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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)