You may have heard that 30 people RSVP'd to attend my annual Canadian Thanksgiving dinner. I did not pull this off without help. In addition to Mr. Rose, three out-of-town family members were among the attendees: my middle sister and my in-laws. For the sake of storytelling, we'll call them Daffy, and Mr. and Mrs. Rose, Sr. They arrived a day before the festivities to offer a helping hand and earn their turkey dinners. In exchange, I decided to serve up a hearty cassoulet for dinner the night before, so that they'd have their energy for the work ahead of them.
The meal took all day to prepare. I gave Daffy a tour of my garden full of abominable carrots. She was impressed by the selection of herbs we had, and the convenience of having an herb garden, rather than having to buy packets of stale stuff at the store. But as I pulled up each colorful, abominable carrot, she laughed at the color and shape of it, pausing only to squeak, "Most people... just... buy... carrots... And they don't look like that."
Undaunted by the mockery in the garden, I showed her my knife skills with onions. Thanks again to Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot for making me chop onions for over 90 minutes and paralyzing my tear ducts. I now have the best kitchen trick ever -- being able to chop an onion without crying.
|The largest sweet onion I have ever seen. For scale, that is my left hand, the hand of a former concert pianist.|
The thing that Mr. & Mrs. Rose, Sr. and Daffy found most astonishing was that I would go through this entire mutli-hour, multi-step process with nothing but my dutch oven and cast iron skillet. As I walked Mrs. Rose, Sr. and Daffy through each step, there was a look of wonderment that we still hadn't arrived at our final destination.
But, this was one of the tastiest one-pot meal we'd all had in a while. I'm sure everyone agreed it was well worth the wait, and a good way to kick off a weekend in the kitchen. You might even call it a feast before the feast.
Cassoulet (adapted from Saveur magazine)
1 lb dried great northern beans
8 tbsp duck fat
16 cloves garlic, smashed
1 extra-large sweet onion, chopped
2 abominable carrots, chopped
1 smoked pork shank
2 lb bone-in shoulder, meat cut off bone and cut into 1" cubes
1⁄2 lb pancetta, cubed
4 sprigs oregano
4 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
1 c whole peeled canned tomatoes
1/2 c vermouth
1/2 c macintosh apple sauce
2 cups chicken broth
4 confit duck legs
1 lb pork sausages (I used rustic bratwurst)
2 cups bread crumbs
Soak beans in a 4-qt bowl in 7-1⁄2 cups water overnight.
Soak the smoked pork shank in a medium bowl of water. Heat 2 tbsp duck fat in a 5-qt dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half the garlic, onions, and carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add pork shank and the pork shoulder bone along with beans and their water and boil. Reduce heat and simmer beans until tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours.
Remove contents of the dutch oven, including the liquids, and set the pot aside. Pull meat of the shank, discarding skin, bone, and gristle. Also discard the pork shoulder bone (rumor has it, your dogs will thank you for the discarded bones.). Chop meat and add to beans. Set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp duck fat in the dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork shoulder cubes and brown for 8 minutes. Add pancetta cubes and cook for 5 minutes. Add remaining garlic, onions, and carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Tie together oregano, thyme, and bay leaves with a bit of cheesecloth, add to pan with tomatoes, and cook until liquid thickens, 8–10 minutes. Add vermouth and apple sauce, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, uncovered, until liquid has thickened, about 1 hour. Discard bouquet-garni and set dutch oven aside.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, sear the duck legs in 2 tbsp duck fat for 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Brown sausages in the fat, about 8 minutes. Cut sausages into 1⁄2" slices. Pull duck meat off bones. Discard bones (the fat can go into a baking dish, covered with aluminum foil, into the oven to render additional fat... yum.). Stir the duck, sausages, and reserved beans and pork shank into the pork stew in the dutch oven. Cover the mixture with bread crumbs. Drizzle with duck fat from the cast iron skillet. Bake, uncovered, for 3 hours (or 2 hours in the convection oven). Raise oven temperature to 500 degrees F for the last 5 minutes.