Monday, January 17, 2011

Bienvenue Bluie!

Welcome to the family, petite chou!
This holiday season, through a combination of comparison shopping, lurking in cooking stores, and fortuitous receipt of gift cards, I made a longtime dream come true. I bought a 4.5 quart cobalt blue French oven from Le Creuset.

There was my new baby, all round and smooth and perfectly blue! What would I do to welcome her to the family?

I knew: I’d make cassoulet from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. No, I had never made it before. But it’s one of my favorite kinds of food: making it once is like making four other different things! Twice!! And I would get to put Bluie through her paces.

First there was shopping. I did not want to use lamb, as Mastering suggests. (My better half does not want to eat anything cute and fluffy.) Goose, duck, and partridge were uncomfortably expensive—especially right after the excesses of Sparklemas. I decided to use pork.

Polish sausage and ham hock
from Tollefson. Pork rind from
Finer Meats.
Even on a regular day, this dish calls for four different kinds of pork: roast, side or salt pork, sausage, and pork rind. I thought a nice, flavorful ham hock would be the perfect economical stand-in for rich duck or goose confit. I went to the Minneapolis Farmers Market to see Dan Tollefson, my favorite pork farmer in the world. He set me up with everything but rind. After calling all over the city, I found it at Finer Meat Company just a few blocks from my house. Who knew that this store was there? And why didn’t they tell me?! Finer Meat has a beautiful array of fresh, smoked, and salted meats. They have a shelf of meat-related groceries. (They have butcher hats on, for crying out loud!) They sold me a half-pound of lovely pork rind for a buck.

I’m not going to recite the recipe, since it is tiresome in its length and also it’s not mine. My Google fu turned up this, which will get you there. Instead of goose, I used a pork roast per Mastering’s original instruction. Instead of lamb, I used a ham hock per my imagination.

First, make a roast. Brown a pork loin and then some onions and carrots. Throw in a bouquet garni, then cover and pop in a 325 degree oven for an hour and a half.

(Just so you know, I used some bean cooking water to wash this tasty brown stuff back into the pot.)

Pork rind: weirdly elegant?
While all that jazz is going down in the oven, time to start the beans. Child specifies the quick-soak method. While the beans soak in their hot bath, freshen the pork rind in two changes of boiling water. Then cut it into quarter-inch dice and simmer it for a half hour. You’re essentially making gelatin here: the softened pork rind will melt to nothing but collagen. It will add velvety body to the finished dish.

All the stuff in the picture to the right, here, has got to get crammed into the same pot to simmer for an hour and a half. Julia wasn’t kidding about an 8-quart pot. I didn’t listen. I’m using the gray pot because Bluie was in the oven during this part.

C'est magnifique! Also I don't
speak French.
While the beans are cooking, or maybe the next day, you can make another meat dish. Mastering has many suggestions, including lamb braised with browned bones that add flavor. I had some meaty pork bones left over from Sparklemas dinner. I browned those in Bluie, then browned two chopped onions and two diced carrots. The bones went back in the pot along with a ham hock, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a can of tomato paste, two bay leaves, four cloves of mashed garlic, and a half teaspoon of thyme. I braised that in the oven for an hour and a half.

Finally, everything is cooked and it smells like a French chophouse in here. Time to assemble...

...and top with crumbs and butter.

After baking it looks... um, it looks rather brown.

But it tastes like the heavenly congress of pork and beans. Which it is!

And though I scrubbed her with an enamel-safe pad and plenty of soap, Bluie has a few brown battle scars on the bottom of her. Ah, c’est la vie, little one. You work hard in this family of pots and pans. You get a mark here, a ding there. But you are no less beloved for it; no less beautiful to me.

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