Thursday, December 20, 2007

we don't need no water, let the m-f'er burn

I had such big plans for this blog at year's end - there were supposed to be massive amounts of cookies, a buche noel for my parents' because it's our traditional Christmas dessert, and above all, a massive 4-day cassoulet.

Except I started a grease fire in my oven, and in doing so, destroyed the thermostat, so no baking until we cough up the $330 required to fix it.

Let's back up a bit. A couple months ago, my co-worker Dana saw the making of a cassoulet on an episode of No Reservations, and forwarded the link on to me. Always up for a challenge (and a dinner party), we set a date for him and his girlfriend to come over to our house for a feast.

It was kind of an ordeal to track down all the ingredients, but I finally had Gelson's special order duck legs for me, and got pork belly with attached pork rind ordered from Marconda's Meats in the Farmer's Market. After much research, I found white Coco beans at Monsieur Marcel (also at the Farmer's Market) to use as a substitute for the Tarbais beans.

Day 1
Easy enough. Rub duck legs with salt. Check.

Day 2
Problem. Soaking beans in water was easy enough, but that whole baking duck legs covered in duck fat in a casserole dish was an issue. Meanwhile, our power had also gone out due to the torrential downpour we were getting, so I was already making dinner (seared filet mignon, mashed potatoes and hashed brussels sprouts) by candlelight.

All of a sudden, I noticed a lot of smoke filling the kitchen. At first, I thought it was just from the searing meat, but it didn't subside even after I turned that burner off. I ended up turning everything off, and peeked into the oven, where I found flames shooting up from the oven floor.

Crap. While Matty's holding the oven door shut, I call 411 for a non-emergency number for the LA Fire Department. I get transferred to "311," which the mayor explains to me via recorded message is the LA City Services hotline. After I get the same message in Spanish, a guy finally picks up:

Guy: Hi, this is James. How can I help you?
N: Hi James. I have a grease fire in my oven. Can you tell me how to put it out?
J: Um, hold on a minute.
911: 911, what is the address of your emergency?
N: Oh, no. This isn't an emergency. I have a grease fire in my oven, and I just want to know what I'm supposed to put on it to put it out. I would have Google'd it myself, but our power is out.
911: Well, I think you just put water on it.

Um. I'm pretty sure you don't put water on a grease fire. Splattering, anyone? Finally, after telling me how calm I sounded (thanks), he tells me it's baking soda.

I go back into the kitchen to Matty to relay the news to him and got myself ready w/ the baking soda, but at this point, the smoke had subsided a bit and the splattering/burning sounds were dying off. We decided to just let it burn itself out while we ate cold steak and mashed potatoes. The brussels were a no-go because they hadn't cooked by the time I had to turn off the oven.

I'm not going to lie - I cried a little over dinner. I mean, do you know how expensive duck fat is? And a lot of had burned away on the bottom of my stove.

After dinner, the fire had burned itself out, and the stove had sufficiently cooled for us to peek in and check out the damage.

It's going to be one hell of a cleaning job; however, the duck was cooked to goddamn perfection! The Pyrex was a little worse for the wear, but whatever. Stuck it in the fridge to hang out for the next day.

Day 3
The most time-consuming part for me was separating the pork belly from the pork rind. After that, everything went smoothly - the beans came out delicious.

Then, I turned on the oven to preheat. By the time I needed it, it was still cool. Weird. Our pilot light was still on. Did a little online research and figured out that the fire had destroyed the capillary line, which is connected to the thermostat. So, no baking was going to happen. Shed a couple more tears over that one.

Ended the day chilling the beans, meat and bean liquid separately.

Day 4
Whatever. I had already sunk a lot of money into this dish, so I was going to see it through. As soon as I got home from work, I threw everything back into my 7-qt. Dutch oven, and just let everything (including the duck legs) simmer for an hour and a half.


It turned out wonderfully. I'm sure it would have been extra delightful given the 3 hours of low-temp baking that was called for, but I think this was an excellent compromise. I loved the beans, duck is my favorite fowl anyway, and the meat still managed to melt in your mouth.

I think I'd definitely like to try it again with oven time, but I don't think I'll be making duck confit again anytime soon.

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