Learning the Charm Of Crock Pots From Kitchen Sink To Cassoulet

Happy New Year and Hello 2011! The black eyed peas and collards have all been eaten and it is time to keep the crock pot out for more great food. We owe a lot to the crock pot or slow cooker. Slow cooker dishes are made for families of one to full sized classic family of five. One pot is good for a week or a big Sunday. They cook smoothly, evenly and by keeping the top on they recycle the liquids. Since no stock is lost to the room it all stays in with the vegetables and meat. By simmering for 6 to 10 hours the meats become very tender and full flavored. Crock pots are excellent for short ribs. There are people who live by the crock pot, and this is dedicated to all of you who love or will love the beauty of a long simmered pot of navy beans/black beans/pinto/, okra, chicken and pork, and the elegantly peasant staple of cassoulet.
When I was getting ready for this I called my friends Don Chambers, Jarad Blanton and then Bryan Redding. I asked what they thought of crock pots. Immediately each said they used them all the time and love ‘em; and of course added that it is in high favor by all Mothers. Enough said. I had to do it. But the problem was how do I make it unique? I do not. The recipes here are classic French cuisine with the cassoulet and classic Southern as in gumbo variations. While shopping I saw that crock pots are now being sold in dual units. Side by side in the same console for optimized slow cooking! This is the way to save money and labor while putting together either a big family meal or a weeks worth of base for one or two people.
Purists put your heavy hand aside as this cassoulet recipe has smoked duck instead of duck confit in the recipe, nor are there copious amounts of thick cut pork belly or fatback, just hickory bacon and olive oil. I have adjusted for a slow cooker style. The rest of the dish is fairly standard in relation to the history of the dish. It is family food, farm food, a celebration of harvest. For us here in the South, crock dishes and cassoulet are festive enough by the very nature of the happy unity of flavors that takes place in the cooker. Winter demands we have big pots of something cooking from venison chili to cassoulet.
Here we have the standard “there’s nothing to eat” emptying of the pantry and refrigerator. I know this because I have done this, and what fun it is to find jewels where we thought there were none. Not enough praise can be lain upon a cooking tool like a crock pot. I use a Cuisinart one that is all ceramic. The dual ones that I saw in the store were stainless-aluminum alloy in a polycarbonate cabinet. Pretty impressive stuff and well worth owning if your family needs require that much on going cooking.
The ingredients are not unusual. Everything is seasonally appropriate and if not fresh then dried is always there on the grocers shelves. I use guajilla pepper because the hot background to the fruity aroma adds a good even spicy heat to the dish. The peanuts and dried cranberries came as an after thought. On my second helping I thought that something was missing. This thing is crunch and the citrus sweet of peanuts and cranberries. Call this a gumbo if you want to, add fried crawfish tails to garnish and there you have a salty, crackly, smooth and earthy plate of goodness.
Cook pearled barley ahead of time and add to pot with other ingredients. Cook time for this recipe is 1 hour on high to bring it to a stable 300 degrees, then turn to low, 140 degrees, and cook for 7 hours. Cook a total of 8 hours. You can cook it for up to 10 hours if you want to really intensify the flavors. There are recipes requiring 16 hours time in the slow cooker. Keep covered except when adding ingredients. When using ground meats like our sausage then brown it first, pour off the grease and then add to the crock pot. Thick cut vegetables go into the bottom of the pot. Add fresh herbs and seafood add during last 60-45 minutes. Vinegar based seasonings like Tabasco and Cholula will get bitter so stick to the dried and fresh peppers. Do not uncover, between seasoning, just let the crock pot do the job it was made to do.
There is no “reducing” of liquids in a crock pot because the liquid recycles back down into the pot. Do not fill more than two inches from the top. Every time you lift the cover add an additional 20 minutes to your cook time. Do not stir after it starts cooking. Slow cooking is that sensitive! It is not merely mix and walk away, there really are techniques. Do not think of the crock pot as a place to empty straight from freezer to pot. Do not do it. Adding frozen foods to an already cooking crock pot is one of the things that causes intestinal discomfort, i.e. food poisoning. Best solution is to use fresh vegetables only and if you are using frozen meats then thaw thoroughly and sauté before adding to the cauldron of deliciousness.
Ingredients are listed in the order you should put them into the slow cooker.

1 1/2 quarts Chicken stock
1 1/3 cups White corn kernels
10 ounces Chicken, skinless, thigh and breast, thick dice
4 ounces Bacon, chopped, cook with sausage
6 ounces Ground sage pork sausage, browned and degreased
1 cup Pearled barley, cooked
2 cups Okra, sliced
1 cup Chayote squash, thick dice
1/2 pound Red potatoes, thick dice
½ pound Butternut squash, peeled, seeded, thick dice
6 stalks Green onion, sliced
4 cloves Garlic, crushed
Add during last hour of cooking
1/3 cup Cilantro, fresh, stems and leaves, chopped
15 fronds Rosemary, crushed
3 Bay leaves
1 tablespoon Guajilla pepper, dried, seeded and sliced
1 tablespoon Coarse black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons Coarse salt
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
12 ounces Dark Beer
At Service
2 tablespoons Peanuts per plate
1 tablespoon Dried cranberries per plate
4 ounces cooked basmati rice per plate

Garnish with whole cilantro leaves.

Serve over a plate of basmati rice with basil and olive oil. Cornbread is required.

This is a five ingredient slow cooker dish but the beef and potatoes do not count. Perfect for a base for chili.
1 pound Beef sirloin, cut in thick cubes
1 ½ pounds Russet potatoes, cut in thick dice
2 cups Cooked red beans
1 teaspoon Tony Chacheres Original Creole Seasoning
1 tablespoon Coarse Black Pepper
12 ounces Beef stock
12 ounces Good pilsner like a Terrapin brew
Combine and cook for 10 hours. Garnish with chutney or chow chow. Think chili. Serve over thick pasta like fettuccine.

