Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chinese Cassoulet?

A while back, we tasted a seafood cassoulet made by B&O American Brasserie's new chef, Mike Ransom. While it had multiple proteins and white beans, I suggested that it could do with a bit of sausage, perhaps Spanish chorizo. Of course Spanish chorizo wouldn't be typically used in cassoulet, which is a French dish, but I am no traditionalist. (Neither is the chef, it seems.) That got me to thinking about what other sausages would work with beans. As I was nibbling on leftover dim sum, Chinese sausages came to mind. Cold weather was afoot; why not warm up the house with a cassoulet-style dish of duck and beans and...Chinese sausage?

I've decided that it's a fine idea to keep a package of duck legs in the freezer. We get them at Great Wall, a Chinese grocery store in Catonsville, but you can pick them up at most Asian grocers or a fancy supermarket. They're not cheap, but they take up far less room in the freezer than a whole duck, with the added benefit that they thaw more quickly and are less hassle to roast. Roasting duck really makes the house smell great. Great, that is, to a carnivore. Not sure how vegetarians would feel about the fatty aromas that emanated from my oven not too long ago, but I was a happy camper.

I had originally wanted to try the type of Chinese sausage we normally buy, the long, slender, and wrinkled type that are cured, dried, and lightly smoked, but we were out. Mr Minx popped over to Asia Foods on York Road but could only find stubby, fat, uncured sausages. Fortunately, they turned out to be absolutely perfect for this dish.

While the duck got a head start on roasting, I opened up a couple cans of cannelini beans and added a bit of flavoring. I didn't want to overdo it, so started with equal parts doubanjian (a spicy Chinese bean paste), soy sauce, and black vinegar. If you've never used black vinegar, you're missing out on some amazing caramelized goodness. One tablespoon of each was perfect - the beans were spicy, salty, and tangy, with that lovely molasses-y flavor of the black vinegar. Then I added a bit of sugar to round everything out. Mixed with sauteed onions and scallions, the beans, studded with chunks of Chinese pork sausage, made a tasty bed for the duck legs as they finished roasting to a brown crispness.

Cassoulet with Asian Flavors

2 duck legs
1/2 cup duck or bacon fat
Kosher salt
1/2 pound Chinese pork sausages, preferably xiang chang--small, fat, uncured sausages
1 medium onion, chopped
6 scallions, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chicken stock
2-15 1/2 ounce cans of cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 tablespoons doubanjian
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
Pinch sugar

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Pour the duck or bacon fat into the bottom of an 8" or 9" baking pan. Put the legs on top, rolling them around in the fat to get them coated. Sprinkle with salt, cover the pan with foil, and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the foil from the pan. Pour out a tablespoon of fat and reserve; prick the duck skin all over with the point of a knife to help render out more fat. Add the Chinese sausages to the pan. Turn oven temperature up to 350° and put duck and sausages into the oven. Bake for an additional 15 minutes.

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the onion and scallions in the reserved tablespoon of duck fat. When they are translucent, stir in the garlic. Add the stock, beans, doubanjian, soy, vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat.

After the duck has been in the oven for the additional 15 minutes, remove sausages and duck from the pan. Pour out the fat and discard (or, reserve for a later use). Cut sausages into thick diagonal slices and stir into the bean mixture. Pour the bean mixture into the pan, then top with the duck legs. Put pan back into the oven and cook for an additional 45 minutes or so. The duck will get crispy and brown, as will the exposed areas of beans. If you want a saucier cassoulet, you can add more chicken stock. Personally, I like the beans on the dry side.

Serve 1 leg per person, with some of the beans. Garnish with cilantro.

Serves 2, with extra beans for lunch.

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