The Culture of Food and Drink


Home / Chefs w/recipe  / Cassoulet’s Layered Flavors Warm Winter Nights

Cassoulet’s Layered Flavors Warm Winter Nights

A hearty cassoulet featuring rabbit confit, smoked pork belly and black garlic sausage helps ward off a cold winter night. Credit: Copyright Jared Spoffard

A hearty cassoulet featuring rabbit confit, smoked pork belly and black garlic sausage helps ward off a cold winter night. Credit: Copyright Jared Spoffard

As the cold Northeastern winter laid yet another wet snow on New York City, Back Forty West, Peter Hoffman’s wonderful restaurant at 70 Prince Street, sported its sixth annual celebration of cassoulet. As Hoffman said in his introductory words, each year this festival brings folks together to enjoy different incarnations of this wonderful, rich slow cooked bubbling mixture of beans and meats.

Adam Gopnik, who has written extensively about cassoulet in his book, “The Table Comes First,” reminded us that the cassoulet originated in the south of France, but variations of it are found in most countries of the world — feijoda in Latin America; solet in Hungary; cholent, a traditional Jewish stew; fabada asturiana in Spain; pasulj in Serbia, or even just baked beans, sausage and sauerkraut as my Swedish mother loved to assemble. It is a simple, traditional mixture of slow-cooked — often on their own — white beans, and then added to any combination of lamb, pork skin, sausage or duck confit. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the casserole, a deep, round, earthernware pot with slanting sides, but any large, heavy Dutch oven or stainless steel stew pot will do.

Each year, Hoffman seeks to benefit a different charity. This year’s Back Forty evening benefited Drive Change, an organization that mentors, hires and trains formerly incarcerated youth in order to prepare its fare and operate the nonprofit’s food truck. Drive Change chef Jared Spafford, who was formerly from Marlowe and Daughters and Flying Pigs Farm, was one of five chefs whose cassoulet graced the evening. Spafford’s interpretation consisted of rabbit confit, smoked pork belly, and black garlic sausage (recipe below).

Chefs who contributed a cassoulet

Jon Check from Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, divined an original Southwestern interpretation of cassoulet that included Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, lamb shoulder, pheasant sausage and pork belly.

Hoffman’s was a more traditional presentation coming straight from a heavy iron pot that was cooked over the fabulous open fire in the Back Forty West dining room and included a delicious mixture of Flageolet beans, duck confit, chorizo and smoked pork belly.

Sara Jenkins’ delicious addition of lamb shoulder with a small merguez sausage laid on the lentil bed was another original interpretation. Her restaurant in the East village, Porsena, focuses on inspired pasta dishes.

Peter Lipson from Northern Spy Food Co. on 12th Street concocted an original mixture using cattle beans, guanciale, merguez and pork belly with quickly cooked veggies and a garni of crushed spicy corn chips, cilantro and sour cream.  A Southwestern delight.

The meal ended with a radicchio citrus salad followed by grapefruit and orange sorbet on a spoon.

Upon leaving the restaurant, we visited the Snowday Food Truck parked out in front and were offered a Maple Snow Lolly (traditionally served with hot syrup dripped on snow).

A fabulous dining experience with a side of social change.   

Rabbit Confit, Smoked Pork Belly and Black Garlic Sausage Cassoulet

Cassoulets can be a simple throw-together meal made of leftover meats and beans. Recipe courtesy Jared Spafford  

Rabbit brine

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: Brine for 24 hours

Total time: About 24 hours

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1 quart whey

3/4 cup shallots, sliced

1/2 cup ginger, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

2 Thai red chilies, split

2 kaffir lime leaves

8 sprigs thyme

4 bay leaves

1 1/2 tablespoon white peppercorn

1 1/2 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 rabbit, cut into 6 pieces

Directions

1. Bring whey to a simmer, cut heat, stir in all ingredients besides rabbit.

2. When solution cools, add rabbit. Place in ziplock bag and remove air; brine for 1 day.

Rabbit Confit

Ingredients

1 to 1 1/2 quarts lard

4 stalks celery

4 shallots, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

8 sprigs thyme

8 sprigs parsley

3 bay leaves

3 puya chile

1 cascabel chile

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon white peppercorn

1 teaspoon cardamom

1 rabbit, brined for 24 hours

Directions

1. Warm lard until it turns liquid, add all ingredients except rabbit. Let ingredients steep for 30 minutes, add rabbit.

2. Cook in oven at 300 F for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until meat pulls away from bone cleanly. Remove from oven, let cool.

