Working Man’s Pork & Beans (Cassoulet)

1 Mar

Late winter days and cold weather scream for warm and hearty stews eaten by a toasty hearth with good friends. This cassoulet is easy on the prep, and can be adjusted by what you have on-hand in the fridge, and in the pantry.

cas·sou·let
/ˌkasəˈlā/
Noun
A stew made with meat and beans.

This is a really easy meal to make, something to put into the oven and forget about for a few hours, which frees up time and space on the stovetop for either cleaning, or getting something else going. Basically, a cassoulet is a stew with meat and beans, or the bourgeois term for “pork and beans”. Rummaging through the kitchen, I found and prepared the following:

Baby Lima Beans (soaked in water overnight, or depending on size of bean, a minimum of six hours, rinsed and checked for inclusions, brought to a simmer with clean water “ready to go”*) Great Northern Beans are a great alternative, if you don’t like Lima Beans.

Pork Neck Bones 2# or so (consider two to three pieces for each person), (nice, meaty pieces)**

Spices for Rub (coriander, chili flakes, paprika, thyme, rosemary, parsley, ground cinnamon, salt & pepper) about 1 teaspoon each

Brown Sugar, to taste
Salt & Pepper (for rub and for finish)

Bacon slices, 5-6 coarse chopped

Garlic 1-2 cloves, minced
Onion 1/2, chopped fine
Stock (house made or low sodium-store bought or water) about 1 quart
Olive Oil

Bread Crumbs (optional)
Duck Confit or Rabbit (optional)
Cooked long grain white rice (optional)

For the Dry-Rub. Grind spices, if needed and add spices, brown sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl, stir with a whisk or fingers to blend. Add the neck bones, coating each piece thoroughly, wrap and store in the fridge for a few hours, or the night before.**

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Preheat oven to 300.

In a large, oven safe pan with lid (a rondeau works well for this), render the bacon pieces slowly, do not burn the pieces.

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Once rendered, remove bacon piece and add pork neck bones, lightly browning on all sides (this takes a few minutes on each side, try not to crowd the pieces….you may need to do this in batches).

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Once browned, remove pork necks to a plate or platter. Add a little olive oil to the pan, if needed, and add the garlic and onion, saute them until the onion just starts to loose its color.This will also loosen up those beautiful caramelized bits, or fond, on the bottom of the pan.

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Strain the heated beans and add to the onion/garlic, stirring in.

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Lower the heat and add the pork necks and bacon pieces back in, placing them within the beans. Add the stock to just cover everything and, with the lid on, place into the preheated oven.

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Check occasionally for liquid (beans will continue to absorb a little moisture from the stock), and add if needed. Cook/bake in the oven for approximately three hours, or until the beans are tender (a quick note on this is to mash one or two against the side of the pan). If you like, towards the end, you can stick-burr a portion of the beans which will thicken the sauce, add confit pieces, or coat the top with bread crumbs and continue to bake until they are a rich golden brown, with the lid off. Be sure to check seasonings,  salt and pepper prior to plating.

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Above is the finished stew. There is a little sweetness from the brown sugar, which of course can be adjusted or omitted if you prefer.

For this type of meal, I generally serve this over long grain white rice.

*Do this about an hour before you’re ready do assemble everything. Be sure to check out
http://www.usdrybeans.com/ to learn more about using beans.

**Remove dry rubbed neck bones about 1/2 hour before using, and allow to come to room temperature, do not rinse off. Pork necks are an economical cut, full of flavor and braise well. If not available, a combination of picnic ham, bone-in/cured & some sausage will do. Be sure to add the “spice rub” to the onion/garlic while sauteing.

Additional Notes: To remove onion or garlic smell from hands; wash hands thoroughly, and rub clean hands on stainless steel sink faucet or clean sides of sink.

This pork & beans recipe freezes well. Be sure to thaw frozen portions in the fridge the day before you intend on cooking/reheating.

As with any protein, be sure to portion and freeze leftovers, refrigerate promptly after cooking, and consume within three days. Discard after three days if not used or frozen. Quickly reheat leftovers and use immediately.

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