Monday, April 4, 2011

Cassoulet, Brooklyn-Style

Yesterday I was perusing the meat aisle of my local Met Foods trying to come up with a dinner idea that wasn’t just a straight-up meat-vegetable-starch plate, when I suddenly came upon packages of confit duck legs. While a nuanced discussion of gentrification in Brooklyn neighborhoods is outside the scope of this post, I will just say that the presence of duck confit there was about as surprising as discovering that the G train was running normally on a weekend.

At $6 a leg, I realized, I could not afford the confit. However, the idea of using it in a cassoulet had already taken shape in my mind, and I decided to try my own spin on that one-pot meal using turkey drumsticks, which were packaged at the Met for about $2 for two.

As usual with my cooking, this makes no pretense to be faithful to the classic dish, in this case a French-countryside-y bean stew with a mélange of rich meats. I looked up cassoulet in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking when I got home, and her rendition is a five-page, three-day affair for 10-12 people involving “pork loin, shoulder of mutton or lamb, and sausage,” with suggested variants such as duck, goose, confit goose, veal shank, and partridge—all compiled under the unassuming recipe title “Cassoulet: French baked beans.” (Sorry to get all “Kitty and Julia” on you, but she is the authority on French cuisine.)

Along with the turkey drumsticks, my cheapo version uses the packaged horseshoe-shaped supermarket kielbasa, plus two Goya cans of butter beans—large white beans whose starch gives the sauce an almost creamy texture. It does take upwards of two hours, so you may want to prepare it on a Sunday; this is one of those dishes that might be even better reheated. The below proportions would easily serve four for dinner, but I made it for two with plans for leftovers.

  • First, turn your oven to 350°.

  • Sprinkle two turkey drumsticks with salt and pepper, coat them lightly in oil, and cook in the oven in a foil-covered pan (I find they nest nicely in a loaf pan like you’d use for banana bread) for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until you can stick a fork in and the meat comes easily off the bone. (If your market doesn’t sell turkey drumsticks separate from the whole bird, I’d try chicken thighs or whole legs—or, of course, partridge.)

  • While the turkey cooks: Heat a splash of vegetable oil over medium flame in a stockpot or heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add 1 lb. kielbasa, sliced into inch-ish-thick medallions. Cook, tossing to turn periodically, until the cut surfaces are brown-spotted, about 5-10 minutes; then remove from pan and drain on paper towels (or brown paper bags, as my mom does).

  • Drain off about half the oil from the pan and add a pat of butter. After it melts, add the white and light green parts of a large leek, sliced into thin circles (remember to submerge in water to wash; I usually do so after slicing, to get any dirt hidden between layers). Sprinkle about 1 tsp kosher salt, stir, and sauté, covered but uncovering to stir periodically, until leeks are soft.

  • Add a few cloves of minced garlic (well, I used 6) and stir. Add 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced; a bay leaf; and a few sprigs’ worth of fresh thyme leaves. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • Stir in 2 15.5-oz. cans large white beans or the equivalent, rinsed.

  • Now add 1 quart chicken stock (it may be a little ridiculous to note that you could substitute vegetable stock considering this recipe contains two kinds of meat, but hey, I’ve been known to order a turkey burger with bacon) and about ½ bottle beer. Gentle reader, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what to do with the other half.

  • Turn the heat up to high and bring the liquid to a boil; then turn the heat down to low, and stir in the kielbasa and an 8-oz. can of tomato sauce. I also stirred in about 5 or 6 fronds’ worth of roughly shredded kale leaves once I realized I had them on hand, and I must say they were a nice touch, but they’re optional.

  • Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about an hour and a half. You want the liquid to reduce down so it’s more like a thick sauce than a broth—think stew, not soup.

  • Whenever the turkey is done, use two forks or, once it cools, your fingers to shred it into pieces, discarding the skin. Don’t worry about making the pieces uniform—some will be more like chunks, some shreds—but do be careful to remove all those sharp spiky things. Stir the turkey meat into the pot (it doesn’t really matter how much cooking time remains for the stock-pot stuff when you add it).

    Although it would by no means give Julia Child a run for her mutton, I was quite pleased by how this dish turned out. The flavors came together really nicely in a rich base that was, as I said, made thick and almost creamy by the starchy white beans. Typically this hearty fare would be more of a winter thing, but at this point we’ve given up hope of ever achieving actual spring weather, amirite?

    I served this garnished with fresh thyme leaves, alongside a green salad, plus a crusty baguette from the new specialty store around the corner that charges $15 a pound for cheese (again, let’s not get into the whole gentrification thing). Oh, and a bottle of red wine—at $6.99, only slightly more expensive than one duck confit leg.


    1. this sounds awesome. i have nothing else to say

    2. Although I've made vegetarian cassoulets, I'm looking forward to experimenting with your J.Child's experiment to make a different type of veggie cassoulet. Great post!

    3. I don't even care about the recipe anymore. "A run for her mutton" is the best line I've read in months.