There Goes My Légion d’Honneur

First, some things cassoulet is not.

Fussy. Difficult. Complicated. Intimidating. Very good for you.

Some things it is? Very good to eat. Peasant food. Food for people who really should have spent most of the day chopping wood with their bare hands in order to work up a need for the caloriffic ordnance that this dish also happily happens to be.

Cassoulet- notwithstanding the sputtering, indignant protestations of traditionalists- is beans slow-cooked with a shitload of decadent meat. Period. The beans should be white, yes, and duck or goose confit is pretty standard, true, and garlic sausage is always welcome in a pot of legumes- duh- but lacking one or more of those things is no reason not to make and stand proudly behind a big, bubbling, name-brand cast iron Dutch oven full of awesome and call it whatever you like. Including cassoulet. Anyone who has a problem with that can feel free to get the hell out and not eat any.

In this case, we had us some leftovers that were hankering hard to be transubstantiated into just such a dish: half a gallon of goose pho, two legs of duck confit, bacon skin, and newly-cured bresaola. I like making skin-on bacon, because the skin allows for tossing it into pots of beans to add smokiness and extra unction- even after the bacon is all gone. So I soaked about a pound of local, organic pinto beans and then simmered them in goose pho with bacon skin and a few slices of the cured beef for a couple of hours until tender.

Next, I heated up the duck and shredded it into chunks. I browned diced carrot, celery, and rutabaga in the duck fat along with herbs and a lot of garlic, then deglazed with white wine. To this I added two spoons from the quivering jar of goose gravy left from Thanksgiving, a couple of crushed canned tomatoes, and then all of the beans. Once bubbling gently, I dusted the top with panko rubbed with goose fat and moved it into a 225˚ oven. A couple more hours, and this:

The genius of this dish is really in the second cooking; there was very little liquid in the pot, but since the beans were cooked they didn’t need much. They just got super-tender and harmonious with all the meaty goodness. The finished product had no remaining liquid, just perfectly cooked beans and shreddy meat all the way down.

I did make sure to sauté some spinach with garlic while this was cooling down so there’d be something green on the table. And that was dinner. It almost made me wish that it had been 15˚ below outside, with a howling gale- just so I could have gone out after dinner (barefoot, in shorts) and had a good laugh at the feeble elements. The only bad part about this meal was the wine- a 2005 Choffelet-Valdenaire Givry. I’ve been waiting for the ’05 Burgundies to come around- my first forays were not happy ones- but this wine just plain sucks. Tight, sour, thin- it was hard to see how it will ever amount to anything good to drink. Re-tasting today with lunch (a cassoulet burrito with homemade red onion-habañero pickles and smoked salsa) confirmed it.

Btw, cassoulet burritos are full of win. And cassoulet.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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