if its not yummy, then we better make it funny.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Recipe of the week: Cassoulet

I decided to post this recipe because it is good in both Spring and Fall, pleasing both hemispheres at once. I remember having cassoulet for the first time at the Springtree Restaurant in Friday harbor. I was working as a baker there and I was learning a lot from the chefs Jodi Calhoun and Daniel Von Hamersfeld. Daniel made many classic European dishes with ease and delicious results. One such dish was Cassoulet. This dish, although it has had a renaissance in "hoity toity hoi paloi" restaurants, it is really a peasant dish from South East France. This concept of a slow cooked hearty bean stew seasoned with available meats shows up in many other cuisines, though, such as feijoada from Portugal and fabada Asturiana from Austuria (an autonomous community within Spain) and even good old Boston baked beans.
Cassoulet, the title, is really from the word "cassole", a ceramic dish that one would make the stew in, often on the back of the cooking hearth. The food dish is made with white beans and various (often leftover) meats, (traditionally duck confit),sausages, game and poultry, then herbs, onions or shallots, garlic, herbs and, in my recipe, breadcrumbs and vermouth all add dimension to it. It is one of those dishes that is different every time you make it, depending on what you've got in the refrigerator. It can be made in a modern crock pot if you do not have a wood fired hearth going these days. It tastes as good or better the next day and is rib sticking. If you eat it mid day you'll have time for it to fuel you for hours. Here is my favorate recipe for it, modified from the Silver Palette cookbook's recipe. Now remember that you can simplify and eliminate meats you don't like, cant find or don't have the budget for. If you eliminate the fatty meats such as the pork rind, bacon or sausages you may need to add some high quality oil to add the silkiness to the dish that the meat fats offered. (This isn't the cholesterol watching meal, for that; try the Pasole, its more virtuous. I'll try to wrangle that recipe from the best Pasole chef I know Senora Linda Pickett Friedman). But for now it's Cassoulet. This recipe is a two day process and is not for the crock pot. I would call this "company cassoulet" for when perhaps you've got such gustatory guests as Thor or an Amazonian girl's choir coming for a visit. Simpler recipes involving less time are on the internet, I am sure.

2 pounds dried white beans, soaked overnight
1/2 pound fresh pork rind
5 pounds duckling or chicken
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 1/4 pounds lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons olive oil, if needed
1/3 cup rendered bacon fat
2 cups chopped yellow onions
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
6 ribs celery, diced
2 cups dry white vermouth
6 ounces tomato paste
5 cups stock, preferably home made
9 large garlic cloves, peeled
5 bay leaves
1 1/2 pound smoked or fresh sausage or kielbasa
1/2 pound salt pork
4 cups bread crumbs (dried)
mixed with
1 cup chopped parsley


Score the fat side of the pork rind, cover it with cold water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, cover with cold water again, and repeat the process, this time simmering for 30 minutes. Reserve the pork rind and its second cooking water.

Drain the beans and place them in an 8-quart oven-proof pot with a lid. Cover them with water by at least 3 inches, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook briskly, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove pot from heat and let beans stand in the cooking liquid.

Cut off wing tips of duck and set them aside. Discard the organ meats or reserve for another use (like the cat). Pull all the fat out of the duck and season the cavity with salt and pepper. Put the duck in a small roasting pan and roast in a preheated 450F oven for 45 minutes. Drain accumulated fat frequently. Remove from oven after cooking time; duck should still be slightly underdone. Drain juices from duck cavity into a large bowl and reserve. Cool, cover and refrigerate duck.

In a heavy skillet, brown the cubed lamb in batches, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Do not crowd the pan. Remove the browned lamb to the large bowl and reserve.

Without cleaning the skillet, saute the pork cubes and the reserved duck wing tips in the same fashion, seasoning with salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon of the thyme and the allspice. You may need to add a tablespoon or two of olive oil if the skillet is particularly dry at this point. Reserve the browned pork in the same bowl with the lamb.

Do not clean the skillet. Melt the rendered bacon fat in the skillet and saute the onions and carrots for about 20 minutes, stirring, or until tender. Add to the pot with the beans.

Add the vermouth, along with the meat juices accumulated in the large bowl, to the skillet. Bring to a boil. Lower heat slightly and cook briskly, stirring, until vermouth is slightly reduced and all browned cooking particles remaining in the skillet have dissolved. Pour the vermouth into the beans.

Stir in the tomato paste, the pork rind cooking liquid, the broth, remaining thyme, 6 of the garlic cloves, chopped, and the bay leaves. Add additional water, if necessary; liquid should just cover the beans. Put the pork rind, fat side down, on top of the beans, and cover the pot.

Bake in the center of a preheated 350F oven for 2 to 2.5 hours, or until the beans are completely tender. Remove and cool to room temperature, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, prick the skin of the fresh sausage all over with a fork and simmer in a pan of water for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve. This is not necessary for the smoked sausage.

Put the salt pork in a pan of cold water, bring to a boil, and cook for 10 minutes. Drain, cover with cold water and repeat, reserving the salt pork in its cooking water.

Remove the pot of beans from the refrigerator. Discard the bay leaves, the duck neck and wing tips.

Drain the salt pork; cut off the rind and discard it. Chop the salt pork into cubes and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Puree to a paste, dropping the 3 remaining peeled garlic cloves through the feed tube while the motor is running. Stir the paste into the beans.

Skin the duck (or chicken), pull all meat from the bones, and cut into chunks. Stir duck into the beans. Skin the sausage and cut into rounds; stir into the beans.

The beans will now cook for another 1-1/2 hours. If they are too dry (it is preferable that they be too moist), stir in another cup or two of warm water. Smooth the top of the beans and sprinkle heavily with half of the bread-crumb and parsley mixture.

Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 325F oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, stir the top crust into the beans, sprinkle on the remaining bread crumbs and parsley, and bake further -- for another 45 minutes, or until crust has formed and browned well. Serve immediately. Accompany with a nice leafy salad dressed lightly, crusty bread and a good crisp white wine.

Serves 12, great leftover.

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