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.