Cassoulet is a French classic which is very much in vogue this winter. The NY Times Magazine had an article on it today, and my sister-in-law Patricia made it yesterday following a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. Here is the version I have now made three times, based on a recipe in Serious Eats.
There are two ways to approach something like Cassoulet. The first is to try to recreate how it would be done in France. The second is to take the principles behind cassoulet and to adapt it to what is available and economical in the US. That is the approach I am following here, and I think that is very true to the spirit of cassoulet, which is originally peasant food. French peasants had duck legs and duck fat in their larders and were looking around for tasty ways to use them up. In the US, these are expensive and hard to get ingredients, and there are perfectly good substitutes available. Thus Serious Eats substitutes chicken legs for duck legs. Thus I substituted country ham (which was available in my supermarket) for salt pork (which was not). The final product tasted great, and the whole house smelled good while it was cooking. What more can you ask?
Warning – This does take a long time to cook (about 6:15 hours on the cooking day plus soaking the beans the night before), but most of that time is unattended. So start early and enjoy.
1 lb. dried white or yellow beans (I used mayacoba beans)
1 qt. low sodium chicken broth
3 packets (3/4 oz.) unflavored gelatin
8 oz. country ham, cut into small pieces
Olive oil (if needed)
3 lbs. chicken drumsticks
1 lb. fresh garlic sausage
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, unpeeled in 3-inch sections
2 stalks of celery, in 3 inch sections
1 whole head of garlic, peeled
4 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
The night before, put the beans in a pot with 3 quarts of water and 3 Tbs. kosher salt to soak. The next day drain and rinse the beans.
Put the stock in a bowl and sprinkle over it the gelatin powder.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
In a Dutch oven, brown the country ham pieces, adding some olive oil if the ham is not fatty enough to fry on its own. When browned remove the ham to a large bowl. Season the chicken drumsticks with pepper (not salt since there is likely to be enough salt from other sources) and saute them in the Dutch oven until well browned, adding more oil if necessary. Remove them when browned to the bowl. Fry the garlic sausages, and when browned place them in the bowl. By this time, there should be a nice frond on the bottom of the Dutch oven. Remove any excess oil so that only about 2 Tbs. remain. Saute the onion in the remaining oil until translucent. Add the drained beans, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, cloves, and stock/gelatin mixture. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook covered for about 45 minutes, until the beans are al dente.
Turn off the burner. Using tongs and a slotted spoon, remove the carrot, celery, parsley, bay leaves, cloves, all of which have given their all to flavor the broth. Add the meats to the beans in the pot in the following order: ham, garlic sausage, and chicken drumsticks. Have the drumsticks form a decorative fan at the top. Add a little water if necessary so that the beans are barely submerged.
Put the Dutch oven in the oven without a lid and cook undisturbed for 2 hours during which time a thin crust will form.
Check periodically to see if the pot needs more water to keep the beans covered. If so, add from the side so that the crust is not disturbed. After two hours, break the crust with a spoon and a shake to the pan. Return the pot to the oven, and for the next two hours continue to break the crust every 30 minutes, adding water if necessary. Finally return the pot to the oven and let it cook undisturbed for another hour or so until a deep brown and thick crust is formed.
Serve in a bowl.