If you have ever made cassoulet from Julia Child’s recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, you know how delicious it is. You also know how laborious it is. You need to cancel all of your calendar for a week and take a couple of days off from your job. On the other hand, Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything says that cassoulet is not much more than pork and beans and that you should not be intimidated. I was looking for some middle ground for a dish that evoked the real thing without all of the effort.
The reason for my search was that my wife was going out of town to spend time with her sister who had been ill for a while. She (my wife) wanted to spend her time visiting and not cooking. She asked if I could make some dishes that she could take with her to warm up for evening meals. I agreed and then faced the challenge of making things that could be transported and that had enough variety so the two ladies would not turn to TV dinners. Of course, the proteins needed to be different, but it would be a good idea if the starches were different, too. Thus came the menu.
First dish was an old standby: ham, mushroom, and potato casserole. We had just had a new version a couple of weeks ago, and it was a big hit. My wife suggested that a redo of the recipe would be a good idea.
The second dish was something that I hadn’t made for a long time, my mother’s version of goulash. I’ve posted the recipe in the past. It is really not goulash, but that’s what my mother called it. It was one of her most successful dishes and was often requested by out-of-town family visitors. Ground beef and pasta seemed like a good idea.
Finally, beans are always a good choice for pot luck dinners, and my cooking project was really a long distance potluck. A bowl of Texas red with beans sounded good, but that would be more ground beef and might be too much for sensitive digestive systems. My goal was to make a cassoulet that wouldn’t wear me about. The result turned out to be fairly easy and fast. Impartial diners will have to be the judges of taste.
- 2 cups Great Northern beans
- 3 slices pre-sliced salt pork
- 1 medium onion, halved and sliced
- bouquet garni (3 sprigs parsley, 3 sprigs thyme, 2 cloves garlic, 2 bay leaves, 2 cloves tied in cheesecloth)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 pound boneless pork ribs, cut in 2 inch cubes
- 1 pound lamb shoulder, bones removed and cut in chunks
- 1 large bratwurst, cut in 1½inch slices
- 6 ¾ inch rounds of packaged bulk sausage (Jimmy Dean or similar brand)
- 4 cups beef broth
- 1 cup dry vermouth
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
- 1/8 teaspoon ground bay (or 2 bay leaves)
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup panko
- ½ cup dried bread crumbs
- ½ cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
- extra virgin olive oil
- Pick over the beans for stones and shriveled beans. Place in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, cover with water to a level at least 1 inch above the beans, and soak over night.
- In the meantime, cover the salt pork with water in a small pan. Bring it to the boil for 2 minutes. Drain and cool. Cut the salt pork strips in half lengthwise and then cut the pork into triangles. Set aside.
- In the morning, make sure the beans are covered with water. Add the prepared salt pork, onions, and bouquet garni. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a very low boil. Cook uncovered until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Add water as needed so that the beans remain well covered.
- When the beans are done, remove from the heat, and let stand in the cooking water until you are ready to combine with the cooked meats.
- While the beans are cooking prepare the meats. In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Then, in batches brown the pork pieces on all sides. Transfer browned pieces to a deep plate. Repeat the process with the pieces of lamb shoulder, bratwurst, and bulk sausage. Cut the browned sausage rounds into quarters.
- When you are ready to assemble the cassoulet, drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Return the beans to the large cooking pot. Add the beef broth, vermouth, and enough of the cooking liquid to cover the beans. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, thyme, and bay. Bring to the boil and add the pork, lamb, bratwurst, and sausage. Reduce to the simmer, and cook for 30 minutes. Add more beef broth or cooking liquid to make certain that the beans are just barely covered. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Then transfer to an aluminum container suitable for travel. If you have used whole bay leaves, remove them. The liquid should just barely cover the bean and meat mixture.
- Mix the panko, bread crumbs, and parsley together and then sprinkle over the top of the bean and meat mixture. Drizzle with olive oil. Cool completely and then cover for travel.
- When you are ready to serve, remove the cover used for travel and place in the upper third of an oven preheated to 375°F.After 15 minutes, a crust should form. Break the crust with the back of a large spoon and reduce the oven to 350°F Continue to bake for 30 more minutes, breaking the crust with a spoon from time to time.
- When the cassoulet is heated completely through and the crust is well formed and browned, remove from the oven and serve immediately. Should serve 4 to 6 persons, easily.