We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gascogne-Style Cassoulet—Lessons from the Black Sheep Bistro

Guest Post by Mark—Photos by Linda

"Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should."
                                           ~ Julia Child, My Life in France

I prefer that each portion of my cassoulet is served with a crisped duck leg on top
as I was taught by my mentor, chef Rick Boufford at the Black Sheep Bistro.
   So as a young and eager student of wine and food in the late eighties, early nineties, I found myself with the opportunity to work for a new, up-and-coming restaurant set in Old Town Tustin, California. The owners, Rick and Diana Boufford (as young as they were), were seasoned vets in the Orange County restaurant scene. Their new restaurant  focused on the cuisines of the Mediterranean with emphasis on France, Spain and Italy. As Chef Rick would often say, "Our menu is like traveling from Barcelona through St. Tropez, and down to Livorno." And there I was, 1989, ready to learn from this passionate and talented restaurant couple.

   I had heard lots of positive buzz about the Black Sheep Bistro while I was still a young bartender at the iconic Bouzy Rouge in Newport Beach, California. So when the immanent and very sad decline of the "Bouzy" was a foregone conclusion, I began looking for new employment. But I didn't want to go just any place for a paycheck, because I wanted to learn about wine. Rick was a trained sommelier, and known for his incredible wine list at his restaurant. Little did I know, that this desire of mine to work at a restaurant with a great wine list would lead to such great accompanying food. This connection of food and wine was made clearer to me while working with Rick and Diana than any other time in my life.

Look and ask for products from Community Grains—Whole Foods Market often has a nice selection. They are doing agriculture the old fashioned way and their products are singular.
They have a wonderful website…check it out!
   Without debate, I would say that my ten years at the 'Black Sheep' were the best years of my food career. Perhaps it was my nascent eyes, or naiveté, but my learning and experience with fine dining, food and wine were everything to me and each day was a satisfying step to being more knowledgeable and confident in my life's passion. It was divine providence that Rick and Diana would cross my life's journey at the perfect time for my life long adventure with food. Not surprisingly, this relationship with Rick and Diana grew from my desire to learn, and their wise guidance was given freely to a young and enthusiastic employee. But there is much more than my life-long passion for food that I give my deepest appreciation to Rick and Diana for—it is the camaraderie, and soulful connectedness that food creates and provides that they taught me. We shared the simple and the divine, and at no time did I feel that our presence at the the table was unequal. It was with my two early mentors that I saw clearly that food and shared meals can express our deepest connections.

Michelle got her wish—she asked me to make Cassoulet for the Sistercation in the fall of 2012.
   One evening after a very busy mid-week shift, Rick, Diana, and myself sat down to what was the most simple yet inspired way to end a busy shift. We shared a wheel of L'Ami du Chambertin and a bottle of 1989 Armand Rousseau Mazi-Chambertin. The rich and earthy pungency of this raw-milk, washed rind cheese was perfectly countered by the bright, velvety fruit of the wine. As we sat and talked, laughing and griping about the evening, I recall a deeper awareness that something much more was being shared than a great cheese and delicious wine. Rick and Diana did this not just for me, but for anyone willing to open their eyes, their minds, and their hearts to the eternal pleasures of communing with food and drink. Our staff parties were bacchanalian celebrations of friendship and love. Love that was adorned by food, and food that was nourishing to our hearts.

   Rick was always sending food out to the staff to try.  And when Rick was distracted, Diana always made sure to ask Rick to give us tastes so that we knew how to describe and explain our eclectic menu. I always enjoyed the collaborations I had with Diana over how to sell that night's specials. She has a quiet strength and confidence about her which I so envied. "When Diana speaks, people listen," was a common saying in the restaurant. We didn't always need to collaborate though. Some of Rick's dishes just spoke for themselves. The depth and soulfulness of some foods are unquestionable. This happened to me over my first taste of duck confit. Rick called me into the kitchen, while he was making a 'restaurant size' batch of confit, and invited me to taste the leg and thigh portion he had on a plate sitting on his cutting board. Wow! It was rich and fatty, but the skin was crisp. The marriage of meatiness and natural sweetness of the spoon tender meat was sublime (I don't use the word 'sublime' often—but this was SUBLIME!).

Rick took this teachable moment to explain how he learned to make confit and cassoulet. He had a very good friend, Jean, who grew up with Ariane Daguin, founder and owner of D'Artagnan Inc., a gourmet provider of traditional Gascogne foods. Ariane is the daughter of André Daguin, the legendary chef credited for putting Gascony on the culinary map. And it was Ariane, who cooked with Rick to show him how she learned to make cassoulet from her father. At the time I remember being caught up in feeling that I was being exposed to something very special. I loved that Rick cooked not by training alone, but by the passed on traditions of his teachers—and I wanted to learn from him.

Here I am turning the crust into the cassoulet for the third time, or was that the fourth?
Oh well,  Rick says that some cassoulet purists insist on seven turns!
   Cassoulet is the emblematic dish of Gascony, the storied region of the scoundrel Musketeer, D'Artagnan. It is this same arrogance and passion that were characteristic of D'Artagnan, that defines the realm of cassoulet. Cassoulet is a dish of controversy and debate. Aside from regional differences and family traditions, cassoulet is a peasant dish made noble, thus having innumerable variations. The style which I love is most closely aligned with a true "Gascogne" style highlighting the glories of confit of duck—meaning no lamb or smoked meats. At the essence of this dish is the marriage between duck and white beans. It is both simple and complex. Adherent to a place and style, yet also very individualistic. And as I kept prodding and learning about this most classic of culinary dishes, I always felt encouraged to try, and try again. Cassoulet, as Rick and Diana modeled for me is not about right or wrong as much as it is about a passion to connect with a place, its history, and the delectable pursuit thereof. I will always be grateful for my time at the Black Sheep, because just like cassoulet we are on a quest to try new things, respect the past, and create something that is solely our own to be shared with those we love.