My best day with cassoulet was at St. Jean Winery in the early 1980s. We sat outside at a long wooden table under a huge magnolia in front of the main house. They treated the staff of St. Orres where I was working to a day at the farm. It was magnificent. The owner and his wife, Jean, were regulars at St. Orres and loved our food. What is not to love about any foods all fresh from Mendocino and Sonoma Counties? I sat next to the wine master. I did not know it at first and as I raved about the cassoulet, rye bread and Chardonnay he began to laugh and introduced himself. I felt honored and humble. The Coast and the Valley was vibrant with the rush of New American Cuisine back then, when Chefs worked together and Alice Waters was discussed at every meal, when farm to table first began in 1979 and still today seems like something new. Farm to table should never be a memory, it should always be now.
The smoker here is the Big Green Egg, Weber, Lil Indian, Brinkman or whatever brand you have for smoking the turkey and duck. I smoked a whole duck seasoned with rum, sweet soy, sambal and ginger for 6 hours with hickory wood. I seasoned the turkey with a traditional thyme, sea salt, black pepper, oregano, rosemary, sage and white wine rub. Let it stand overnight and then smoked with cherry wood for 12 hours. Crispy skin and smoky smooth meat. Cassoulet is a farm, home, peasant dish that originally used duck confit (duck cooked and chilled in duck fat) and haricot beans as the base. If you do not want to cook outside then roast the duck and turkey in the oven. You can cut the turkey in half and thus reduce the cook time. Internal temperature for duck should be 150 degrees while the turkey should reach 180.
The basic definition is “mixed bean and meat stew” so a lot is left to the particular bias of the chef preparing the dish. As I learned cassoulet from German and French Chefs it was duck, lamb, turkey, pork fatback, cranberry beans, white beans, white wine, tomatoes, wild rice and chicken stock.
As time goes by our tastes change a bit and the weather demands a nice day in and out by the smoker. Cold weather is perfect for grilling out in the South. Our cold weather is thankfully mild. If you have a Big Green Egg or other kind of ceramic smoker/grill and it is still hot from smoking the turkey you can make the cassoulet inside of it. Use an iron pot with lid, put the ingredients in and use hickory wood and apple wood for the smoke. Set it so that the temperature is at 200 degrees and leave it inside to cook for seven hours.
When using a standard slow cooker/crock pot you will cook the cassoulet for 10 hours, 1 hour on high and 9 hours on low. Add the duck during the last two hours of cooking. Start with all the other ingredients. When using dried herbs use flake, not powder.
10 ounces Duck, boneless, skinless
2 Turkey wings, skinless, cut in fourths
10 ounces Turkey breast meat, thick chopped
10 ounces Summer sausage, cut in thick cubes
4 strips Hickory bacon, dice, sauté, add all to pot
2 cups Navy beans, cooked
1 pound Red potatoes, large dice
1 cup Carrots, peeled, large dice
1 cup Turnips, peeled, medium diced
1 cup Onions, diced
1 Green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons Tomato paste
1 cup Tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 ½ quarts Chicken Stock
1 pint White Cooking wine
1 teaspoon Thyme
1 teaspoon Rubbed Sage
½ teaspoon Oregano
1/3 cup Parsley, chopped
2 tablespoon Sea Salt
1 tablespoon Coarse Black Pepper
2 cups Spinach leaves, chiffonade cut (thin strips)

While it is cooking you can make a favorite rice or even mashed potato dish to use as service for the cassoulet. I have even had it in hollowed out bread bowls. Just take a thick crust round bread and heat it to very warm, cut out the top and remove the bread leaving a half inch to the crust so that it does not leak. Then spoon the cassoulet inside of the bread. Place a duck leg and turkey wing section on top of each serving. Garnish with thin sliced spinach over the whole serving. This is a rich dish that is good for any cold weather afternoon or evening.
If you don’t want to use the slow cooker for this dish you can cook the beans on the stove and roast the meats, then combine the ingredients in a roasting pan and cook again so that the ingredients are more distinct. After you remove the ingredients from the roasting pan pour the juices into a sauce pan. Add a cup of chicken stock and cook on high heat, stirring infrequently, until it has all reduced to one cup. Arrange each portion on a plate and pour the sauce over the cassoulet. Decorate with the chiffonade spinach. To really take this to the next stage you can then place a grilled lamb chop or pork chop next to the duck leg and turkey wing on the plate. This is as hearty and hardy as food can be.
This marks a great time for me. My book is finally in print and available in bookstores, Amazon, the publisher (Lummox Press) and from me at book events. This has been a labor of love for so many reasons and most of all it is a love letter to World Cuisine. The world is such a beautiful banquet of hundreds of cuisines and each as important as the next. Southern Distinction is where these recipes are first expressed beyond home or restaurant, and I am thankful to Bryan for his photography and inspiration, to Cindy and Keith for publishing such a great magazine and most of all to the cooks and readers here. It is all for you:
“Ginger, Lily & Sweet Fire: A Romance With Food”
At The Gates
Reading the Song of Songs
The way I have for years and years,
This little book,
The greatest love poem,
It goes beyond one man one woman,
It goes into the scope of life,
Of how to love
To hunt to harvest and enjoy,
To live upon this earth,
To simplify the seasons
Into the grace
Of doves and deer,
The sweetness here
Of almonds and figs,
The kiss of the Sing-Shulamite,
Of all things beloved,
We learn what is a grace
When we awake to being loved.

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