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Author Notes: Cassoulet is one of those great winter dishes that everyone seems to love yet few people get to eat as often as they like. When I first posted this recipe, my culinary conscience nagged me for several days as to whether I could legitimately call this special-occasion dish “Cassoulet.” You see, I don't usually use duck in it. Many people do. A quick check of my ancient “Escoffier Cook Book” revealed that his cassoulet doesn’t use duck either. In fact, he includes the dish in the “mutton” category. I like using at least a bit of pork shoulder, for the silky sauce it produces, and a few pork spareribs, for their great flavor. You could use bone-in chicken thighs instead. A garlicky sausage and some kind of smoked meat are must-haves, as are the fresh crumbs and croutons on top. Some people insist that tarbais beans from France must be used. I’ve used Great Northern beans for decades; they’re a fine substitute. This may seem like an awful lot of work, but all told, it's really not that difficult. Besides, your friends and family are worth it, right? I do hope you enjoy this. ;o)
Serves 6 - 8, generously
4 cups cooked white beans*
1 small smoked turkey thigh or drumstick (fully cooked) (See note below **)
Grapeseed oil for browning the sausage and pork
2 or 3 garlicky herbed sausages (about 1 pound)
1 pound small pork spareribs, cut into 2 or 3 pieces (to fit the braising pan comfortably)
1 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1 ½” cubes
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped + 2 more for the crumb topping and croutons
1 cup dry white wine
1 small bunch parsley (about 25 sprigs), leaves removed, stems reserved and finely chopped
2 cups best quality canned or tetra-pack diced tomatoes in their juice (I use Pomi.)
1 additional carrot, peeled and cut into ½” cubes
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves (or a hefty pinch of dried marjoram)
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (or 4 good pinches of dried thyme)
1 cup homemade chicken stock, warmed
1 ½ cup fresh bread crumbs (see note below on my favorite method)
1 ½ cup fresh bread cubes for making the crouton topping
Additional olive oil or duck fat, if you have some, for the topping
Freshly ground black pepper
- Heat oven to 300 degrees. Pat the pork cubes dry and sprinkle well with salt. In a large, wide oven-proof braising dish, warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil over medium heat. Brown the sausages, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside. Brown the spare ribs on each side and put in the same bowl as the sausage.
- Add the pork and brown over medium-high heat, about 4 minutes, turning after the first 2 minutes, adding a touch more oil if needed. Remove to the bowl with the sausage and spare ribs.
- Add the diced onion, carrots and celery to the pot and cook over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, cut off about 3 inches of one of the sausages and cut into small quarter-moons. When the vegetables are soft, add the sausages and cook them for a minute or two, stirring frequently.
- Add the 4 coarsely chopped garlic cloves to the braising pot; cook for another minute, stirring.
- Add the wine; push the vegetables aside to deglaze the pan over medium heat, stirring constantly for about a minute.
- Add the smoked turkey thigh, pork cubes, tomatoes, chopped bits of sausage, stock, chopped parsley stems, marjoram, bay leaf, 1 tablespoon of thyme leaves and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine well; cover tightly and put in the oven. Braise for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Make the crumb and crouton toppings: Put 1 clove of garlic (cut into about 6 pieces), 1 tablespoon of thyme leaves (or a pinch of dried) and a pinch of salt into the bowl of a food processor, along with a small handful of fresh bread crumbs. (See my note below about making fresh bread crumbs.***) Buzz until the garlic is finely chopped, about 20 seconds. Scrape down and blitz for another 5 seconds or so.
- In a large bowl, toss the herbs and garlic with all but about a tablespoon or so of the rest of the bread crumbs.
- Put the reserved crumbs into the food processor with the other clove of garlic, similarly cut into 6 pieces, and the remaining tablespoon of thyme leaves (or pinch of dried). Buzz for about 30 seconds. (The breadcrumbs help absorb juices from the garlic and thyme that would otherwise be left in the food processor workbowl.)
- Cut the sausages into 2 - 3 inch chunks. Coarsely chop the parsley leaves.
- When the meat has finished braising, remove from the oven. Turn the heat up to 350 degrees.
- Remove the turkey thigh and set aside. Add the beans and sausage chunks to the pot. Cut the smoked turkey meat from the bone and return it to the pot; strip the meat from the spare ribs and put them in the pot, too, along with the carrot chunks and chopped parsley. Stir well to combine.
- Cover with the herbed bread crumbs. In the same bowl you used to toss the crumbs with the herbs (now empty), pour about a tablespoon of olive oil or duck fat, or a combination; add the chopped garlic, thyme and crumbs from the food processor, along with a small pinch of salt, along with the cubed bread. Toss thoroughly to coat the cubes. Sprinkle them over the bread crumbs in the pot.
- Bake for 45 minutes. The top should be crunchy, like good toast, with the sauce bubbling up from below. I hope you like this. Your devoted friend, AntoniaJames ;o)
- Don’t be tempted to cook the beans, meats and tomatoes all together at the outset. The acid in the tomatoes and wine will prevent the beans from softening, no matter how long you cook them. I include my preferred method of cooking beans in the notes below, for your information. Whatever, you do, though, please don’t use canned beans, as they’ll turn to mush when all is said and done.
- * To make the beans, cover 2 cups of uncooked beans with 4 cups of water and let soak overnight. (If you know your beans are really fresh, you can skip this step; the cooking time will be from 45 minutes to an hour and a half; you’ll need to add more water, too.) Pour off the water and put in a large pot with 5 cups of water, two sprigs of thyme (or a generous pinch of dried), leaves from 3 sprigs of marjoram (or a generous pinch of dried), ½ onion, which has been peeled and stuck with 2 cloves, a stalk of celery and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and boil gently for 30 – 45 minutes, until just tender but not mushy. Add a good pinch of salt and cook for 2 -3 minutes more. Drain before adding to the stew.
- ** If you can’t get a cooked smoked turkey thigh or drumstick, use a small ham shank, cut into two or three pieces, and braise it with the pork from the outset.
- *** If you need to make fresh breadcrumbs for this recipe, wait until after you’ve chopped the garlic and herbs in the food processor. I make breadcrumbs by lightly toasting 3 – 4 pieces of whatever neutral artisanal or Pullman loaves I have on hand, typically using end pieces. Then I cut them into 1” squares and drop them into the food processor (in this case, with the chopped herbs and garlic) and buzz for about a minute. I find this easier than using a box grater, for this quantity of crumbs, especially when the food processor is so handy for finely chopping the garlic and herbs.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Show-Stopping Holiday Main
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Recipe with Beans
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best One-Pot Meal