Friday, February 26, 2010

A Long Day and A Long Recipe - Cassoulet

We live in a very progressive school district.

When there are delays due to inclement weather, parents receive both an email and an automated phone message from the school district. It's all very high tech and efficient.

So as not to clog the system, the phone calls go out in alphabetical order, beginning around 7:00 pm the night before (when the weather can be predicted that far out).

Since our name is located somewhat far back in the alphabet, our automated phone message came at 4:30 am. Just after the plows finished their 8th. sweep of our street - which they began at 3:30 am.

The phone is on my side of the bed.

"Hey Mom, they woke me up too!"

Since I was up I thought I may as well put together a cassoulet.

If you've only heard about, but never eaten, cassoulet you may be expecting everything french like butter and cream and wonderful herbs and bread and cheese all rolled into an exotic fare fit for a king. In reality, cassoulet is a french country dish. It was traditionally prepared using leftover meats and vegetables and would be cooked over the course of 2 or 3 days. Cassoulet is good country comfort food.

There are as many versions of cassoulet as there are frenchmen in France. Here is my humble version, an American who adores french food.

Cassoulet starring sausage, lamb and duck* (serves a crowd or 4 very hungry people with leftovers - and the leftovers are fantastic)

1 pound andouille sausage
4 lamb shanks
1/2 pound bacon, diced and divided into half
2 duck leg confit (or 3 chicken thighs*)
32 ounces beef broth
red wine
5 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound large white beans (lima or great northern white)
1 large onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut in thirds on the diagonal
sprig of fresh thyme
sprig of fresh rosemary
2 medium bay leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Large crock pot or large dutch oven.

If you are using a crock pot, set to low. If you are using a dutch oven, follow all the instructions and you will then cook everything on a very low flame.

Soak the beans overnight OR place in bottom of heavy pan, cover with hot water and boil for 2 minutes. Let cool in cooking water for 1 hour.

Cook 1/2 the bacon in a large dutch oven.

When the bacon is crisp remove with a slotted spoon and place in the crock pot. Add to the pot with the bacon fat, the onions, carrots and celery (the mire-poix) and cook gently until onions and celery are softened. Place in crock pot with the bacon.

Pour the beef broth into the crock pot.
Add the tomato paste and stir around to combine.
Make an herb garni using cheese cloth and the thyme, rosemary and bay leaves. Tie and add to the crock pot.

Add the soaked beans (strain) to the crock pot.

Slice the andouille sausage and add to crock pot. This is what your cassoulet looks like so far:

Place the remaining bacon into the dutch oven and cook until crisp. Remove the crisp bacon with a slotted spoon and place in crock pot.

Sprinkle pan searing (or wondra) flour over lamb shanks. Add the shanks to the dutch oven with the hot bacon fat and brown all over, about 10 minutes.

Add the browned lamb shanks to the crock pot.

Deglaze the dutch oven with a cup of red wine.

Scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add to the crock pot. Place a lid on the crock pot and walk away. Cook on low for 6 hours. You can do all this the night before. Just cook it the next day, on low, all day long.

Final presentation:

One and a half hours before dinner, preheat oven to 400 F.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Spoon Cassoulet into an oven proof casserole, arranging the beans and vegetables on the bottom. Add sliced duck confit*. Add any cooking juices to cover the beans and vegetables. Top with lamb shanks. Sprinkle with 2 cups dry white bread crumbs mixed with 1/2 cup chopped parsley. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and bake, uncovered for one hour.

Serve with crusty french bread and a young red wine. Prepare to be wowed.

A Cook's Notes: *if you are not using Duck Leg Confit, use 3 chicken thighs. Brown them in bacon fat or olive oil and add to crock pot. After 5 hours, remove chicken thighs, remove skin and bone and shred, adding chicken back to the crock pot with beans and vegetables.

This recipe seems long and complicated, but it really isn't. Just follow the steps, adding the ingredients to the crock pot or second dutch oven. Then just walk away and let the slow cooker do the work.

If you are using a dutch oven, place on back burner of stove over very low flame and let cook for 5 hours; stirring occasionally.


  1. That's horrible! The phone call, I mean, not the yummy dish. How in hell did my parents ever get along when we had to listen for the no school announcement on the radio or TV? Sheesh. 4am. Hideous.

  2. You'd have to get up that early for a production like that! Looks like it was worth it!

  3. Suldog - tell me about it! I'm thinking of changing our name to Adams..

    Buffalo - Putting it together really on took about 30 minutes.. the crock pot is doing the work. Around 5:00 I'll put it in to bake for the last hour. I'm baking some bread now. My neighbors are coming over to help us eat (and drink a bottle or two of wine)... Being snowed in has some good points!

  4. That would not fly with my husband, but my mouth is watering as I read! I hope ya'll enjoy your snowy evening.

    I am hoping that we are still stuck with the tv or computer for school closings by the time my kids go to school! That or I'll have to turn the phones off!

  5. "Since I was up I thought I may as well put together a cassoulet."

    Hahahaha. I'd have to go back to bed. Recipe looks great, though!

  6. You sure are productive when you get woken up.

  7. Whitney - I'm thinking of complaining to the school district. 4:30 am is ridiculous - maybe I can be taken off the call list?

    Blissed Out - Ug. I wish I COULD go back to sleep after being woken up - but I never seem to be able to.

    Unknown - I took a nap later in the day!

  8. I was in the mood for crab today and remembered an older post you had for crab cakes. I found the recipe and my husband and I made them for dinner. We have tried various recipes for crab cakes in the past and this recipe was by far the best we've ever made. Paired with a mid-oakey Chardonnay, it was a fabulous meal! Thank you for another great dinner!

    Abby's Mom

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  10. I haven't made this dish in years. My version was not nearly as involved as yours. I'll be it is delicious!

  11. Man, I remember anxiously watching the morning news to see if our district was listed on the snow day list. A 4:30 am phone call??? They are lucky it was a recording, I bet someone would give them a piece of their mind!

  12. I used to hate those automated systems... My mom always knew when I skipped school. :D


Wow. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I love feedback... what with being a cook and all. I will respond to your comments via email (if you do not have a "noreply" address or here, below your comment) As always, Bon Appetite!

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