Welcome to week 25 of Fifty States of New Recipe Tuesday. Woohoo! We’ve reached the halfway mark! This week we welcome the state of Arkansas, who joined the union on June 15, 1836. Arkansas was part of the land acquired from France with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It became its own territory in 1819 and then its own state in 1836. It was a slave state, and the ninth state to secede from the union to join the Confederate States of America.
Arkansas is a large agriculture state, and is the largest producer of both rice and poultry in the US. It is also a grower of nearly every crop grown in the US, with the exception of citrus.
Arkansas is the home and headquarters of Walmart. I mention this because a number of years ago, when I was a member of the automation team for a large travel management company, I was sent to Bentonville for a few days to do some computer work for their travel team. What made this particular business trip memorable was a number of things, including the fact that Bentonville is a dry town (you had to purchase a “membership” at the restaurant to get a cocktail), the best hotel in town was a Holiday Inn, and the world headquarters for the largest retailer in the US was the ugliest corporate headquarters building I have ever visited. Think world’s largest corrugated steel building, with plastic chairs in the waiting area and a vast field of cubicles for everyone up to senior management. Plus a HUGE sign over the main door that says something like, “If you come within 6 feet of another person, there is no reason not to say hello”. So as you walk through this cavernous space, everyone is saying hello, hello, hello. Can’t say I have given much thought to returning to Arkansas since.
Ok. On to food! As I said, Arkansas is a big agriculture state, but it is not necessarily known for a signature dish. I was not going down the road of a spudnut (yes that is a real thing), so I decided to dig into what the state was “known” for. Rice and chicken. Boring. But what I did find was that there are a lot of folks in Arkansas that like to hunt, and duck hunting is a pretty big thing. I like duck, and decided to seek out a dish that gives duck a nice little nod, a sort of “essence of Arkansas”. What I decided to make was Cassoulet with Duck Confit.
This dish is French. Don’t get all over me for that. It seemed so delicious that I just had to make it. As I said, it is a nod to the duck hunters of Arkansas, who probably take their duck home and make gumbo out of it. They are a Louisiana neighbor and I did see recipes for it.
But my dish was luscious and elegant. It actually takes 2 days to make, because the beans gather up a lot of flavor when they are left to sit overnight. There is no holding back on indulgence here. You cook the beans in pancetta. Then you cook them some more with the duck, some good French sausage and slab bacon. Its lots of fatty goodness and a lit bit goes a long way in filling you up. A hearty red wine will cut through the fattiness of the dish, and I recommend a hearty bread and something green (like a salad with a light vinaigrette) on the side to balance it out. Overall, I loved it. Not your everyday dish, as duck confit and French sausage are expensive and can be hard to find (thank you Wegmans and Fresh Market). But for the money, it makes a lot and I think I know what I will be eating for the rest of the week. I make no apology for my somewhat less than authentic Arkansas dish. I hope that anyone from that state will see this recipe and accept it into their kitchen as much as I have mine.
Enjoy! See you next time in Michigan!
Recipe for Cassoulet with Duck Confit (From FoodandWine.com)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Two 1/2-inch-thick slices of pancetta (4 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 pound dried Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked over, then soaked for 2 hours and drained
4 thyme sprigs
2 quarts water
1 quart chicken stock
1 large head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
4 pieces of duck leg confit, trimmed of excess fat
3/4 pound French garlic sausage, sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
4 ounces lean slab bacon, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
In a large saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook over moderate heat until the fat has been rendered, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the beans, thyme sprigs, water and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring and skimming occasionally, until the beans are al dente, about 1 hour.
Add the garlic cloves to the beans and simmer until the garlic and beans are tender, about 15 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs. Season the beans with salt and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate the saucepan overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Rewarm the beans over moderate heat. Transfer the beans to a large, deep baking dish. Nestle the duck legs, garlic sausage and bacon into the beans. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the cassoulet is bubbling and all of the meats are hot. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes.
In a skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the bread crumbs and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the bread crumbs and the parsley over the cassoulet and serve.