Cassoulet- the best I ever made!
We had a few friends over for NYE and I made cassoulet- a perfect winter supper. This version was white navy beans, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, tomato, sausage (jimmy dean sage) and chicken legs and thighs (and wine and broth). And plenty of Herbs de Provence. My husband and I reheated leftovers last night and they were even better! This was so fantastic that I'm wondering if anyone else out there has a great cassoulet recipe to share. I feel a trend coming on in our house- an especially good one since it's only 22 degrees in Baltimore this morning. Please share your cassoulet recipes so I can try out a few more!
Wow, it's a looooong time since I made cassoulet! Used to make it fairly often, then my bean pot disappeared and never got replaced.. So let me see if I can remember...
For me, making a cassoulet is about a three day project. It requires at least three different meats, and having learned to make cassoulet from a French girlfriend who was an accomplished cook, one of the meats *must* be confit of duck! Another meat *must* be sausage. I prefer sausage in a natural skin, as it keeps the sausage from decaying into mush during the long cooking process. For the other meats, I do a pork roast for dinner a couple of days ahead of time -- preferably pork shoulder butt with the skin on half of it, and make sure there's enough left over for the cassoulet. Other left-over meats are also great. Left over lamb, if there is such a thing. Leftover shish kebab, shashlik, brochettes, whatever you want to call cubes of charcoal broiled meat, are also excellent additions. With the incredible convenience of today's freezers, its easy to collect approriate leftovers with the idea of a cassoulet at some future date. So... Beginning the countdown from Day 3...
Do a nice pork shoulder butte for dinner, but make sure it has some skin on it. A simple roasting method that produces good flavor for both dinner and the cassoulet is to put the roast in a covered pan fat side up, dash it liberally with Worcestershire sauce, pack a generous layer of brown sugar on top of that, then add enough sparkling cider (or you can use just plain apple juice) to the pan to bring it about about an inch deep. Be careful not to get the brown sugar wet. Roast in a moderate oven until just done enough to serve for dinner. If you're not planning on using the leftovers for cassoulet, you can slow roast it for eight to ten hours (225f) until it falls off the bone and use it for pulled pork. It's excellent that way too. So... You've got left over pork for your cassoulet
Also on Day Three, put your beans to soak overnight. Two pounds of them, and be sure to pick through them to make sure no small stones get past you. Don't need dental bills from eating cassoulet! I use white navy beans (traditional), but I have made it with pinto beans, though I prefer the navy beans. Some people bring the beans to a boil to shorten the soak time, but my experience is that I get less breakage of the beans in the final cooking with the long, slow overnight soak. I'm sure mileage varies.
Take the skin off the cold pork roast. While your hands are messy, you may as well cut the roast into cubes. About an inch square is good. Put them in a zip lock bag (or whatever) until tomorrow. Now, with kitchen shears, cut the pork skin into small bite size pieces. If you want to be fancy, cut it into long strips about an inch wide, then cut those at an angle so you make a bunch of triangles. But squares and rectangles work too. Set them aside for the moment.
Large onion, quarterd with stem attached so it won't break apart.
bouquet garni: 4 or 5 cloves unpeeled garlic, parsley stems, a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme, a couple of bay leaves all tied in a rinsed cheesecloth.
Bring the beans in their overnight-soaking water to a full boil and simmer for five minutes. Drain. Rinse in cold water. Now add 5 1/2 quarts of cooking liquid to the beans. Your call. You can use just plain water, if you have any gravy or sauce left over from the pork roast you can incorporate some of that (save some for later too), or you can use chicken broth. Stick the cloves in the onion sections and drop them in the pot. Add the bouquet garni, and if you feel the need, you may add a little salt. My personal preference is to go light on salt during all cooking processes, then add a nice finishing salt at serving time. You never know when a guest will be on a low sodium diet, and you can always add salt but it's damned difficult to take it out unless you're making soup! Also add the pork rind. Bring the whole thing to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for about an hour and a half, or until the beans are tender. Cool and put them in the fridge until Day Three!
