Thursday, February 17, 2011

WHAT TO DO ON A SNOW DAY: Make Sausage & Have a Party

A few weeks ago, like most of the country, we had another snowstorm, and what better thing to do in a snowstorm than to make sausage?
BC working the grinder.

We combined various recipes according to BC's experience.

And seasoned to our taste.
Chicken~Garlic Sausage, and Venison Sausage

As a member of a Nice Ladies’ Lunch Group, who sillily call themselves “The Delicious Divas” or the “DDs”, the next day I was up for the January luncheon. What would be better for a luncheon on a cold day than cassoulet, hot out of the oven and full of beans and various meats?

But since January is Diet Month, I thought I should try to respect that and used Julee Rosso’s cassoulet, from Great Good Food, as a guide. She calls for venison sausages, and one of the Nice Ladies, M~R~ had kindly brought us some venison - from a deer her son had shot -to make them.
Nobody here would let a little snowstorm get in the way of their lunch!

For dessert we had a raspberry and red-velvet trifle with a yogurt sauce rather than custard, made by K~ and an out of this world raspberry merlot from Windham Winery, Hillsboro, Virginia. Dessert wine is often very unbearably thick and sweet, but this wine is nice red with a touch of raspberry. Highly recommended.

OK, now I can I admit it. I followed Rosso's recipe-sort of. It calls for venison sausage, and I used that, but skipped on the lamb (I don’t care for it), duck breast (too expensive), lean turkey sausage (forgot), and Canadian bacon (had ham in the freezer), and made it pretty much the way I usually. I did skip throwing large slabs of fat.

So here’s the strategy/formula/technique for how I usually make cassoulet. The proportions are more or less, give or take. Multiply or divide as you wish:


For a party sized batch, use a big pot, use 2 lbs (about 3 - 4 cups) dried white beans (great Northern, cannelini, navy, whatever you’ve got, and if you’ve just got red or pink beans, you can use them too). For a family sized batch, or a medium sized casserole, use 1 lb (about 2-3 cups), and for a one or two person batch, use ½ lb (about 1-2 cups). You will want a large amount of beans, since this is basically a pot of beans with meat in it.
Rinse these beans –and pick out any misshapen ones or rocks! Put them in a bowl or pot and cover by several inches with water. Soak them for several hours or overnight.

Rinse them, put in a pot, again cover with water by several inches. You can add a bit of salt to the water, but I wouldn’t salt these beans too heavily, as the meats you’ll be using later will have plenty of salt.  Add an onion that you’ve studded with a few cloves, a couple of cloves of garlic, a carrot, a stalk of celery if you like, and a bay leaf or two tied together with a few sprigs of parsley and thyme. Bring to a boil. Immediately turn down the heat and simmer for about an hour, or until the beans are soft enough to eat. Keep in mind that even though they’ll be cooking longer, the acid in the wine and tomato will stop them from softening further.

While the beans are roasting, get your meat ready. Either use roasted meat leftover from dinner, or roast it now. Again, use whatever you’ve got around, You can use pork (I prefer a fatty butt or shoulder piece to a loin, chicken (legs, breast, whatever), duck and or duck confit (that certainly would be if you have it), ham, bacon, or any combination you like.
If you’re roasting your meat, add some wine-white or red- &/or broth to the roasting pan, and roast for an hour or so, until cooked through. Save the cooking juices.

Also while the beans are cooking, put a few link sausages, of any sort (bratwurst, chicken garlic, Italian, venison as Julee Rosso does, whatever you’ve got), into the pot with the beans and cook until firm.
Pearl or boiler onions are nice in this, so either drop a few handfuls of them in the sausage water too, for a minute or so, fish them out and peel them, or microwave them for a minute and then peel them, cutting off the hard end.
When the sausage is firm and the beans are soft, drain beans, removing vegetables and herbs, but reserve the cooking water.

For a medium sized batch, mix a tablespoon or so of tomato paste (J.R. uses a lot more) with some chicken broth (If you don’t have tomato paste, just use whatever kind of tomatoes you have and adjust the liquid accordingly, and if you don’t have chicken broth just use water or beef broth. Mix this with a couple of cups of your reserved bean water. Mix in the cooking juices from your meat.

Rub a clean pot or deep casserole dish with a clove of garlic. In the bottom, put down a layer of beans, then a layer of mixed meats. Add some pork or duck fat if you have it, and you’re not on a diet. Sometimes I also like to include a smoked ham hock or two if I have them- that will give it a smoky flavor. Spread some of your onions around on the meat, and sprinkle with a bit-not too much-thyme and parsley, a tiny bit of marjoram or oregano, (marjoram is better) and season with salt-as needed-and pepper. But don’t go overboard with your herbs. You’ll want to taste that broth. Continue your layers until you fill your pot.

Pour in some of your tomato-bean water, and then a bit of white wine – red if that’s what you have—none if that’s what you have—and fill up with liquid. I like my cassoulet pretty soupy. Cover with breadcrumbs that have been mixed with minced parsley and thyme, and pour a little olive oil or butter on top. Bake in a 350 oven for about 45 minutes until hot and bubbly and the breadcrumbs are brown.

One batch of sausage chilling in the snow.
*For those of you who have only a stovetop to work with, just saute the meat in a pan instead of roasting it (or you could microwave it, but sautéing would give you nice pan juices). When the casserole is assembled, cover it and cook it on a med-low heat until it is very hot and the flavors come together. Meanwhile, toast your breadcrumbs in a pan with some butter or olive oil until they are nicely browned, and then put on top of hot cassoulet.


  1. Love the photo of the wine bottle with the red wall behind it. Nice! Great looking cassoulet, too, and I love your instructions. ;o)

  2. Thanks-I wasn't sure about the red on red!