Cassoulet, Parts I & II
So, tomorrow night we’re hosting Debbie & Stu the Wine Genius Williams and Ana Scofield & Rudy Maxa for dinner. Remember our recent dinner at Heartland, where I mentioned I’d like to tackle cassoulet? Well, I put the plans into motion that night for tomorrow night’s feast, and started getting down to business yesterday.
Cassoulet is a hearty French white bean casserole/stew, loaded with rich meats like duck or goose confit, lamb or pork shoulder, salt pork or bacon, and sausage. The beans, meat, and stewing juices are layered together and topped with fresh bread crumbs, then baked until the top is insane-crusty-perfection. I’ve taken a couple of days to prepare the dish, which in effect is bean & pork stew (day one), layered with lamb stew (day two), layered with sausages and duck confit and topped with bread crumbs (day three). You could make the bean and lamb stews on the same day – neither are difficult – but they are time-consuming. Since entertaining is supposed to be, you know, fun, to me it’s worth the extra planning to start a few days ahead so that I can be relatively relaxed and enjoy my guests.
I started in an unorthodox manner – by browning the bacon (I chose bacon over salt pork). Most recipes have you layer un-browned salt pork into the casserole, but I knew the flavor of lightly browned bacon would be lovely with the beans, so that’s what I did. Mon dieu, I know, I know. Into the bacon, I stirred onions and a bouquet garni of parsley, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. And then I stirred in the beans, of course – I used navy; flageolet are traditional, but I couldn’t easily put my hands on them, and many recipes just call for navy anyhow. Last I stirred in water, just enough to cover, slowly adding more to keep the beans covered while they simmered, until they were just-tender, about an hour and a half. I added salt and pepper to taste a couple of times throughout the cooking process, although carefully, knowing that the forthcoming lamb and sausages would add saltiness as well.
Today I made the lamb stew, with a lamb shoulder roast. Since I couldn’t secure a bone-in roast, I added a beef marrow bone to the stock pot along with the browned-in-duck-fat lamb, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, tomato paste, and beef stock. A slow braise in the oven for about two hours produced a beautifully rich, meaty stew.
I also dug into the (purchased) duck (legs) confit today – I pulled the meat from the bones into bite-size pieces, and pulled the skin from the meat. I also diced and sauteed the beautiful French garlic sausages I bought – I almost hate to put them in the cassoulet, they’re so delicious on their own (nibble, nibble). But in they’ll go, I swear. Tomorrow I’ll make cracklings by roasting the duck skin until crisp.
OK, that’s all I’ve got for now, other than the menu (below; recipe will follow after I make note of the adjustments I’ve made). Notice that we’re pretty much just having crudite for an appetizer, and a simple cherry tart for dessert – no cheese, cassoulet is just too rich (shucks, I love an excuse – aka a party – for a cheese course; ah well, next time). Stay tuned for wine – we haven’t nailed it down yet:
Aioli platter with raw mushrooms and radishes, boiled potatoes, thinly sliced salami, cornichon pickles, and olives
Watercress/frisee salad with apples, toasted hazelnuts, dried cherries, goat cheese, shallots, and hazelnut oil/apple cider vinegar vinaigrette