Things you need today:
A nice cooking crock that will hold two gallons (8 quarts) without running over. An old fashioned wide mouthed bean pot is great, but "wide mouth" is the operative word. I prefer clay or pottery to ceramic or glass, but the flavor difference could be all in my mind. Metal containers don't work all that well except for a cast iron dutch oven. But the problem with that is you have to transfer the leftovers to another dish for storing, and I do like the layers of beans and meat and crust to stay intact. The objective of the cooking vessel is a fairly open top to maximize the crust area, so a casserole dish will work just fine so long as it's deep enough.
Confit of duck. Two to four chubby legs is good. Gently break the meat from the bones, but not in fine pieces. And reserve the fat and bones!!!
The pork pieces from Day Two.
Sausages. About two pounds in natural casings. Be very careful your sausages do not have a "modern" (plastic) casing that you're supposed to discard before cooking. Sweet Italian sausage is excellent. Kielbasa is also good. I personally do not like the smoked or heavily spiced sausages because they overpower the other flavors. Pierce the sausage skins with a cooking fork in enough places to just let the juices out, then cut into sections about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long, depending on the length of the sausages and how well they divide.
The above three meats are minimum for a good cassoulet, but any other appropriate meats you have on hand will make a nice addition. Remember, cassoulet is primarily a dish for using up leftover meats! Don't use any cured meats, such as ham or bacon, or any kind of fish, shellfish, seafood. We're not making paella!
Fresh breadcrumbs you make yourself. The white part of a loaf of french bread works great. I don't much like using the crust, but it's a personal call. Whatever you use, it should be white bread. Tear the bread into chunks, then fine tune them in a blender. You'll need at least two cups and possibly more, depending on the top area of your finished dish. Spread the bread crumbs across a cookie sheet and dry them in a slow oven. Then saute them in some of the fat from the confit. Just enough to help them color a bit, but don't turn them into grease balls.
Some minceed parsley.
Any and all gravies or sauces you have left from any of the meats, but none that are heavily spiced.
Assembly: Drain the beans and pork skin, discard the bouquet garni but reserve the cooking water. Remove the cloves from the onions and set onions aside. Preheat oven to 400F.
To assemble brush the inside of your pot/casserole with a coating of duck fat. Lay in the first layer of drained beans and pork rind. Next spread an even layer of all meats and some onion. Add a duck bone or two to each meat layer for flavor. Proceed to layer beans and meats until everything is used up, ending with a layer of beans.
Put a cup of the bean cooking liquid in a saucepan and add a cup of white vermouth, all of the gravies and sauces from the meats you have on hand, and some cognac or armagnac. About a quarer cup should be more than enough. Heat until disolved. If you don't have any gravies or sauces, but you do have some demi-glace on hand, a tablespoon or two of that will help. If you don't have either, the bean liquid will work fine, but add a bit of duck fat to it and the vermouth. Check for seasonings, but be careful not to oversalt. Gently pour the liquid over the assembled cassoulet. If there isn't enough liquid to just cover the top layer of beans, add enough bean liquid to reach that mark. Now sprinkle with a layer bread crumbs and put in a preheated 400F oven until it begins to bubble. Check to see if the bread crumbs have formed a crust. If they have, break it with a spoon and stir them into the top layer of beans trying not to disturb the meat layers. Do a fresh layer of breadcrumbs.
Reduce the oven to 350F, and when a nice crust forms again, break it up and stir into the top bean layer. If the cassoulet seems to be getting too dry, add a bit more bean liquid to regain good consistency. Add another layer of breadcrumbs. I usually "reintroduce" the crust three times before letting the final crust form for serving. For the final crust, in addition to the breadcrumbs, scatter the minced parsley arcoss the top and dot with duck fat. Total baking time is about an hour, maybe a little more depending on your oven and your casserole dish.
When the final crust is well formed, remove from the oven. Allow to cool about 20 minutes, depending on the shape of your container. You don't want anyone to seriously burn themselves trying to eat it, but you don't want it so cool it's room temperature either. Serve with a green salad, a crusty loaf of artisan bread, and a nice bottle of red table wine. And don't forget to offer a nice finishing salt. This is a very hearty dish, and the French usually serve it mid-day in the interest of a sound night's sleep.
