At Last

a toast

Well. That was one beautiful day we had yesterday. It was a special day for us personally, as Mike and I looked back at our wedding day three years prior, but we were mostly caught up in the history that was being made. Thinking about it all still takes my breath away.

I had scheduled a few days off this week, both to recharge my batteries and so Mike and I could spend some quality time together, and a big part of that quality time was spent planning and preparing our celebratory dinner. I had received a gift card for Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop from one of my bosses at Christmastime, and last Friday Mike took a trip up to the South End with that card to pick up provisions for our meal. Our original thought was to do a whole roast duck, but when he got to the store, there were none to be had.

confit

They did have confit legs, however, as well as a variety of sausages and other cured meats, so when Mike called to ask if I had any other ideas for our anniversary meal, I suggested cassoulet. After all, we could do much of the work on it ahead of time, which would leave us free to do other things (read: sit glued to MSNBC) while the assembled dish cooked. And it has been far too long since our last cassoulet, so once I suggested it, we were filled with anticipation.

I got things started on Monday, making a big batch of chicken stock and cooking a pound of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans in abundant water, with our last trotter from Bobolink nestled in for good measure. After several hours, the beans and trotter were tender, so I added a bit of salt, let them go for another half hour or so, and let them cool down to store overnight.

On Tuesday, Mike got to work on the meat components, crisping up some bacon, shredding the meat and skin off of the cooked trotter, and searing a thick pork chop from Pat’s Pastured in some of the rendered bacon fat. With the meaty bits set aside, he turned his attention to the cooking liquid and aromatics: one large onion, chopped (one thing that didn’t bring tears to my eyes yesterday) and sauteed in more rendered fat; some chopped garlic, cooked until fragrant; a dab of tomato paste, which he caramelized in a hot spot before stirring into the onion and garlic; a cup of my roasted tomato puree from the freezer; some white vermouth; some of the stock I made on Monday; and finally, a bouquet garni. He added the bony bits from the trotter to the pot and let it all simmer away until it was rich and reduced.

My creation

With beans, meat and flavorful liquid ready to go, we assembled the cassoulet. First, we scattered the crisp bacon and soft bits from the trotter over the bottom of the pan, then we added a layer of beans. The pork chop and confit legs went in next, with more beans spooned all around. We nestled slices of prosciutto sausage in next, finishing with the remaining beans and the cooking liquid, and smooshing everything down so the liquid came up to the top. We let the oven preheat to 350 degrees while I pulsed some stale bits of Seven Stars country bread into fresh breadcrumbs and seasoned them with herbs, which we then scattered over the top of the cassoulet.

crusty

Mike dolloped a bit of duck fat over the top and we set the pot in the oven to bake, uncovered, for about an hour. We cranked the heat up to 425 for another 20 minutes or so, just to get the top extra brown and crusty, then Mike carefully removed the pot from the oven and let it rest briefly before serving.

Dinner:  January 20, 2009

This was a pretty darned wonderful effort from “Team Us,” I have to say, and plenty romantic with candles and a good red wine added to the mix. Who needs leather when you can have pig skin? (And duck. And sausage. And beans.)

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17 thoughts on “At Last

  1. First, happy anniversary, you guys! Very cool. Yes, the rest of us had a pretty good and momentous day too yesterday. And cassoulet? You guys really know how to celebrate! I was about to ask what wine you had with it, but then I saw the link. Nice.

  2. Sabine says:

    Happy anniversary! And congratulations to you and to all other Americans on having a President worthy of you all. Well done! Cheers!

    That cassoulet looked absolutely fabulous. I love cassoulet, particularly when it is prepared with great care such as you did.

  3. congrats on your anniversary! (also, i stalked your wedding pictures a bit. what a lovely, quintessentially new york day you all seem to have had!)

    and, of course, the cassoulet. looks lovely, and the perfect way to celebrate.

  4. Daisy says:

    Once again I am inspired by your meal. After checking out the beautiful photos and then reading through your description of the prep, I am ready to tackle my first cassoulet. I think it’s the perfect antidote to the arctic blast we’re expecting in the midwest this weekend.

  5. Jennifer Hess says:

    Thanks so much, everyone! We had a truly wonderful day, topped off with a great meal.

    (Melissa – I still get all misty when I look back at our wedding photos, too. It was a perfect, perfect day. :))

  6. Camille says:

    Your anniversary celebration sounds & looks fabulous…congratulations!! This response is totally unrelated to this post, but I wanted to thank you for such a great blog!! I regularly come to your site to see what you’ve been creating…honestly, to drool!! Today was one of those days. I have a thick cut of ham leftover in my fridge & since it’s the weekend, as do you, I am prepping some meals for the week. I’ve used part of it for a black bean & butternut squash soup, which is developing its flavours in the fridge, as I write. I wanted to transform the remainder into something else but couldn’t decide on what. I didn’t really want another pasta sauce, so of course, I came to your site for inspiration…voila…ham & potato gratin from Nov ’07…that’s just what I’ll do…thank you again!

  7. Jen,
    That’s a lot of work to make that beautiful cassoulet, but like any good marriage of beans and pork and duck, it’s all worth it in the end! (like marriage!!).
    Happy Anniversary to you and Mike.

    Stacey Snacks

  8. Beautiful. I have some salt-cured pig skin left from the last bacon we made, and it’s calling out to line the bottom of the le creuset and get busy with duck and beans. Thanks for the nudge.

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