What defines comfort when it comes to food and drink, wining and dining, conversations across tables with family, friends, loved ones, business associates, strangers becoming friends and everyone slowing down in a whirlwind world of high-tech 30 second freezer to microwave mentalities?
Preparing what we savor with heart & soul that comes from taking the time to redefine recipes from decades back, when everything wasn’t such a whirlwind!
Whether slow braising our corned beef for the breakfast hash, brining and curing our fresh wild salmon for the buttery rich lox on our breakfast or lunch plates, infusing different quality alcohols with fresh herbs or fruits or peppers or other market seasonal ingredients; time makes the difference!
I was thinking about this, as I often do, while spending the last 24 hours preparing tonight’s Sunday night dinner for my family. Everybodies favorite comfort food around here; Cassoulet.
There is no way to make a great cassoulet fast, and I don’t know why anyone would want to. Whether your soaking the white beans overnight in fresh clear water, making your own “confit” duck legs so you don’t have to pay the outrageous amount they charge if you can even find them (though Rain Shadow Meats up on Capitol Hill in Melrose Market makes awesome duck confit, they’ll also sell you the best raw duck legs to make your own, and happily encourage you too)
Slow cooking the chopped up pork shoulder in duck fat with chopped onions, tons of garlic, carrots and tying together the thyme, oregano & bay leaves with kitchen twine before throwing the herbs in with the white wine, plum tomatoes and Toulous Sausages to meld together for hours of slow simmering before mixing all the various meats and veggies and herbs nd sauces together into a casserole dish for another 3 hour slow bake.
The house fills with the aromatic flavors so your nose gets to “eat all day” while throughout the house papers get read and the dog dozes. If we took the TIME, if not always, at least once in awhile, to prepare food & drink the way our parent’s grandparent’s grandparents did then just maybe everyone could understand a little bit about comfort; time with others eating and drinking the fruits of the branches and out of the meadows and earth while laughing and talking and reminiscing stories of our moments in time. What else is there? Good food + good drink + good people + shared time + good stories of good times will always be the heart and soul of our lives. Make time to enjoy time!
Here’s tonights dinner, started yesterday, and the leftovers will be shared tomorrow and be even better, after adding just a little more time!
1 # dried great northern beans
10 tbsp duck fat or olive oil
16 cloves of garlic (I add more, maybe 20-25)
2 onions chopped
2 carrots chopped
2 large ham hocks or shanks
1 # pork shoulder cut into 1″ cubes, or half inch, its not THAT precious!
1/2 # pancetta, cubed
4 sprigs oregano (all my herbs come from Lina’s Produce across from us in Pike Place Market, she has them all, and they’re a third the price of the plastic boxes in your “supermarket”
4 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
1 cup whole peeled canned tomatoes (this is actually one of this times canned is better than fresh, try and find an Italian brand of whole peeled plum tomatoes, they’re picked at peak of ripeness, not under-ripe than gassed)
1 cup of white wine out of that bottle on the counter you’re drinking while making your cassoulet
2 cups chicken stock or broth (did you throw the last chicken carcass into a big pot of water after last Sunday’s meal with all the left over veggie chop pings and herb stems to reduce down to a stock, then freeze in ice cube trays for this weeks dinner? If not, grab a box at the market. I recommend using all the stuff on the side of the cutting board as prep for another meal, makes me feel better and its tastier.
4 confit duck legs ( to confit is a different recipe of time, but suffice to say, they were storing foods all over the world before refrigeration, centuries back, and this was one way!)
1 # pork sausages, preferabbly “Toulous Sausages”
2 cups of fresh bread crumbs (from that leftover stale loaf or baguette that didn’t get eaten days back!
1 Soak beans overnight. Heat a couple tablespoons of duck fat (did you know duck fat is healthier for you than butter by 50% and if you spread it on toasted or grilled bread its INCREDIBLE) Add half the garlic, onions & carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add ham hocks along with the beans and the 7 and a half cups of water you soaked them in, and boil. Reduce heat, simmer until tender about one and a half hours.
2. Transfer hocks to a plate; let cool. Pull off meat, discard skin, bone gristle. Chop meat, add to beans, set aside.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons duck fat in a 5qt dutch oven over medium high heat. Add pork and brown 8 minutes or so. Add pancetta; cook for 5 minutes. Add remaining garlic, onions and carrots; cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes (or a half glass of wine) Tie together oregano, thyme and bay leaves with kitchen twine, add to pan with tomatoes, cook until liquid thickens, 8-10 minutes. Add that cup of wine you saved, or open another bottle, if you already drank it, and pour a cup for the cassoulet, and reduce by half. Add broth (or stock, same thing but BETTER) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, uncovered, until liquid has thickened, about an hour. Discarb herb bundle, set Dutch oven aside.
4. Meanwhile, sear those duck legs in 2 tablespoons of duck fat in a 12″ skillet over medium high heat for 8 minutes; transfer to a plate. Brown the sausage in that fat for about 8 minutes, then cut sausages into half inch pieces. pull duck meat off bones. Discard fat & bones. Stir duck & sausages into pork stew.
5. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Mix beans and pork stew in a 4 qt earthenware casserole (though I like this insanely expensive present I received from a relative, because its the only thing I use it for and I broke my clay one. The clay one I’d used for years and it had the most amazing color from all the bakings. With those you don’t wash with soap or you’ll screw em up, just elbow grease, a towel and hot water. Anyway, Cover with bread crumbs, drizzle with remaining duck fat. Bake, uncovered, for 3 hours. Raise oven temperature to 500 degrees and cook the cassoulet until crust is golden, about 5 minutes.
Now, when this is removed from he oven allow it to rest a bit, like a steak after grilling, for two reasons; one s that it will rip the roof o our mouth apart from hours of cooking and your eagerness to eat what you’ve been smelling all day, and two, is that just a little more time allowing the temperature to drop melds the flavors even more while you savor another sip or two of wine!
As with all my recipes, I go to school on the pros, (food network stars and the “food magazine porn” photos) then modify. These pictures I took today for one show no bread crumbs, because my son Zach doesn’t care for them. Also, I throw the duck bones from the confit into the bean pot along with the ham hocks, because cooked bones have all sorts of intangible good things to add to the dish, and I used a couple extra sprigs of thyme, oregano and bay leaves. The saltiness of the pork takes care of that, so don’t start throwing salt on this!
Settle in, the day was a huge success, because the phone was shut off, the kids are on they’re way over, or downstairs playing music, and tomorrow some of Lowell’s staff gets to demolish some cassoulet that they would never have taken the time to make for themselves. But, the cooks know! They understand how time transforms food into heart and soul and love. Stop by, we’ll talk about it!