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American-Style Cassoulet

This is a cleaning out the freezer dish. I have a husband who frequently brings home animals: rabbits, pheasants, quail, venison. This is a perfect way to clean out the odd bits of things that have found their way into your home, and a great way to address some of the issues that lean wild meats have (low fat content). Hours of cooking in the liquid tenderize the meat, and make it fork-tender. This does take a while to get going – but be patient – this one is is worth it.

Why “American-Style” this French dish would never involve whiskey or slab bacon. This is Mid-west America’s answer to the classic.

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American-Style Cassoulet

1 lbs dried great northern beans

1 lbs nitrite-free bacon

4 lbs meat (this is largely up to you – you want a mix of fatty meats and lean meats in here. We regularly use about 1 1/2 lbs of game bird like quail and pheasant, 1 1/2 lbs of venison sausage, and 1 lbs of pork. You want a neutral sausage, don’t use a maple sausage.)

1 lbs carrot, peeled and diced

2 large onions, diced

16 cloves garlic, large dice

1 tablespoon tomato paste

14.5 oz can diced tomato

1/3 cup whiskey

1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried sage

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

4 bay leaves

4 cups broth (chicken)

Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with water. You want to use about six cups of water, and for the beans to be well under the surface of the water. Soak at least 8 hours, or overnight. Drain and set aside.

Fry the bacon and set aside. Leave the bacon fat in the pan, and saute the carrots in the bacon fat for five minutes on medium heat. After five minutes, add the onions. Cook the onions for about five minutes for another five minutes, then add the garlic. Let the vegetables sit in the pan for a few minutes, then add the salt, pepper, thyme, sage, and oregano. When the spices are well-incorporated, add in the tomato paste and cook for five minutes. Add the whiskey and cook until the whiskey is evaporated. Finally add the can of tomatoes. Mix this vegetable mixture into the beans. Chop the bacon into small chunks and add to the beans. Mix to combine well.

Brown whatever meat you are using in a pan with a little olive oil. You do not need to cook this all the way through, you just need to establish a crust on the outside. When I use a loose sausage, I form the meat into small meatballs and fry them on all sides.

Arrange your browned meats into three plates or bowls – one of the leaner meat, one of the fattier pork, and one of the sausage.

Arrange one-fourth of the bean mixture in the bottom of a casserole dish. Arrange the leanest meat on top of the beans. Arrange another one-fourth of the bean mixture on top of the meat. Arrange the fattier pork on top of the beans. Arrange the leanest meat on top of the beans. Arrange another one-fourth of the bean mixture on top of the meat. Place the sausage on top of the beans, and pour the remaining beans on top of the sausage. Press the mixture lightly with your hands to even the whole beast that you’ve created. Stick the four bay leaves into the beans. Pour the stock over the beans. You should just barely see the liquid through the beans.

Cook, covered, for two hours at 350.

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Salad, Sides

Dilly Bean Salad

When I was in the seventh grade my mother had a ginormous dill plant growing in the backyard, and the monarch butterflies knew it. That spring the whole plant was covered in monarch caterpillar, their yellow, black and white bodies inching up and down the stalks. My brother and I absconded with one into the house and kept it in a mesh tent for a few days before releasing it into the wild of our backyard again. If you walked past that caterpillar you were enveloped in a cloud of slightly-sweet and spicy dill aroma. That little guy really likes to chew on dill. If you like dill as much as that little caterpillar, this is the salad for you.

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Dilly bean salad

2 15oz cans northern white beans, drained and rinsed.

12 oz grape tomatoes, halved

One half of a large red onion (this will be about 3/4 cup red onion), diced

1/4 cup dill

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice (You can get this amount from one juicy lemon)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 garlic cloves

Mix the beans, the tomatoes and the red onion in a large bowl.

Blitz the dill, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar in a blender until combined. Mix the dressing with the bean mixture.

You can eat this right away, of course, but it is really much better after spending a day in the refrigerator.

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