If you’re a vegetarian, I suggest you stop here: this was a MEATY meal! Delicious, delightful, rich, hearty, homey, filling, and warming – it was wonderful, and wonderfully full of pig, pork, ham, sausage, duck and goose (fat). Add some heirloom traditional flageolet beans, a rough mirepoix, and a crust of crunchy parmesan bread crumbs, and you’ve got, what Clayton called: “a meal fit for a night after a winter country hunt,” which I imagine as the kind that had packs of hunting dogs and lovely horses and riding boots and high-buttoned coats and English saddles and warmed rum by the fireside and other romanticisms which are probably far from the truth (and somehow more British than French, despite the origin of “cassoulet”). But truly, this is a stew worthy of a hard’s days ride through the briary woods in pursuit of game, and was a true treat after a weekend of sub-zero weather and lots of outdoor exploring. The eight hours referred to might be an overestimate (or underestimate, if you include the bean-soaking time), but traditionally this meal takes several days to make. Since I want to eat dinner tonight, I pack all the preparation and simmering into a single day. It’s about an hour of prep, more or less, and 3-4 hours of simmering time, and another hour or so to finish it off.
I’ve no set up shot for tonight, but here’s a list of what you’ll need:
12oz flageolet (or otherwise white) beans
3 large links pork garlic sausage
1/4lb prosciutto di parma
1lb pork shoulder or butt
5-6oz country cured ham steaks
2 confit duck legs
4 tbs rendered goose fat (or duck fat)
3 stalks celery
2 medium white onions
1 whole unpeeled head, plus 4 cloves peeled, crushed garlic
4-5 tbs diced tomato (I used a canned fire-roasted variety)
2 qts chicken stock
2 tbs dried thyme
2 bay leaves
fresh grated parmesan cheese
sliced green onions (for garnish)
First step: soak your dried beans for no more than 8 hours overnight.
This morning, Clayton and I braved the subzero temperatures and headed out, mainly to build a meal off of the flageolet, which are traditionally used as the bean in a cassoulet, and is a difficult legume to find here in the States. The only place I could think of which carries legs of duck confit, which I was pretty sure I needed, is Savenor’s.
I love this place, and there are two of them! This is the one by Mass General Hospital, on Charles Ave, on Beacon Hill. Any meat it is legal to sell in the US, they sell – all the exotic ones included.
Here’s what I’m a’gonna use: garlic pork sausge, prosciutto (I should have gotten a slab, but I come up with a rather clever and pleasant approach to these lovely slices of soft sweet prosciutto di parma), pork butt, country cured ham (as opposed to ham hock and sat pork, this bone-in thin-sliced super-salted ham is a great addition to this meal), and two legs of dug confit—that is, roasted and stored in its own fat. Didn’t I mention this recipe has a lot of meat?
Oh, and one last fat: goose fat. (They didn’t have duck fat, but I liked graphic design of the “Whetstone Valley” bit enough to buy this instead. I was not disappointed.)
I add about 2 tbs to a hot, heavy bottomed pan large enough to make my whole dish.
Carrots, celery, and onion: the holy trinity of basic cooking. Start roughly chopping ‘em.
While that’s happening, add your pork bits to your sizzling goose fat.
Using tongs to flip each lovely bite, brown each edge! About 10-15 minutes total will do.
Mirepoix is prepped.
Once each bite of pork is browned on each edge, remove them bits and set them aside in a bowl. Add your sliced country ham to the sizzling goosepork fat, and sear each side for about 3-4 minutes.
Once those are browned on each side, remove them too. Then add your chopped veg to your gooseporkham fat.
The veg will begin to melt, releasing their sweet sweet liquids, which will release the meat fond sticking to the bottom of the pan, allowing it to blend with the onioncarrotcelerystuff. Sauté for about 15 minutes.
Garlic. I’m going to through the whole head in – unpeeled! Why? I’m not sure – I think I saw it on TV once. I’m thinking it will release a sort of muted roasted garlic flavor. Don’t worry… I plan to add some fresh minced shortly before service, to kick it up a bit.
If tomatoes were worth anything other than compost these days, I would have bought fresh, but husband Farmer Clayton’s backyard heirlooms, which are sadly out of season now, had spoiled me; even the previously passably acceptable tomatoes-on-the-vine pale in comparison. So, for stewing preparations, I’ve found several high-end canned goods provide me with more flavor and satisfaction. I don’t need a ton of tomato, so I add about 5 tablespoons. Cook for about 10 minutes.
Stir well, and then add your ham and pork back to the pan, plus any juices that have accumulated.
Then add 2qts of chicken stock to the pan – enough to cover the ingredients – and set to a low boil.
Add 2 bay leaves, and about 2 tsp dried thyme. Cover, and WALK AWAY. For 1 1/2 hours.
1 1/2 hours later…
Add your fully soaked and drained and picked over flageolet beans. Cover, set to medium low, and WALK AWAY. For TWO hours. What? I said this was an 8-hour cassoulet! Check the title!
Two hours later…
I’ve put my two fat-preserved duck legs into a non-stick pie pan (it’s all you need) . Set into a 400° oven to roast for 10-15 minutes, until fully seared.
My prosciutto. Most recipes call for a large hunk of the stuff, but I purchased slices (erroneously) instead. That’s OK. I figured something out: I roll each of four slices into a cigar, leaving the last two inches or so free so I can split it down the middle, then tie it up into itself.
See? Little perfect bow-tied packages of prosciutto.
Here are some lovely links of garlic pork sausage. Sear them fully through on all sides in another tablespoon of goose fat, for .
Cover them with a splatter screen, so that your husband doesn’t have to spend more time than truly necessary to clean up after you. Place your prosciutto in your pan, and submerge it in the already simmering bean meat broth. Let simmer.
After 15 minutes, your confit should be ready.
Using two forks, 1st remove the skin from the thigh, then shred the meat from the bones.
Dammit, Clayton! Get out of the duck, man…
Whoops – my prep list is showing!
Sausages are browned, and duck is shredded. Slice the sausage on the bias—
—and lay it into your cassoulet. Remove the whole papered garlic head out of your pan (squeezing it with tongs strongly, to squish as much garlic out of it as possible), and then add the remaining 4 peeled cloves of garlic, which you’ve minced, to the mix, with a bit of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Mix well, and keep simmering. Keep the cover off so that the liquids can further reduce.
Spread about 1 ½ cups of panko breadcrumbs and about ½ cup grated parmesan cheese over a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet. Set into a 350° oven to toast, stirring every once in a while to make sure it browns evenly.
Now, assemble your individual cassoulets, in your sweet little wee Mario Batali cast-iron pots. Simply layer out even amounts of meat, beans…
… and broth…
… and shredded duck meat and sliced seared duck skin…
… and pack your toasted cheesed breadcrumbs over the entire mess. Set into your hot oven for about 10 more minutes, and toast off some croûtons in the meanwhile.
Meatsoulet extravaganza! Duck legs, garlic sausage, pork butt, prosciutto di parma, country cured ham, beans, carrots, celery, onions and broth with a cheesy breadcrumb topping, bursting through and through with flavor and heartwarming goodness. The Federation has faced down intergalactic foes before, but never one of such a delicious aspect.