I have not made this but my friend Helen Jolly who gave me the recipe says it is excellent.
Recipe By Sandi Hillmer of Muskego, Wisconsin
1 pound dried navy beans -- sorted
4 each celery -- tops with leaves
2 each bay leaves
2 each parsley sprigs
1/4 pound slab bacon -- cut up
1/4 cup olive oil -- more if necessary
3 whole chicken breasts without skin -- cut in 1-1/2" pieces
3 pounds pork tenderloin -- cut in 1-1/2" pieces
1 cup onion -- chopped
3/4 cup celery -- chopped
3/4 cup carrots -- chopped
3 cloves garlic -- minced
3 cups chicken broth -- defatted
28 ounces stewed tomatoes -- undrained
-- coarsely chopped
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried savory
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 pound kielbasa -- cut in 1-1/2" pieces
1/4 cup Italian parsley -- +3tbsp garnish
2 teaspoons salt -- or to taste
Soak beans overnight in water. Rinse the beans in several changes of cold water. Drain and place in a large, heavy pot with water to cover beans. Add celery tops, bay leaves and parsley sprigs. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a very large pot, brown the bacon to render the fat. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, and reserve. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to the pot. Brown the chicken and the pork each in small batches. Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon, and set aside.
Add remaining 2 tbsp of oil to the pot; wilt the onion, celery and carrots over medium low heat, about 10 minutes.
Return meat and bacon to the pot along with the beans. Discard celery tops.
Add the remaining ingredients, except for the Kielbasa, parsley and salt. Simmer gently for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the Kielbasa; simmer for 30 minutes longer, stirring once or twice.
Stir in the 1/4 cup of the chopped parsley, and season with salt. Garnish with the remaining parsley.
Suggested Wine: A nice Blush or Burgundy
Serving Ideas : With fresh home-baked bread or Rye rolls.
NOTES : This is one of the FIVE winners in a recent contest of 15,475 entries for "Best One-Pot Meal in America. Posted to Prodigy by Helen Jolly.
Copied by Tom Shunick 9/29/96
This one sounds good also:
Sheboygan Cassoulet ala ~ Soup Brothers Restaurant
Recipe By :Richard Renger, owner: Soup Brothers via Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, WI
2 cups diced onions
1/2 cup chopped garlic -- or to taste
2 cups carrots -- peeled and diced
2 cups diced red bell pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds bratwurst -- grilled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 pounds chicken -- grilled dark meat/thighs; cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 15-oz cans great northern beans, canned -- see directions
1 gallon chicken stock
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper -- coarsely ground
1 tablespoon caraway seeds -- crushed
1 tablespoon fresh sage -- thinly sliced
green onions -- sliced for garnish
In large soup pot over high heat, saute onion, garlic, carrots and bell pepper in olive oil until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add bratwurst, chicken, tomato paste, beans and stock. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, add seasonings, and simmer uncovered 30 minutes.
Garnish each serving with sliced green onions.
"Here's a recipe from Richard Regner, owner of Soup Bros., for a soup that adds French flair to Sheboygan bratwurst."
"Copied by Tom Shunick - A Receptarist on the shores of Rehoboth Bay, DE - October 6, 2006"
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Casssoulet is so cook-friendly. Every time I make it, it's a little different, and every time, it fabulous. I have recipes that have all those ingredients, such as duck, and I do have access to them, and I have tried it, once, with them. It's excellent, but it's not something I want to do every week. maddogg, mine is just like that....I prefer to use a little smoked sausage as well as some cooked fresh sausage. Kielbassa and Polish sausage are a little too strong for me....a lighter smoked sausage. It'll taste different everytime you make it, because the proportions won't be exact, and conditions won't be exact...you know that...isn't it grand?
What did you serve with it? A salad? Some warm rolls? The sides almost always make a difference, too, don't they?