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A Hearty Cassoulet Supper

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To build a great winter menu around this rich, rustic French stew, start and finish with refreshing salads

Cassoulet, the hearty peasant stew from the southwest of France, has long provoked hot debate. Which kind of beans should you use? Should you use duck or goose? There are numerous versions, each with its passionate partisans. But rather than being a pure expression of one style, this cassoulet takes elements from them all: It’s a melding of great flavors that come from assembling duck confit, beans, lamb stew, sausage and pork, and cooking them all together, slowly and gently.

Hearty cassoulet is almost a meal in itself, so when creating a menu, you want to keep the starter and dessert light and refreshing, like these simple frisee and fruit salads. The menu does take some advance planning, but there’s no elaborate technique required. So, if you stick to a strategy, and use the timetable, it’s really easy. And great cassoulet is worth the wait, so it’s the perfect thing for a special dinner party on a cold night–New Year’s Eve, perhaps?

Menu Timeline

For the Cassoulet:

One week ahead:

  • Make the duck confit
  • Order the pig’s foot
  • Order the pork rind.
  • Order the lamb shoulder.

Two days ahead:

  • Soak the beans.

One day ahead:

  • Make the bean stew.
  • Make the lamb stew.

That morning:

  • Assemble and bake the cassoulet.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce

  • 3 navel oranges
  • 1 red grapefruit
  • 2 tangerines
  • 1 small pineapple (or 1/2 large pineapple)
  • 1 banana
  • 1 Braeburn, Fuji or Gravenstein apple
  • 1 ripe pear
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 1 rib celery
  • 4 medium red or golden beets
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 1 bunch parsley

Meat and Poultry Items

  • 1 pig’s foot or small fresh ham hock
  • 3/4 pound pork belly or pancetta
  • 1/2 pound pork rind
  • 1 pound boneless lamb shoulder, neck or shank meat (2 pounds on the bone)
  • 1/4 cup duck fat
  • 3 to 4 duck confit legs
  • 1/2 pounds garlic sausage (or sweet Italian sausage not seasoned with fennel)

Other Groceries

  • 2 1/2 ounces walnut halves
  • 1 pound dry white beans, such as cannelini or Great Northerb
  • 3 cups homemade or low-salt chicken broth or duck stock
  • 2 cups coarse, unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sparkling wine
  • 1 tablespoon rum
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine

Pantry Staples

  • Sherry vinegar (2 tablespoons)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (1/3 cup)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Drink Suggestions

Try a hefty red with dark fruit and spice flavors. For the salad, choose a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, whose bright grapefruit and green-herb notes would be great with the zesty flavors of orange and sherry vinaigrette. Try a simple Entre-deux-Mers like Château Bonnet ($9, and made by Jean-Pierre’s in-laws), a Sancerre from Rossignol ($16), or Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma ($9). To match the cassoulet’s intensity, go for a hearty red with plenty of personality, dark fruit flavors, and earthy, spicy notes. The 1999 Le Mistral from Joseph Phelps ($27), a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style blend, would be perfect. Or try a Côtes-du-Rhône Villages (I like Domaine de l’Oratoire St. Martin, $12). For a splurge, try Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, a lush Grenache blend from the Southern Rhone ($38; the 1999 vintage drinks well at this early stage if you decant it). When it comes to dessert, the wine always needs to be as sweet as or sweeter than what’s on the plate. Jean-Pierre has wisely chosen a light finish to this meal, so I’d follow his lead with something light in the glass. Pick a wine with crisp acidity, medium sweetness, light body, and little or no oak, like Rivetti “La Spinetta” Moscati d’Asti, a fragrant sparkler from Italy ($16).

Tim Gaiser is a master sommelier and a contributing editor to Fine Cooking.

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