I have to admit, I don’t love “real” cassoulet. The enormous, greasy confit duck leg; the whole sausages; the unnecessarily large beans—there’s just something unsettlingly phallic/barbaric/Renaissance dinner theater about it. Just looking at a bowl of it makes me feel like I have to go to the bathroom.
The original recipe for this wildly inauthentic version (which I’ve since made even more inauthentic, if that’s even possible) was unearthed during a cleaning-out of my husband’s deceased grandmother’s storage unit. I don’t know where it came from—an old issue of Gourmet, I think—but it’s been in the fall rotation at our house for a few years now.
This is what I think cassoulet is supposed to be, and perhaps was originally meant to be: crunchy top; creamy, tomato-y beans; tender meat; no muss, no fuss. You could use any kind of sausage, and/or substitute pork butt or shoulder for the ribs; I use the ribs because they’re generally cheaper per pound. I’ve divided this into 8 servings, but this makes a lot. It could easily be stretched to 10 or more. Unless you’ve got 16 kids, work in a military mess hall, or love cassoulet so much you’d like to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for a week, I’d recommend halving this.
1 lb. spicy Andouille sausage (on sale at Grocery Outlet), sliced: $3.99/lb.
1 lb. dried Great Northern beans, not soaked: 79 cents
5 bacon slices (about 4 oz. @ $2.75/lb. from Costco), chopped: 68 cents
3 1/2 lbs. boneless pork country ribs (@ $2.79/lb.), cut into 1-inch cubes: $9.76
2 medium onions, chopped: 50 cents
2 large celery stalks, chopped: 24 cents
2 large carrots, chopped: 10 cents
2 cups chicken stock, made from carcass left over from making mole (see pervious post): $0
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes: 79 cents
2 T tomato paste: 17 cents
2 cups bread crumbs left over from homemade bread: 13 cents
2 T olive oil: 10 cents
1/2 cup grated Parmesan: 70 cents
2 T fresh thyme from the garden (or 1 T dried): $0
Kosher salt and pepper to taste (you might need a lot): 10 cents
TOTAL: $18.05/8 = $2.26/person
All of the meat came straight from our chest freezer, which is full of individually wrapped packages—marked by weight—of meat I bought on markdown, sale, or in bulk from Costco when the price was right. Obviously, the first step would be to thaw the meat. If the ribs don’t thaw all the way through the cassoulet could take twice as long to cook, so be sure to plan ahead.
Put the beans in a large saucepan, cover with enough cold water by about 3 inches, and bring to a boil. Cover and let soak for an hour, then drain. Return beans to the pan with another three inches of cold water, and bring again to a boil. Simmer until beans are almost tender, about half an hour. Drain.
Season the cubes of pork rib with salt and pepper. Cook the bacon in a large dutch oven (or other large heatproof pot with a lid, but it will need to be large—like 7-quart large) over medium heat until crisped, remove to a large bowl. Turn up the heat to medium-high and brown the ribs and sausage in the bacon fat. You’ll probably have to do it in three or four batches so as not to crowd the pan. Once meat is removed, put it in the bowl with the bacon. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Add the vegetables to the now meatless pot, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until tender. As they cook and release juices, scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. If the browned bits are starting to burn, add a little water (like a T or so) to help the deglazing process along. When the vegetables are tender, add the thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Then add tomato paste and cook for another minute or so, then add the canned tomatoes and broth, bacon, ribs, sausage, and drained beans. Bring to a boil (it may be hard to tell if it’s boiling since the level of liquid will be below the level of the beans and meat at first, so pay close attention so nothing burns) and put the pot in the oven. Bake until pork is tender enough to break apart when pushed against the side of the pot, between 1 and 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the pot from the oven. Pick out about 1 cup’s worth of beans and vegetables and puree in a small food processor. Stir back into the pot as a thickener. At this point season with salt and pepper—the flavors will dull a bit as it bakes further and you won’t be able to stir again later, so make sure it’s saltier than you’d probably feel comfortable with in a finished dish.
Smooth out the top of the cassoulet. Mix the bread crumbs with the cheese and oil and sprinkle evenly over the top. Bake uncovered until topping is golden and crispy, about 30-45 minutes. (And if you’re going to take a picture, do it before helping yourself.) (Also, don’t expect your pot to look like this when it’s done; despite the service of boxes’ worth of SOS pads, both of our dutch ovens have this permanent apocalyptic patina.)
We’ve been eating this for three days now, so I can say with some authority it does get better the longer it sits.