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How I cooked a cassoulet all night...REALLY long

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How I cooked a cassoulet all night...REALLY long

Will Owen | Jan 15, 2006 06:10 PM

I had almost three pounds of Peruano beans that really needed to be used, and then Tania asked yesterday if we could bring some food over to her parents' house today, as Pops is still feeble and Maman just barely cooks. As I had a rainy afternoon and evening with nothing else going on, a cassoulet sort of suggested itself. So I got everything together, and in a fairly leasurely way sorta nibbled away at the job, finally putting the assembled dish in the oven at around 11 pm. Finished it up this morning, actually dividing it into Their Pot and Our Pot, and took Their Pot over to Their House. They were delighted with it; Pops, whose appetite is almost nonexistent these days, had seconds. A palpable hit.

The actual ingredients in mine, besides Peruano beans (a good choice, BTW) were lamb neck, some Hungarian-style chunk bacon, and a couple of fresh kielbasa sausages from Bristol Farms.

WILL'S OVERNIGHT CASSOULET

I started working on this late afternoon - I DID soak the beans, BTW, by the boil-and-quick-soak method. I spread the rest of the process, up to putting it in the oven, over the evening, finishing at 11 pm.

2 lbs dried beans
1 red onion and 3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
handful of diced bacon
olive oil
black pepper, dried thyme to taste

salt - add later

Soak the beans or not, according to your personal feelings on the subject. If you do, drain them before proceeding. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot, then add the vegetables, bacon and seasonings. Stir and cook over high heat for a minute or so, then reduce the heat and cover the pot for about ten minutes, or until the bacon and onion are both transparent. Then raise the heat back to high, put in the beans, stir well to mix and pour in enough water to cover by 2" if beans were soaked, 4" if cooking from dry. Bring to boil, cover pot and adjust heat to induce a simmer.

Cook until beans are just tender and add salt to taste. Continue cooking until they're tender clear through but not mushy, adding boiling water if necessary to keep the top layer covered.

olive oil or duck fat
3 lbs lamb, neck slices or shanks
2-3 slices smoked pork shank
cooked or uncooked pork sausages
duck or goose confit, optional
large can Italian tomatoes in tomato juice
breadcrumbs/panko crumbs, optional
salt/pepper

Oven at 200º

Place your braising pot over high heat and put in about 1/4 cup of fat or oil. When the fat is hot, brown the lamb, salting and peppering as you go. You may also brown the pork shank and the confit, if you're using it. Set the meat aside, and pour off the excess fat.

Now use a slotted spoon to dip out and spread a layer of beans over the bottom of the pot, about an inch deep. Using your fingers, remove any seeds and tough core from each tomato, and distribute pieces of tomato (about a third of them) over this bean layer. Put half of the lamb and the pork over this layer. Now spread another layer, this one using half of the remaining beans and half of the remaining tomato, and place the rest of the lamb and pork, and the confit if you're using it, on top of that, then top with the rest of the beans and tomato. Pour the juice from the tomatoes evenly over all of this, then pour in enough of the bean broth to just cover the top. Put the lid on the pot, and place in the center of the oven (with a small cookie sheet under it if your pot is really full), and then go to bed. Set your alarm for 7 to 8 hours...

The house will smell very good when you wake up. When you're good and ready, take the casserole out and check out the contents. (Also turn the oven up to 350º at this point). You're going to disturb your layering here, but unless you want to dodge a lot of bone fragments (especially if you used neckbones) you'll have to. So remove the lamb and pork and separate the meat and bones, returning the meat to the pot. You'll probably want to debone the confit, too. Now brown the sausage well, if it's uncooked, and add it to the pot, just nestled in the top layer. Adjust the amount of liquid so that it's just visible below the top beans, then spread on a good layer of crumbs if you're doing that. Put the pot back in the oven uncovered, and cook for another hour. Or so.

You can finish this in traditional fashion by breaking up the crumb crust and adding more, but that's never really worked for me. I just run the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top and let it go at that.

I'm sure this whole process can be streamlined quite a bit, but I would stress that the long cooking at low heat is the key to winding up with beans that are whole and coherent, but meltingly tender as well. And using lamb neck, which in this case was a last-minute substitution after I could find no shanks anywhere, is in fact a huge improvement.

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