Thursday, January 28, 2016

Cassoulet for a Blizzard

Well, I'm sure glad that's behind us now, the blizzard that dumped over three feet of snow on us and shut down businesses and schools for a week. This was a 48-hour weather event caused by the collision of the jet stream, a tropical air mass from the Gulf of Mexico, and a nor'easter stalled on the mid-Atlantic coast. And, it's not like we didn't see it coming for days. Even the paid weather guys that the vineyard owners all pay good money to, professional forecasters who don't like to go out on a limb, were using the term "historic" in front of the word "accumulation" as far as a week out.

Here's a little time lapse of the storm.

Friday 1:30

Saturday 8:30

Saturday 2:00
And, we got another six inches or so overnight so that when we woke up on Sunday, we had over three feet of snow, with drifts to 8 feet in places, including a 5-foot drift piled up against the sunroom window.

Five-Foot Drift Against the Sunroom

Grace Likes Being Outside, if Her Paws Don't Touch Snow or Water

But Charlie is in His Element

About to Porpoise Through the Snow

An Uneager Shoveler

All the forewarning made it easy for us to close the restaurant around noon on Friday when it started to come down hard. And I had all week to plan for food for a long, snowed-in weekend, a forced vacation if you will. Ann asked the weekend before if I would make a cassoulet on Saturday and so I prepped for that during the week, leaving the finally assembly and cooking for Saturday. Knowing it would be impossible to harvest herbs from the garden for many weeks, I went out on Thursday night and picked some parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme for the cassoulet.

I am no stranger to cassoulet and have waxed poetic about it a couple of times on this blog and have certainly made many, many of them each year at the restaurant. The thing to note about the various cassoulets that I have made is that each is different. Cassoulet is not a formulaic thing, despite many a Frenchman dictating what a cassoulet is and is not, in his not so humble opinion. Cassoulet is peasant food, a dish of beans and a little meat for those who could afford some, made from whatever was at hand. This cassoulet is no different: it is made with what I had on hand.

Mirepoix and Raw Cubed Pork Belly
I started by browning the cubes of raw pork belly and then pouring off most of the lard. Into the pan went the mirepoix to cook until soft.

Smoked Sausages

Rich Pork Neck Stock and Steuben Yellow Eye Beans
I removed two thirds of the mirepoix from the pan and then added a layer of beans topped with a layer of pork neck meat that I had pulled off the bones that I used in making the stock. The beans I soaked overnight on Thursday and cooked for about 45 minutes on Friday morning until they were not quite cooked through. Each layer of beans got a light sprinkle of salt.

I then added another third of the mirepoix and another layer of beans, then the sausages and six or seven whole cloves of garlic. Next in went the bouquet garni of fresh herbs and the remainder of the beans. I then covered the whole with a cup of the highly salty and flavorful drippings from the pork belly that we roast at the restaurant and a few quarts of the pork neck stock. I then put it into a very slow (275F) oven for about four or five hours, until a really great crust had formed over the very juicy beans.

After Assembly

Crusty and Hot out of the Oven

What a delicious and comforting dinner for a blizzard night! Remember kids, there is no definitive cassoulet. Learn the technique and use what you have at hand.


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