Mar
06
2013

  My First Cassoulet

Cassoulet has been one of those dishes I've heard about, but never really felt the need to make. Until today. I'd always heard it was a traditional French meal, made with duck, and while delicious, it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to prepare. I always figured if I wanted cassoulet, I'd just get some the next time I was in France in the winter. Remember, for years we figured we'd never have children, and T was an executive with a salary, so a flight from NYC to Paris was not a huge deal.

And if I hadn't been subscribing to the New York Times (actually, I've been using a "trial subscription" since December, but that's another story) I would still be inclined to wait for cassoulet until my next trip to the continent, no matter how many years it took. But Ad-Lib Turkey Cassoulet ? That got my attention.

The recipe 1) used ingredients I mostly had on hand, or were easy to procure, and 2) made it seem like although it does take forever, it's a forgiving dish. So last week, I planned to make it sometime this week. Sometime = today.

I took my own liberties with the recipe. I called ahead to Whole Foods to see if I could get turkey legs & thighs, but they only had thighs in stock. I just took the total weight in thighs, there was no presentation aspect of the poultry to this dish, it was all to be shredded anyway. I got cannellini beans since they were the first I saw in the bean bin at that store. I forgot to get smoked garlic sausage and I flat-out didn't bother with the bacon since I couldn't get slab bacon at that store and couldn't be bothered going somewhere else with the kids. There are actually quite a few recipes I use that call for slab bacon (because of long cooking times-- I can vouch that subbing out regular bacon is problematic since it can burn up or dry out) so I may place an order with the local hog farm I've been using for all my pork. But for today, I made the executive decision that my cassoulet would contain only turkey. No bacon, no sausage. I defrosted some breakfast links this morning, but after scrutinizing the seasonings in the ingredients list, I figured I'd be better off just trying my luck without the sausage at all.

I seasoned the meat last night, and soaked the beans. By the time I got out of bed around 10am, it was already too late for me to have the dish ready for lunch, so I had ample time to prep it for dinner. Roasting the turkey was easy, simmering the beans was easy (although I think I overcooked them a bit, next time I'll check them earlier). Then both parts had to cool before it was time to put them together. I was unimpressed when I tasted the cooked beans. Even with onion and cloves in the water, they were quite bland.

I sauteed the onions and simmered the carrots around 3pm, since there was still 90 minutes of cooking required once everything was put together. I had the dish assembled and in the oven before 4pm, and we ate at 5:30pm.

Wow-- it really is better than the sum of its parts. I was surprised at how much I liked it, since I tasted each component while assembling it, and couldn't figure out what the big deal was. But now I know. And I also know how to cut the prep time way down-- use leftovers.

I don't envision having leftover beans, but I suppose it could happen if I work on developing my bean repertoire. It's easy to have leftover turkey. So then all you need is the final 1.5 hours in the oven, and that is a pretty typical schedule for me since I braise food often. I can start dinner right after snack time, then get it in the oven before 4, and we'll eat sometime between 5 and 6pm. I much prefer standing over the stove earlier in the afternoon before I get tired. I'm usually very happy to spend the baking time resting on the sofa before dinner.

Anyway, I've got several pounds of cassoulet now, so I've portioned out a bit to the freezer. It will come in handy any day that I've taken the kids out in the afternoon and am too tired to cook dinner.