Special reservation needed. Props to my friend Joon, for nabbing a table.
Feast. White haricot bean cassoulet, with duck and pork confit.
What’s a cassoulet you ask? It sure sounds like a casserole, and we all remember what our mothers’ casserole was like. Green beans. Rice. Radioactive orange cheese baked to a crisp on the top. Hidden leftovers, cleverly disguised. All the dull green vegetables that you didn’t like. Hardly appetizing, but it was the only thing in the fridge, so you ate it anyway. A cassoulet is pretty much like a casserole. It’s what the French would call their “white bean stew.” If you break the constituents of the meal down itself, it almost resembles a crude American style meat and potatoes. But the cassoulet at Lucques? A glorious combination of white haricot beans, garlic sausage, duck, and pork confit.
Upon devouring my first bite of the cassoulet, I was surprised to find two textures within my mouth. There was the smoothness of the white haricot beans, almost as it lightly mashed and buttered, along with the whole bean itself- not hard, but chewing required. Light bulb goes off in my head. Were the beans treated different at various points of the recipe?
Traditionally, beans are prepared by soaking overnight, and then boiling them. This yields the fastest and most efficient way to create an edible legume. Fermentation also works in order to increase the digestability of beans. Either way, legumes for the most part, are not to be eaten raw, as all of these preparation processes break down compounds and physical components of the bean that act as defense against ingestion. Our common sense indicates that long, slow-cooking of foods such as beans (legumes) would eventually yield a mushy texture, as prolonged heat would eventually cause the starch within the bean, much like potatoes, to begin leaking (which is why potatoes are thrown into a stew at the very end, so you end up with a stew, not a pot of gunk.) Pre-cooking beans at a low temperature solves this problem, as low temperature cooking activates enzymes within the bean that promotes the entanglement of pectin, a fiber. Thus, the bean would retain its shape even in prolonged cooking, avoiding the all consuming paste-y texture. (Yeah, we all ate glue when we were five.) I would guess that the beans were cooked two ways in this recipe; if I’m overthinking this…ah well. Too bad.
Regardless of the method of preparation, I would have to say the chef did it right (soaking, fermenting, using acid…basically breaking down the indigestibles to digestibles), as the usual symphony of flatulence after ingesting beans was not present post-prandial. You might wonder why one always gets gassy after ingesting beans, especially after a dish of this particular caliber.
PHHHT. The answer. Beans contain cell walls (like many other vegetables), oligosaccharies, and stachyose- these carbohydrates are unabsorbable in the human body without proper breakdown; the bacteria within out gut feed off of this, and produce…whaddya know. Gas. Usually carbon dioxide (the stuff you exhale out), and remnants of whatever you ate. Delicious isn’t it? PHHHT Sorry.
Next awesome part. Confit. Certainly sounds like confetti (it is a veritable excuse for celebration if you do make a successful confit, as it is ridiculously delicious.) Confit, by definition is basically anything that is slow-cooked to a succulent and tender to the bone (if there is a bone) consistency. A traditional French confit though, involves slow-cooking various meats (usually goose, duck, or pork) in its own fat, and also heavily salted before, in order to keep the germs away. The wonderful duck legs and fatty pork in the cassoulet that night was the result of salted meat (which concentrates flavor and helps to break down meat fibers), and subsequent immersion of the meat within its own fat. This is gently heated and repeated until ridiculously delicious. Flavor profiles usually improve the longer the meat is cooked. Salting is for flavoring and preserving purposes, as refrigerators definitely did not exist when confit was first made. The meat usually takes on a reddish, pink color- no it’s not undercooked or rare. None of that. Myoglobin and various cytochromes (enzymes that you probably don’t care for while you’re eating) that give meat its characteristic color are not completely denatured at low temperatures. Notice a seared piece of steak, for example, is NEVER red on the outside. If it is, you’re doing it wrong, or you’ve mistakenly used red Play-doh.
Apparently, you can purchase modern confit in a can; as a die-hard foodie myself, just make your own. Experiment, and if something blows up, you can always…start over. Long slow cooking in its own fat is the key here for succulent meat. The specific heat of fat is about half that of water, which means fat holds less heat than water, and heats more slowly. Because fat and water don’t mix, the water within the meat is repelled by the fat around the meat…and stays IN the meat…providing a party experience in the mouth. Takes breath. Phew. That was alot of propositions with the word “meat.”