Day One – The Great 2012 Cassoulet Challenge


Ayocote Blanco


The beans, having soaked overnight, are ready to go – the challenge is on!
Today is prep day. Assembling and preparing all the different ingredients for the main event tomorrow. Most importantly, making the savory stock, in which to cook six cups or 1360 grams of white runner beans (dry weight), then simmering those beans in said stock for ninety slow minutes … ready … GO!!
Yesterday we attempted to go grocery shopping for a few last minute items in Kerrville, our county seat. I specifically wanted to buy celery root for the stock, but it wasn’t meant to be. The parking lot of my favorite produce place was overflowing – parking within a reasonable period of time was out of the question. Not worth the hassle for a gnarly root. So our stock today is limited to fennel, celery stalks, white onion, parsley, and carrots. Add to this coriander seeds, black peppercorns, cloves and a few juniper berries, as well as several laurel leaves and sprigs and sprigs of fresh and fragrant thyme. I always go a little overboard with thyme (and rosemary), but it smells so good! To cover all the greasy bases, a few chunks of pork shoulder and a couple of smoked ham hocks go into the pot as well. A grind of this, a pinch of that, plus fourteen cups of water and we’re on our way. And while the stock gently simmers, there is time to visit a neighbor (a round trip of a mere 32 miles. Yes, central Texas is quite spacious) to pick up Barry’s Christmas present. I better not say what it is, in case he reads this.
Meanwhile, the stock is ready to be strained, mushy veggies to be discarded. But the meats we want to preserve, to combine with the beans later. This is a murky kind of a stock, containing many flavor particles, which I didn’t bother to clarify. I’m not aiming for a pretty, translucent aspic, just stock for my beans. Simplicity trumps!
Now we dice some salt pork and some onion and sweat it for a while in a casserole large enough to take almost a kilo and a half of lovely beans and their juices. When the pork and onion are soft and glistening with rendered fat, beans and stock are added.
While the beans simmer and Ella Fitzgerald sings in the background, I sit down on the kitchen island to shred the meat from the smoked ham hocks and pork shoulder pieces. I also reserve the thick pork skins. They’re needed to line the bottom of the cassole tomorrow … it already feels festive …

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