Since Sunday is recipe day, consider this Sunday's post.
This is from the Time/Life series on Provincial French cooking from the late 1960s. MFK Fisher wrote it.
At the vow renewal ceremony for thorbol
on Saturday, someone asked me how long cassoulet took. When I started by saying, "I usually get up early so it will be done by 8 pm," they somehow lost interest.
Tomorrow (which will be today's post), I'll go over some of the variations I've used.
Casserole of White Beans Baked with Meats
To Serve 10 to 12
Section 1: The Beans and Sausage
4 quarts chicken stock, fresh or canned
2 pounds or 4 cups dry white beans (Great Northern, marrow, or navy)
1 pound lean salt pork in one piece
Half pound fresh pork rind (optional)
1 quart water
1 pound uncooked plain or garlic pork sausage, fresh or smoked (French, Italian, or Polish) (note: Stop and Shop makes their own sausage, and does a really nice garlic and cheese one. You can freeze them until needed if you see them available more than a week before you plan to make the recipe. Whole Foods also does some lovely sausages, and, I've even used the spicy lamb sausage called mergez for this recipe.)
3 whole peeled onions
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
a Bouquet Garni made of 4 parsley sprigs, 3 celery tops, white part of 1 leek, and 2 bay leaves wrapped and tied in cheesecloth (note: I just tie the long ones with kitchen twine and toss in the bay leaves. )
Freshly ground black pepper
In a heavy 6- to 8- quart pot or soup kettle, bring the chicken stock to a bubbling boil over high heat. Drop the beans in and boil them briskly for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the beans soak for 1 hour. Meanwhile simmer the salt pork and optional pork rind in 1 quart of water for 15 minutes; drain and set aside.
With the point of a sharp knife, pierce 5 or 6 holes in the sausage (note: prod it twice with a fork, it's faster and the holes are smaller and more evenly spaced.); then add the sausage, salt pork and pork rind to the beans. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming the top of scum. (note: This is one step that I don't know how to explain to you. You can't hear scum, and you should just keep agitating the water. I've been known to ignore this step in other recipes so that might be the solution.) When the stock looks fairly clear, add the whole onions, garlic, thyme, bouquet garni, salt and a few grinding of black pepper. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes, adding stock or water if needed. With tongs, transfer the sausage to a plate and set it aside. Cook the beans and salt pork for another 30 to 40 minutes, or until the beans are tender, drain and transfer the salt pork and rind to the plate with the sausage; discard the onions and bouquet garni. Strain the stock through a large sieve or colander into a mixing bowl. Skim the fat from the stock (note: this is easiest if you chill the stock until the fat solidifies on the top -- I try to do this step the day before) and taste for seasoning. Then set the beans, stock and meats aside in separate containers. If they are to be kept overnight, cool, cover, and refrigerate them.
Section 2: The Duck
4 tablespoons of soft butter (note: it doesn't say, but I always used unsalted)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
a 4- to 5- pound duck, quartered (note: I usually go to the Chinese market. It's possible to get duck legs or leg quarters there the same way you'd get chicken legs or leg quarters at Stop and Shop -- much easier and cheaper that way. I've also just roasted a duck, let it cool, and raked the meat off with two forks.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degress. Cream the butter by beating it vigorously against the sides of a small bowl with a wooden spoon until it is fluffy, then beat in the oil. Dry the duck with paper towels, and coat the quarters with creamed butter and oil. Lay them skin side down on the broiler rack, and broil them 4 inches from the heat for 15 minutes, basting them once with pan juices and broil 5 minutes more. Then increase the heat to 400 degrees and broil for 15 minutes, basting the duck once or twice. With tongs, turn the quarters over, baste, and broil skin side up for 10 minutes. Increase the heat to 450 degrees, baste again, and broil for 10 minutes more. Remove the duck to a plate and pour the drppings from the broiler pan into a bowl, scraping in any browned bits that cling to the pan. Let the drippings settle, the skim the fat from the top and save it in a small bowl (see note above about chilling to separate fat). Pour the degreased drippings into the bean stock. When the duck is cool, trim off the excess fat and gristle, and use poultry shears to cut the quarters into small serving pieces (see note above). If they are to be kept overnight, cool and cover the duck and bowl of fat and refrigerate them.
Section 3: The Pork and the Lamb
Half pound fresh pork fat, diced
1 pound boned pork loin, cut in 2-inch chunks
1 pound boned lamb shoulder, cut in 2-inch chunks
1 cup finely chopped onion
Half cup finely chopped celery
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 cup dry white wine (note: I like a Riesling for this)
1 and a half pounds firm ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped ( about 2 to 2 and a half cups) or substitute 2 cups chopped, drained, canned whole-pack tomatoes (note: I've never used the fresh because tomatoes available in Boston in the winter have nearly no flavor. In using the canned make sure they don't have seasonings of any sort (besides salt) added in.)
1 bay leaf (note: I use 2 and a teaspoon of thyme)
Half teaspoon of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a heavy 10- to 12- inch skillet, saute the diced pork fat over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until crisp and brown (note: the sound gets higher pitched and the sizzle is softer when it's ready). Remove the dice and reserve. Pour all but 2 or 3 tablespoons of rendered fat into a small mixing bowl. Heat the fat remaining in the skillet almost to the smoking point, and in brown the pork and the lamb, 4 or 5 chunks at a time, adding more pork fat as needed. When the chunks are a rich brown on all sides, transfer them with tongs to a 4-quart Dutch oven or heavy flameproof casserole.
Now discard all but 3 tablespoons of fat from the skillet and cook the chopped onions over low heat for 5 minutes. Scrape in any browned bits clinging to the pan. Stir in the celery and the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Then pour in the wine, bring to a boil and cook over high heat until the mixture has been reduced to about half. With a rubber spatula, scrape the contents of the skillet into the casserole. Gently stir the tomatoes, bay leaf, salt, and a few grindings of pepper into the casserole. Bring to a boil on top of the stove, cover, and bake on the middle shelf of the oven (adding a little stock or water if the meat looks dry) for 1 hour, or until the meat is tender. With tongs, tranfer the meat to a bowl. If it is to be kept overnight, cool, cover and refrigerate. Skim the fat from the juices in the casserole, then strain the juices into the bean stock and discard the vegetables.
Section 4: Assembly
1 and a half cups fine, dry bread crumbs (note: prepackaged are fine as long as they have no seasoning of any sort)
Half cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel the sausage (note: I don't bother) and cut it into quarter-inch slices; cut the salt pork and pork rind into 1-inch squares. In a heavy flame proof 6- to 8- quart casserole (or Dutch oven) at least 5 inches deep spread an inch-deep layer of beans. Arrange half of the sausage, salt pork, pork rind, diced pork fat, duck, braised pork, and braised lamb on top. Cover with another layer of beans, then the rest of the meat, finally a last layer of beans, with a few slices of sausage on top. Slowly pour in the bean stock until it almost covers the beans. If there isn't enough stock, add fresh or canned chicken stock. Spread the bread crumbs in a thick layer on top and sprinkle them with 3 or 4 tablespoons of duck fat. Bring the casserole to a boil on top of the stove, then bake it uncovered in the upper third of the oven for 1 and a quarter hours, or until the crumbs have formed a firm, dark crust. If desired, the first gratin, or crust, can be pused gently into the cassoulet, and the dish baked until a new crust forms. This can be repeated two or three times if you wish. Serve directly from the casserole, sprinkled with parsley.
(note: I do break the crust and push it in, usually three times -- every twenty minutes -- during the final baking. I like the texture better that way.)