Friday, May 23, 2014

Cassoulet (or what to do with the last of your Easter ham)

Please rest assured that I am not just now finishing the last of my Easter ham. It has been long gone for some time now. I am just now, however, finding the time to get this post written.

The story behind this recipe does date back a few years ago when Easter happened to fall late in April. With Kentucky Derby weekend falling in early May, I still had the Easter ham bone with the final remnants of meat on it. I was looking for Kentucky Derby-themed recipes, and I found a recipe collection that included cassoulet. I had never heard of cassoulet before so I was rather intrigued. As I read through the list of ingredients, I came across one called "duck confit." I had never heard of duck confit before either so I looked it up. It turns out that "confit" refers to a process of cooking and preserving meat in its own fat, so sort of a congealed duck product. I didn't exactly find myself feeling particularly keen about incorporating duck confit into my recipe so I did some additional searching for other variations on cassoulet. Here is a little of what I learned. Trust me, I will get back to the Easter ham.

Cassoulet is a French slow-cooked casserole dish somewhat akin to America's Boston baked beans. It is presumed to have originated in the Languedoc province of France and more specifically in the towns of Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Castelnaudary.
Much like the baked beans that are cooked in an earthenware pot on the hearth, traditional cassoulet is prepared in an earthenware dish called a cassoule. The conical shape is typical of the cassoule. The first picture below shows a cassoulet being prepared in a cassoule. The second shows a cassoulet that was prepared in a single-serving cassoule.
Although a number of variations on the precise cassoulet ingredients exist, the inclusion of white beans is consistent throughout. Cassoulet recipes also tend to include poultry such as duck or goose and sausages. Other recipes may include pork, mutton, or bacon. Here is where the Easter ham comes back in. I liked the idea of using sausages and decided to replace the duck confit with the remaining Easter ham. 
I'm not entirely sure whether someone with a taste for French cuisine would venture so far as to call my revised recipe "cassoulet" or not. At any rate, we think it tastes pretty good. We also think that the flavor of the honey-baked ham adds to the overall flavor of the cassoulet. You will also see that we include black-eyed peas and large lima beans in addition to the small site beans. We like the variation.
Here is the recipe. Feel free to provide feedback.

Cassoulet (or our version of it)
½ pound each of black-eyed peas, small white beans (navy beans), and large lima beans
Cover the beans with water and soak them over night. In the morning, drain the beans. 
Return the beans to the pot and add the following:
  • 2 quarts of chicken broth - you may need to add more while cooking
  • One large sweet onion, chopped
  • Sliced carrots and celery (I never measure these exactly; I just add in what looks about right in proportion to the beans.)
  • Chopped ham. (As I have already mentioned, I like using the leftover ham bone from our Easter honey-baked ham. We tend to leave extra ham on the bone just for cassoulet. I just put the whole bone along with the ham in the pot.)
  • Sausage (We prefer to use andouille sausage which adds a little heat to go with the sweet of the ham. I have used both Chef Bruce Aidells Cajun Style Andouille pre-cooked sausage links and uncooked andouille. If using uncooked, we grill them before adding to the soup. With either type, we slice them into coins before adding them to the pot.)
I find that the flavors meld together really well so I don't add a whole lot of extra seasoning. I tend to stick with the basics of:
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Thyme
  • Garlic (just a little; this is one time we go light on the garlic)
  • Parsley
Cook until the beans and vegetables are tender. Remove the ham bone. Cut off any extra ham and return the meat to the pot.
Serve with salad and warm, fresh bread.