When I attended the #FarmtoPork trip, we went to dinner at 18 Seaboard. We had many really yummy foods, but I became obsessed with what the restaurant labeled Late Summer Cassoulet with Chicken Apple Sausage. If I hadn't been drilled in my manners so completely by my mom, I might have either licked the bowl or asked for a take out to eat another portion for late night snack.
It was PHENOMENAL. I'd never had cassoulet before (defined as a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat, pork skin and white beans. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides.) and came home determined to make it. The more I looked at traditional recipes, like this one from Saveur, the more I became convinced that the meal I'd enjoyed probably wasn't authentic (thank you, Baby Jesus, for I do not love me some duck and the idea of cooking with it squigged me out) but, rather, that it was a hybrid.
Hybrids I can do. Those are my specialty.
The one I'd enjoyed had lima beans, corn, white beans, chicken apple sausage, and a bunch of other stuff. The recipe I'd found from Saveur called for duck fat, ham hocks, pancetta, dry beans, and duck legs - and I didn't want duck at all. I found another recipe from Epicurious, which seemed somewhat closer - minus the ham hocks and bacon, but plus the canned beans I prefer to use, although that left out the cooking the beans with the ham hock thing that I *do* love - so I made my own recipe up. Mostly, I followed the Epicurious recipe - I just added in some steps from the Saveur and then did my own thing a couple of times.
I started by cooking three Italian sausages in olive oil. When they'd browned, I filled the cast iron skillet with a cup of water and 2 cups of apple cider and let them cook for about 40 minutes, until they were completely cooked. I took them out of the pot (there was no liquid left) and added a bit of olive oil back into the pot. I sauteed the chopped leeks, onion, carrots and garlic until soft. I added in the apple, rosemary and sage and brandy and cooked it down. I dumped in a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, 2 cans of white Northern beans (I didn't drain them, although the recipe said to), 3/4 of a bag of frozen lima beans, 1 cup chicken broth, 1 can of tomato paste, a bunch of pepper and 1/2 tsp cloves. I stirred it all up, sliced the sausage and added that in as well.
And then I thought about the ham hock. What could I do with that?
I buried it in the bean mixture and popped that bad boy in the oven for 2 hours.
After two hours, I took it out, let it cool, and then popped it into the fridge overnight.
The next day, I removed the ham hock and cut off the meat. I stirred the meat into the cassoulet and realized I'd never done anything with the bacon. So I cooked up the bacon, chopped it up and tossed it in.
Then, I realized that both recipes called for either a crumb topping or a crouton type deal - and I'd done neither. So I sprinkled the top of the cassoulet with panko crumbs - and then stopped, because the Saveur recipe called for duck fat and nope, nope, nope.
I did have bacon grease, and so I drizzled some of that over the bread crumbs. I put the casserole dish back into the oven at 350 for another hour.
My husband pronounced it amazing! My kid said it was fantastic! I thought it was pretty tasty myself, but think I'd try it next time with chicken apple sausage and maybe some sauteed chicken breast meat.
I purchased all of the meats at a local butcher - Norfolk Pendulum. I love their products and swear by them. They didn't ask me to write this, or mention them - and they won't know I did it unless I tell them - I just think their meats are spectacular and really helped to make this dish a success.
It was definitely something I'd make again. I was thrilled that it turned out so yummy, and even happier that I'd made something I would consider a somewhat difficult recipe and I'd not botched it up so badly I needed to toss it.