Sisters' note: Mark lives in Petaluma, California with our sister, Linda. He is not only an amazing cook, but he is a very knowledgeable wine professional. He earned his WSET certification last year. He is a very patient supporter of our blog as he often asked to model for Linda's photos—much to his chagrin. When he has Linda along in the car he is also asked to stop the car every five minutes so she can shoot a photo. He is chief chef when Michelle and Juliette come to town, and he is Linda's partner in recipe testing on a daily basis in their various culinary pursuits. We sisters would like to thank him for his enthusiasm toward and forbearance of our family effort. Check out his first guest post for Salvation Sisters by clicking here.
Gascogne-Style Cassoulet—Inspired by the Black Sheep Bistro 

   With too many stories to tell in one post, I am here to share one of my proudest lessons and skills that I take away from my time at the Black Sheep Bistro—Cassoulet. Those who know it, swoon for it.  Those who don't, but love authentic, traditional cuisine are irresistibly compelled to know more. And sadly there are those who hear what it is, and say, "oh, that sounds so rich and fatty." Well, yes it is! And I am one who swoons for this dish. Here is a video inspire you. It is made by the expert chefs from France, one of whom is the aforementioned Ariane Daguin who was Rick Boufford's mentor for cassoulet. To watch the video click here. Recipe serves 4 more. There should be one duck leg per serving.

1 pound dried white beans, such as Tarbais or Flageolet, rinsed and picked over to remove any grit (Great Northern white beans can substitute in a pinch)
1/4 cup fat from confit, or rendered duck fat
2 medium onions,  1 1/2 chopped, 1/2 studded with cloves(see below)
3 small carrots, peeled diced
1/2 pound blanched salt pork
1 whole head of garlic peeled
2 plum tomatoes, diced
2 quarts unsalted chicken stock, store bought or homemade
Herb bouquet: 4 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 imported bay leaf, and 3 small celery ribs tied together with string
6 confit of duck legs, 4 legs and thighs left attached and 2 with meat shredded from the bone
1 pound Toulouse sausages, fresh garlic-flavored pork sausages, or Confit of Toulouse Sausages (I last used a garlic sausage prepared by the Fatted Calf in Napa)
4 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and freshly ground pepper

Rendered duck fat is sold at Whole Foods Market. Duck Confit is available 
for purchase online from specialty retailers like D'Artagnan.
1. Soak the beans overnight in enough water to cover by at least 2 inches.
2. In a large dutch oven or Le Crueset-style enamel cast iron pot combine soaked beans, salt pork, herb bouquet, 1 chopped carrot, 2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed and the studded 1/2 onion. Cover all with cold water, coving by about one inch and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce heat to med-low, cover and simmer for 1.5 hours. Times vary depending on the freshness of the beans, but beans should still be intact but slightly tender.
3. Drain the beans. Remove the salt pork and studded onion. Set aside.
4. In a sturdy skillet, brown the sausages until just cooked through. Cut into thirds or large pieces. Set aside until assembly.
5. Return the dutch oven to the stove and heat at medium-high. Melt 2 tablespoons of duck fat in the bottom. When fat is melted and hot, add the remaining carrots, onions,tomatoes, garlic (whole or chopped, I've done both ways with favorable results—most prefer the garlic chopped instead of biting into a whole clove), dried thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté all until onions turn translucent.
6. Preheat oven to 350 F.
7. Now it is time to assemble the cassoulet: add the beans with herb bouquet to the sautéed ingredients, sausage pieces, shredded confit of duck, remaining duck fat and the chicken stock. Gently stir all ingredients to distribute all evenly. At this point add the demi-glace which is optional bu Place in the oven to cook uncovered. (Cassoulet MUST form a crust as it cooks to develop the most flavor. Some recipes call for breadcrumbs to aid in this, but Gascogne-style uses no breadcrumbs.) 
8. After one hour of cooking, gently 'break' the new crust on top into to cassoulet by stirring it in to reveal a new, moist layer on the dish.  Continue this step 3-4 times during the cooking. This may be repeated every 1/2 hour after the first hour of cooking. Total cooking time should be 3 hours for this step.
9. To finish the cassoulet, and to heighten our ducky experience, Rick taught me how to heat the confit leg to spoon-tenderness yet at the same time, achieving a beautifully, crispy skin. Cast iron or a heavy, steel skillet work best for this step. Place duck leg in a hot pan, skin side up and add a small amount of water to the pan to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover the skillet and heat the duck leg (More than one duck leg can be done at time, but be sure not to crowd the pan. I never do more than two at a time.) until water has steamed away and the pan is mostly dry. Carefully turn the leg over, skin side down and sear the duck until skin turns crisp.

To serve: portion a generous amount of the cassoulet beans in a shallow bowl and place the crisped confit of duck leg on top (see first photo in the post). Enjoy with a hearty red wine, though traditionally one would drink a wine from Cahors or Madiran.

I made my own duck confit  for this special dish. Chef Rick Boufford has instructional videos available to purchase or rent that will show you how it's done.
The final step to finishing my dish—there really is nothing better than crispy duck skin!

Michelle giving Linda the stink eye. Whatever it was that Linda
said—at least Juliette and I thought it was funny.

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