3. Place in fridge overnight (2 to 3 days is optimum).

Beans

Prep time: Soak overnight, sprout for 2 to 3 days

Cook time: 6 to 7 hours on low heat

Total time: Several days of preparation

Ingredients

3/4 pound scarlet runner beans

3/4 pound yellow eye peas

3/4 pound navy beans

2 quarts pork stock

1 quart water

1 cup cider vinegar

1 cup maple syrup

2 bay leaves

8 sprigs thyme

8 sprigs parsley

1 1/2 tablespoon mixed peppercorn

Peel from one orange

Peel from one lemon

1/2 cup salt

Directions

1. Soak beans overnight with 3 times volume of water. Drain next day. Leave beans in colander on counter for 2 to 3 days, rinsing beans until water runs clean a few times a day.

2. When beans have begun sprouting, add to Dutch oven with rest of ingredients.

3. Braise beans covered at 300 F for 4 hours. Remove cover and continue cooking until soft, 1 to 2 more hours. Remove from oven and let cool.

4. Let beans rest in container overnight (2 to 3 days is optimum).

Smoked Belly

1 pound slab bacon

Score skin in a diamond pattern. Roast in oven at 300 F for 2 to 3 hours, until fat is fully rendered and skin is crispy. Remove from oven and weight down in a pan over night in fridge to compress belly.

Black Garlic Sausage

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Ingredients

1 head garlic, roasted

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 head black garlic, mashed

2 teaspoon ground white pepper

2-plus tablespoons salt

2 pounds ground pork

Directions

1. Mash all garlic together in mortar to form a paste.

2. Thoroughly mix garlic paste, salt and pepper with ground pork. Cook small test piece to check seasoning, adjust with salt and pepper as needed.

3. Let mixture rest overnight.

4. Form 3/4-inch balls with sausage, do not overwork. Cook in oven at 400 F for 9 minutes. Remove and drain off drippings.

Tomato

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 50 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup white onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 (16-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

Directions

1. Sweat onions and garlic until they turn light brown.

2. Add tomatoes and stir to combine.

3. Roast in oven uncovered at 375 F for 30 minutes. Reduce to 300 F and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Remove and let cool

Cassoulet

1 rabbit confit, meat shredded

Braised beans

Smoked belly, sliced

Black garlic sausage

Tomato mixture

Fold all ingredients together and place in oven at 300 F to warm through. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving. Dress with parsley, bread crumbs and maple syrup.

Main photo: A hearty cassoulet featuring rabbit confit, smoked pork belly and black garlic sausage helps ward off a cold winter night. Credit: Jared Spafford



Zester Daily contributor Katherine Leiner has published many award-winning books for children and young adults and, more recently, her first novel for adults, "Digging Out" (Penguin). Her most recent book, "Growing Roots: The New Sustainable Generation of Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists," won half a dozen awards, including the National Indie Excellence Gold Medal Award. Leiner's next novel is due out this year.

4 COMMENTS
  • Lavinia 3·17·15

    Wow, just reading the recipe made me exhausted and to want to move to France simultaneously. Thanks for reminding us all that food is truly an art.

  • Andrew 3·17·15

    Drive Change, Peter Hoffman, Adam Gopnik, what a wonderful combo: and great cassoulet to boot.

  • Bette Glenn 3·17·15

    So much to savor in this article! I have never been to Back Forty West but Katherine’s description made me feel the cozy warmth and smell Hoffman’s rich dish simmering on the open fire! I was intrigued when I first heard of Drive Change and can’t imagine a better way to spend the money raised. Thanks for an article that stimulated both my salivary glands and my pride in the goodness of people.

  • katherine leiner 3·17·15

    It’s true, isn’t it. food really is an art. The growing of it, the preparing of it, and then, ah, the eating. Thanks for commenting, all of you!

POST A COMMENT