Earlier this week, I had a craving for cassoulet, which here I will derisively call Toulouse-style pork and beans. There’s more to it, of course, much more, literally as much as you want to put into it, and for days. See, http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/toulouse-style-cassoulet And that last part got me thinking…
By the time a cook locates and buys (or makes) the “classic” ingredients, e.g., duck confit, garlicy Toulouse sausage, true Tarbais beans, fatback, fresh hamhocks, pancetta, prosciutto, extra duck fat, not only is this an elaborate multi-day labor, it’s EXPENSIVE. There’s nothing to deride about the results, and comparing cassoulet to franks and beans isn’t really fair. But still, a full-on cassoulet can blow a huge hole in a food budget.
It occurred to me that cassoulet is just one of many such preps where small quantities of multiple, disparate, hard-to-find, pricey ingredients are put together as an “authentic” special delight. Examples include paella, cioppino, and jambalaya. And it occurred to me that, originally, these dishes did not follow some rigidly-conformist, Wolfortian scheme whereby the people who made it starved the rest of the month.
It dawned on me that this type dish is likely a throw-together, a hodgepodge of things the makers already had, or had very easy access to. Armed with this realization, I used the canned Cannelli beans, bacon, pastrami, salt pork, Boston butt, brats (with garlic powder), and bacon grease I already had. I did have one one frozen duck confit leg I’d been hoarding. And while I did cool the first cooking stage of my cassoulet (the “classic” recipes call rhapsodically for overnight or longer), it all was done in one afternoon and served for that day’s dinner. And it was good, every bit as soul-satisfying as when I’d followed Paula Wolfort down the rabbit hole.
As fate would have it, the next day a client took me to a $$$ French restaurant for an unplanned lunch–I couldn’t resist choosing the cassoulet. It may have been better than my impromptu “leftover” version, but not by much. And a close reading of the dinner and lunch menus convinced me that the chef, like the originators of “authentic” cassoulet and me, probably already had the ingredients left over from use in other dishes.
Food for thought.