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It's time to have a dinner for a crowd --

CASSOULET (for 20 to 24 people)

If you think of cassoulet as gourmet fare, you may find it daunting because it incorporates so many different meats. Take the low road and think of cassoulet as "leftovers," albeit tasty, and you’ll be well on your way to success with this dish. A brief amount of time on three weeknights during the week prior to your weekend’s entertainment can result in a great cassoulet.

Cook ducks three days in advance of serving; cook lamb at least two days in advance of serving; cook pork and beans at least one day in advance of serving. In fact, you can rearrange which nights you do what, just plan in advance, unless you have a multi-stove kitchen with several ovens you will not be able to cook everything at once.
In morning or early afternoon on the day of the dinner, assemble two large casseroles – assembly takes about two hours. If you decide to do this for eight to twelve people, just do half the amount of beans, but do two ducks, a good size roast of pork, just one kielbasa, and one and one-half to two pounds lamb. You could assemble it a day or two in advance and refrigerate it that way, but that requires a lot of dedicated space in the refrigerator.

To prepare THE PORK a day or so in advance:

4 ½ pounds pork (boneless loin)

Roast at 350° F. about ½ hour per pound with ½ cup chicken broth in a covered casserole -- cool, wrap well and keep in refrigerator until day of dinner.
Degrease cooled broth and save it for use when assembling cassoulet on the day you will be entertaining. Cut the roast pork into 1
½ to 2-inch serving chunks before adding to casserole just prior to final assembly.

To prepare THE BEANS AND SAUSAGE a day in advance:

2 Kielbasas

Two ½ -pound chunks lean salt pork

2 whole onions

Bouquet garni + ½ teaspoon thyme

4 pounds dried white beans, preferably Great Northern

Cook one-half of the beans in one pot, one-half in another. Rinse the beans thoroughly and put them in a large pot. Use chicken broth, not water for cooking liquid.
See Julia Child et al. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, p. 400) for the general technique and herb bouquet. Also, if you want to make a smaller recipe, she is working with half the amount of beans specified above. If you do not have that book, just use my basic instructions below; they’ll do.
In a heavy 6- to 8-quart pot or soup kettle, bring the chicken stock to a bubbling boil over high heat. Drop the beans in and boil them briskly for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the beans soak for I hour. Meanwhile, simmer the salt pork and optional pork rind in I quart of water for 15 minutes; drain and set aside.
With the point of a sharp knife, pierce 5 or 6 holes in the sausage; then add the sausage, salt pork and pork rind to the beans. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming the top of scum. When the stock looks fairly clear, add the whole onions, garlic, thyme, bouquet garni, salt and a few grindings of black pepper.
Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes, adding stock or water if needed. With tongs, transfer the sausage to a plate and set it aside. Cook the beans and salt pork for another 30 to 40 minutes, or until the beans are barely tender, drain and transfer the salt pork and rind to the plate with the sausage; discard the onions and bouquet garni.
Strain the stock through a large sieve or colander into a mixing bowl. Skim the fat from the stock and taste for seasoning. Then set the beans, stock and meats aside in separate containers. If they are to be kept overnight, cool, cover and refrigerate them. Basic idea is to save all cooking juices, after degreasing, and use them in the final baking of the cassoulet.
(Be very careful to avoid overcooking beans. Remember these beans will be baked again for at least an hour when the final assembly and cooking occurs.)

After the kielbasa has simmered with the beans, remove, cool and store. Just prior to the final assembly cut into ½-inch slices to be incorporated into the casserole with the beans and other meats.

To cook THE DUCK:
Use two or three 4 ½-pound ducks

Cook as in Duck au Cassis recipe but do not cook as long; stop before the last 20 minutes in that recipe. Again, be sure to cook at the recommended 450° F.
Leave leg and wing meat on the bones. Otherwise, remove duck meat from the bones and cut into large chunks.

To prepare THE LAMB:

2 to 2 ½ lbs. boned lamb shoulder, cubed
3 tablespoons duck fat or cooking oil
3 cups chopped onions
6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced
2 (1-lb.13-oz.) cans tomatoes, drained and chopped
3 cups dry white wine
1 quart brown stock or 3 cups canned beef bouillon and 1 cup water
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons thyme

Salt (optional) and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cut the lamb or mutton into chunks roughly two inches square. Dry pieces with paper towels. Pour a light layer of olive or canola oil into the casserole and heat until almost smoking. Brown the meat, a few pieces at a time, on all sides. Set the meat on a side dish. Lower heat, and sauté the onions for about 5 minutes; they should be golden not browned
Return the meat to the casserole and stir in garlic, tomatoes, wine and seasonings. Bring to the simmer on top of the stove, season lightly with salt. Cover and simmer slowly on top of the stove or in a 325° F. oven for 1½ hours. Then remove the meat to a dish; discard bay leaves.
Degrease the cooking liquid and correct the seasoning.


1 ½ cups fine, dry bread crumbs (per casserole, double for amounts above)

½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley


Preheat oven to 350° F.
For the above amount, I use our two large yellow Dansk casseroles--one wide, one tall.

If you are cooking for 10 to 12 people, i.e. about half this amount, choose one heavy flameproof 6- to 8-quart casserole, at least 5 inches deep. Large, round LeCreuset pot is ideal.
Spread an inch-deep layer of beans. Arrange half of the meats you have prepared on top of that layer. Cover with another layer of beans, then the rest of the meats, and finally a last layer of beans on top.
Mix a little bean liquid with lamb liquid and jelled pork stock. Warm, to liquefy. Slowly pour in the bean stock until it almost coves the beans. (If there is not enough stock, add fresh or canned chicken stock.) Spread the bread crumbs in a thick layer on top and sprinkle them with 3 or 4 tablespoons of duck fat (or melted butter, if duck fat is unavailable or unappealing). Pour over assembled cassoulet.
Bring the casserole to the boil on top of stove, then bake if uncovered in the upper third of the oven for 1 ¼ hours, or until the crumbs have formed a firm, dark crust. (Now here comes the subjective part. Cooks discuss ad nauseam over whether to break this crust and push down into cooking casserole once, twice or never.) It’s up to you. If you want, you can push the first gratin (=crust) gently into the cassoulet , and continue baking the dish until a new crust forms. This can be repeated two or three times if you wish.
Serve directly from the casserole, sprinkled with the fresh, chopped parsley.

While I was fine-tuning the  cassoulet recipe in Home Cookin' and trying to establish a second page on this site, on February 10th, the New York Times printed an article entitled "The Cook’s Peak: Climbing Mount Cassoulet" on cassoulet by Amanda Hesser. The Hesser article is flawed. (If you are curious as to why, you can browse the NY Times archives or contact me for a copy of the article.  Hint:   any woman who considers preparing this dish a test of "womanhood" has some other, serious mountains to climb.)


You can find the above recipe(s) by tapping here on the Home Cookin' index.


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