corners. Boiling some beans and adding in a couple of sausages might be good, but is really not the same animal. It’s almost “wrong” to make a Cassoulet that does not take a couple of days worth of work (mostly unattended simmering or resting). It’s part of the enjoyment that goes into it when you crack that crispy breadcrumb crust that you know how much work really went into making this sublime dish.

It helps a lot having a freezer and larder that is fully stocked. I already had home-cured pork belly (pancetta), home-cooked duck confit, good rich stock (venison in this case), trimmed and cleaned pig skins, home-made Toulouse-style sausage and a few pounds of wild boar. This means I could dive right into cooking the Cassoulet and putting these items together without having to worry about making confit or shopping for pig skins and duck fat.

So, what is involved in making a Cassoulet?

– Simmer pork shoulder (I used wild boar), pig skin, along with aromatics and vegetables (leeks, carrots, thyme, bay, a little tomato paste…)  until mostly tender.

– Add in a pound or 2 (Wolfert uses two for a HUGE Cassoulet, I used one to make half a recipe) of soaked white beans and cook until tender.

– Seperate the beans and stock from the meats. Store in the fridge overnight or for a few days.

– Enrich the stock by pureeing some of it with garlic and pork fat. Add that to the beans, rest of the stock and the pork chunks. Simmer for a little bit.

– Remember those Toulouse sausages I mentioned earlier? Cook those separately. I cooked them sous vide till done. Cut them into pieces.

– For the duck confit, just remove the skins, take the meat off the bones and leave it in big chunks.

– “Build” the Cassoulet by first laying the flat pieces of cooked pork skin (the one we simmered with the beans) in the bottom of a large pot. I used one of my Colombian Chamba clay pots.

– Top that with half of the bean mixture, then the duck confit. Top with the remaining bean mixture. Use a perforated spoon here so that you can control how much of the bean stock is needed. I ended up using all of it for the liquid to come up barely to the level of the beans.

– Bake the Cassoulet for an hour or two. A skin will form on the surface. Stir that “skin” into the Cassoulet. Bury the cooked sausage chunks in the beans leaving them slightly exposed. Top with a tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs and a drizzle of duck fat. Bake until crispy, bubbly and delicious.

– Let it rest for 5-10 minutes at least and dig in.

It really sounds like much more work than it is. Most of the cooking can be spread out over a couple of days and you will be rewarded with one of the most delicious of French comfort foods ever. It’s one of those dishes that if done right are satisfying and rich but not cloying. It should not be mushy or fatty. To get that result, one needs to pay attention to the small details.

Detail1: DO NOT let the beans boil like crazy. As soon as the stock comes up to a boil lower the heat to a very gentle simmer. This way you can control the cooking process better and can cook the beans perfectly. Rapid boil will almost insure burst beans. This will make for unpleasantly mushy beans, a thick cloudy stock and will emulsify the fat in it making it more difficult to de-grease.

Detail2: A key reason why a good Cassoulet should be stretched over a couple of days is de-greasing  the stock. Storing the beans in the cooking liquid in the fridge will form a thick layer of fat on the surface from all those meats. It’s easy to remove that before continuing with the cooking and baking.

What to serve it with? Other than red wine? You really don’t need much else, but a piece of good bread and a tart salad are excellent accompaniments. I shaped the bread specifically for the Cassoulet dinner into an epis (wheat tip) so we could just break off pieces instead of slicing…and it looks pretty neat. The salad was a simple mixed baby greens mix with a vinaigrette of raspberry vinegar and walnut oil.

It only seemed appropriate that to cap it all off, I would make a dessert from the same region. So from the same book, I made Wolfert’s walnut tart or as she calls it Walnut Tart from Masseube. This is not a typical tart, more of a cross between a cookie and a tart. The filling is a mixture of walnuts and a dark butter caramel. This gets poured into a tart shell lined with a sweet short pastry crust. Another layer of pastry goes on top and then it is baked. When the tart cools the filling sets pretty firm, like a pecan pie filling minus most of the “goo”. We really loved this with a cup of coffee and a touch of whipped cream.