Friday, January 14, 2011


It’s January 2011, and our Daring Cook’s challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman. Also chosen are a vegetarian cassoulet,
and a quick cassoulet, “a cassoulet in 30 minutes,” by chef Jaques Pepin. The Bourdain-Ruhlman cassoulet is a very fatty one, and one that takes a looong time to make. Here is my opinion, and that is my opinion only: the ladies did their research and went to a great deal of trouble to present us with this challenge, but… Sorry folks! I do like to cook, but I draw the line when it comes to making something that takes three days to prepare. Something that includes the rind of almost a whole pig. Something that is cooked in solid fat. Something that is recommended by Anthony Bourdain, one of the most obnoxious, odious, rude and crude cooking personalities around. A vulgar ex junkie who presently is sullying the luster of the wonderful “Top Chef” by being an occasional judge on the show.

Duck fat and pork rind were used in kitchens of centuries past. Caloric intake during those times was high, but people tended to burn it faster than we do, because they were highly mobile and engaged in exhaustive labor. They also slaughtered their own food and were careful to put to use all parts of the animal they slaughtered. Today’s modern lifestyle is much more different and much more sedentary. Today we are also aware of the health risks associated when eating foods high in fat content. Duck fat? Pork rind??? Give me a break Bourdain. There is just no need to cook like that anymore. Old recipes can and should be adapted to suit today’s life style. I make a lamb cassoulet without pork skin or extra fat, and I also make a vegetarian one, very similar to the one chosen for this challenge. There are few things more warming on a winter’s day than a vegetarian cassoulet. This coming from someone who definitely is no vegetarian.

I chose to make the “30 minute cassoulet” of Jaques Pépin, gentleman chef extraordinaire. The recipe called for wonderful olive oil, no animal fat. It also called for two tablespoons of garlic. I used olive oil from my garlic confit (recipe by chef Michael Psilakis from his book “How to Roast a Lamb”), and for the garlic I used pureed garlic from the confit. Easy and delicious. I made it in a leisurely kind of way, so it took about 50 minutes to prepare. Convenient, tasty and healthier. Thank you chef Pépin, and thank you Lisa and Jenni for offering this recipe as part of the challenge.
Thirty-Minute Cassoulet, adapted from Jacques Pépin, Fast Food My Way

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound rolled shoulder ham (also called a daisy ham or Boston Butt), tough outer skin removed, cut in four
3/4 pound Italian sausages, cut into 3-inch pieces
4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 cup diced whole button mushrooms
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
2 (15½ ounces each) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed 1 cup diced tomato
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh parsley


  • Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the ham, chicken and Italian sausage.
  • Cover and cook over high heat for 10 minutes, turning occasionally.

  • Add the mushrooms, carrots, onion, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Mix well and cook for another 10 minutes.
  • Add the beans, tomato, water, and pepper, bring back to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and boil gently for 5 to 10 minutes.

  • At serving time, discard the bay leaf, cut the ham into slices and the sausage pieces in half, and arrange the meat on a platter with the beans.
  • Sprinkle the parsley on top.


  1. I loved your write up, love how you just said it how it was, and loved that you used the word odious :) Jacques cassoulet is definitely awesome, hence why we offered that too, so much flavor for 30 minutes! yours turned out phenomenal! I'm dying to try the garlic confit! Thanks for cooking with us this month!!

  2. Nice. Very gracious, and well written opinion. Great choice of French chefs. Keep giving us your great recipes. Thank you for the fun you are sharing.

  3. Thanks for visitng my blog Ana

    Your cassoulet looks like great comfort food - I am really impressed; I like to cook one-pot meals for my family, who all have their own fussy tastes, so this dish is perfect because they will all find something they like in it - perfect for the winter, and only 30 minutes of my busy time!

  4. Greek Girl from QueensJanuary 19, 2011 at 7:51 PM

    I used to love watching Chef Pepin on one of his many brilliant PBS cooking shows back in the mid and late 80's, when I was living in the US. I still refer back to his wonderful 'Simple and Healthy Cooking' cookbook (complete with border illustrations on each page, done by Jacques himself!) - he's a wonderful chef, a wonderful food writer and presenter, and I wholeheartedly agree with you - I'd take him any day of the week over Bourdain. I can only put up with so much 'punk rock chef' attitude for only so long, and in very miniscule doses at best.

    Yeah, we all know all the same expletives as he does, but the difference is that most of us choose not to pepper every sentence with those words to make us appear 'street cred cool.' I feel the same way about Gordon Ramsey. He may well be a good chef and restauranteur, but his foul-mouthed tough guy image gets quite tedious, not to mention quite obnoxious, quite quickly.

    Fair play to you, Ana, for speaking your mind, and calling it as you see it.

  5. Very nice post and thank you. Funny thing is, the science is rapidly coming around on fat -- fat is good, it is actually carbohydrates that are bad. So the fatty traditional French recipe might actually be better for you than Thomas Keller's fat-skimmed version -- and would taste a lot better to boot. As for Pepin, the all-day versions (and I'm sure Jacques has one) are SO Much better because you can use real raw pork, or lamb or duck confit because you have enough time for the meat to completely soften and for the complex flavors to develop. Pepin's version is great if you really only have 30 minutes, but if that's the case, there really are probably better meals out there than quickie cassoulet.

    1. Thank you for your very nice comment Tom!
      Excess is bad, and an old fashioned cassoulet is excessively fatty. I get frightened just reading one of those recipes. As someone who has struggled with weight issues, I have found out that a diet which is high in low fat protein and also includes complex carbohydrates is best for me. Nature has given animals the ability to store fat in order to convert it into an energy source when other options are not available, but with 5 supermarkets within a close distance from my home I have options which allow me to say no to fat. I think you are referring to an all protein diet, minus any carbohydrates. In that case a process called glyconeogenesis occurs, which converts fat into glucose, thereby into energy. However glyconeogenesis can cause hyperglycemia. Protein minus complex carbs can lead to kidney problems. The lesson I’ve garnered from all this is to stick to a middle of the road balance.