I was kidding around with Leo when I asked him for a dish to write up for ETWYRT. I don’t even have to ask, I typed, I can just make pizza and serve it with Mountain Dew. Hey! He came back, I’m eating a lot healthier now! After some time to think, he told me he wanted me to make something he hadn’t ever had, but had always wanted to try: cassoulet.
I’d never had it, either, and didn’t even know what it was. Off to google… and there I learned that it’s French (which I’d assumed) peasant food (oh, that’s promising) and it’s basically a bean soup (hmm…). While I was doing my usual research to create a recipe variation, I hit a bunch of different sites, not merely looking at what’s in the dish, but why. Why was this made this way? What’s the history behind it? I discovered a wonderful explanation here, and I highly recommend you read it if you’re interested in food history, and preparing more than a recipe, but a method.
Cassoulet is slow food. While there are methods to speed it up, I think you will find that you lose a lot of the magic if you take the shortcuts. Not that they aren’t valid if you’re in a hurry, but this dish is worth the wait. While you’re waiting, check out Leo’s latest book, Highway West. The post-apocalyptic world might not be conducive to creature-comforts, but at least we’ll have the time to really cook.
I took three days on this, but you really only need two. One to pre-soak the beans (which can be done overnight) and one to cook it. And I do mean all day. The flavors in this meal take their time to reach their peak.
- 1 lb beans (I used Great Northern, but plan to try it again with Tarbais Beans)
- 6-8 oz salt pork or bacon
- 2 sausages (raw, garlicky, not breakfast sausage)
- 4-6 chicken legs or thighs
- 1 qt chicken broth or homemade stock
- Note: if not using homemade stock, add 1 tbsp of unflavored gelatine.
- Handful of tarragon or parsley
- 2 carrots, cut in half
- 2 celery stalks, cut in half
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
The result was… Well, let me put it this way. I tasted it, put the spoon down, and called the First Reader into the kitchen. He took a bite. His eyebrows went up. He took another bite, and then another, and then picked up the portion I’d served out and cradled it possessively to his chest. “You didn’t need this, right?”
I’ve eaten a lot of dry beans, canned beans, beans are cheap and filling and provide protein when meat is too expensive to indulge in. This is probably – no – certainly the best bean dish I have ever eaten. The complexity and depth of flavor is phenomenal, the beans are creamy rather than gritty, and the richness satisfies without feeling greasy.
I froze the leftovers (yes, there were some) and plan to make this again very soon. Should be interesting to see what variations on the meat and beans will do to it. Infinite variables… just like books. You can take the same plot ingredients and come out with something amazing and different almost every time.
You can find the index page for ETWYRT here.