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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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The Weekend Project: Creole Cassoulet

March 31st 09:03am, 2016

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The first time we made a cassoulet was for the reception at our twins’ baptism. They were our first children, and our family and godparents came over to celebrate. It was the perfect dish for a cold, wintery weekend, shared among family and celebrated with much wine. That was many years ago, when we were just getting our sea legs in the kitchen.

A dish rich in flavor and history, the cassoulet is a traditional Southern French dish where three separate villages, Castelnaudary, Carcassonne and Toulouse all make unique versions, and each profess to have the one true recipe. Each town argues whether mutton, pork, duck confit or partridge enter into this hearty white bean stew.

 

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A cassoulet always contains at least two different meats, and it slowly turns into a steaming, gelatinous casserole with a savory crust created thanks to the large surface area of the traditional ceramic cooking vessel. It was originally a peasant dish made using whatever meats were around (like sausages, confit duck legs or preserved pork), then adding stock, beans and aromatics. The cook would then tuck the dish on the cooler side of the bread oven and let it slowly simmer away.

For this Creole-inspired version, we opted for black-eyed peas, homemade chicken andouille, pork belly and confit chicken legs, but feel free to substitute any of your favorite meats, sausages, etc. The essence of a true cassoulet is a patient cook who knows how to let the subtle flavors of a well-prepared piece of meat and good stock imbibe the humble bean to create a dish to warm friends and lead to a memorable evening.

 

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The Gameplan
Day 1: Soak the black-eyed peas and season the pork belly.
Day 2: Cook beans and assemble and cook the cassoulet.

The Shopping List*
1 lb. dried black-eyed peas
½ cup paprika
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. dried basil
2 tsp. cayenne
½ Tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ lb. pork belly
4 skin-on chicken thighs
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 whole carrots, peeled
2 whole ribs celery
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 quart chicken or blond stock
½ lb. chicken andouille sausage, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and diced, for garnish

*This list assumes you have olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper at hand in your kitchen. If not, you will need to purchase those items, too.

 

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Creole Cassoulet
6 to 8 servings

1 lb. dried black-eyed peas
½ cup paprika
6 Tbsp. kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. dried basil
2 tsp. cayenne
½ Tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ lb. pork belly
4 chicken thighs, skin on
Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 whole carrots, peeled
2 whole celery ribs
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 quart chicken or blond stock
½ lb. chicken andouille sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 bunch green onion, trimmed and diced, for garnish

• Day 1: Pour the black-eyed peas into a large pot, fill with water and cover. Let soak 12 hours in the refrigerator or a cool place.
• Make a creole spice mix by combining the paprika, 6 tablespoons salt, garlic powder, pepper, onion powder, thyme, oregano, basil, cayenne, sugar and red pepper flakes together in a non-reactive bowl. Reserve ¼ cup; store the remaining spice mix in an airtight container.
• Cut the pork belly into bite-sized pieces and place a mixing bowl. Cover with ¼ cup creole spice rub and toss to coat. Place the pork belly in a zip-top bag and refrigerate overnight.

• Day 2: Liberally season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Let rest 20 minutes.
• Meanwhile, in a large ovenproof saucepan or enameled cast-iron pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the pork belly and cook, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
• Raise the heat to high and add the chicken thighs skin-side down. Cook 7 to 8 minutes, until the chicken is browned and the skin is crispy. Flip and brown the other side, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove and set aside.
• Add the onion and 1 tablespoon salt and stir, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Saute 3 to 5 minutes, then add the garlic and stir 1 minute, until the garlic takes on a pale color.
• Drain the black-eyed peas. Pour them into the pan, stirring to scrape up any remaining brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the bay leaf, carrots, celery and thyme. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 40 to 45 minutes, until just tender.
• Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
• Remove the bay leaf, carrots, celery and thyme and discard. Add the pork belly, chicken thighs and andouille to the pan. Bake 1 hour, until a gelatinous brown crust forms on top.
• Garnish with green onion before serving.
-photo by Michelle Volansky

By Anne Marie and Dan Lodholz

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