Cold, Comfort

Well, that felt good. I was overdue for a tirade, I guess. If I had any savvy I’d rave like that all the time, since those posts (see the “best of” page for all you newcomers) always get mad traffic.

I forgot to mention that a contributing factor to the blogstipation around here has been a matter of simple laziness; since I’m out at least once a week shooting pictures, my tripod, light stand, and other gear tend to stay in the car. So when dinner time rolls around, the prospect of going out to get them and set them up in time to shoot a plate of food seems like too much work. Come summer, this will all be moot in the abundant natural light, but for now it represents an obstacle, if a silly one. I did, however, want to show off this new bowl—part of my first ever firing in a wood kiln.

I found someone about an hour away with a hybrid anagama/noborigama kiln, so in the fall I bought a box of wood clay and made a bunch of work with it. These are larger versions of the “Moon” bowls I came up with a while ago; I love the small ones but wanted something suited to one-dish meals rather than smaller courses. The beauty of wood firing is in the unpredictability; besides whatever glazes one applies, the ash from the wood fuses with the surface of the clay to add infinitely subtle and varies effects. Where a piece is placed in the kiln and what’s around it make a huge difference to the result, since the blast of flame and ash moves through the kiln like an infernal wind, hitting one side of each vessel harder then the other. The variations in color and texture between these pieces is remarkable.

Dinner was a good one, a sort of deconstructed (who among us does not thrill to see that word on a menu, after all) cassoulet. I cooked our homegrown Tarbais beans with homemade bacon, homegrown mirepoix and herbes de Provence, and a bunch of duck bones until the beans were plump and tender. These beans, which I brought the seeds for home from France, are brilliant. Besides how fat and creamy they are, they can stand up to many hours of slow cooking without disintegrating. I’m going to grow twice as many next year. Or even more.

On top, a leg of duck confit (that’s what the bean bones were from, since I made six legs last week in anticipation of some guests). I made this batch sous vide; while I like to do it old school in the oven, it requires a ton of fat and more labor. This way, after an overnight rest in seasoned salt, a rinse, and a pat dry, I bagged them up with just a few tablespoons of goose fat (pho-flavored, which never sucks) from Thanksgiving and let them cook at 180˚ for about 10 hours. The bag, carefully nipped at the corner and then poured through a strainer into a jar, yielded over a pint of fat and about as much of the jellied essence of duck. This quivering miracle is the second best pantry staple I can think of, after the fat itself. A spoon or two added to a batch of greens or pasta sauce adds a dangerously flavorful depth and texture.

The legs aren’t too shabby either. Crisped up thoroughly in a pan, angled against each other and the sides of the skillet to get as much contact as possible between the skin and the hot iron, they warm through very nicely and develop a ridiculously addictive crackle. I threw some pak choi and garlic in the pan afterwards to use up all the rendered goodness and provide a bright green foil to the meat. On top, besides the scallions, is a tangle of homegrown Espelette peppers (which seeds also came from France) that I fermented for a week in brine, then drained and dried, then packed into a jar which I filled with very hot olive oil. The result, a variation on Jori’s oil-cured chiles, is my new favorite condiment. The fermentation is my addition to the process, and it adds a wonderful tangy funk to the very pleasant heat of the chiles. This was the last of the jar, and all my Espelettes are dried now, ready to be ground into powder, so I’m going to have to go out and find some good chiles and make another batch. All the homegrown virtue in this meal gives me license to procure non-local peppers.

It’s coming up on two years since the France trip, and I’m plotting a return in the not too distant future. In the meantime, I have the ingredients and techniques on hand whenever I feel nostalgic for those flavors. And now I also have some vessels perfectly suited to the unpretentious peasant genius of this sort of cooking. Finally, here’s a link to my cassoulet post from France, which contains a link to Kate’s recipe, just in case all this talk of beans and confit has you slavering for some of that hot Gascon action.

2 comments to Cold, Comfort

  • Beautiful bowls – really, really beautiful. I saved some tarbais beans that I bought locally and am going to try growing them next spring.

  • it’s a rare occasion when we aren’t slavering for some hot Gascon action, but like so many things in life, after getting down and dirty with it, we spend the rest of the night flaccidly rolling around farting out beanie wind.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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