Tuesday, January 31, 2006


One of the major criticisms of my cooking and lifestyle guru, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, is that normal, everyday people can't cook his recipes because the recipes are too dependent on homegrown, home-charcuteried artisanal foods. I am of two minds on this. On one hand, I figure I am a normal, everyday person, and if I can cook his recipes--which I do, several times per week--so can anyone. On the other hand, not everyone sets his or her priorities the way I do. Not every person is willing to cook goose legs from scratch, or to bring home half an organic hog and process it into hams, bacons, roasts, and sausages. For that matter, not every person even makes time to grow or seek out organic vegetables.

But then again, shouldn't everyone? Some people will say it's wildly unrealistic to expect people do do these things. But perhaps that very argument is a testament to how far removed we have become from the sources of our food. If that's the case (and I think it is), then every little step we can make toward connectedness with our food is a positive one.

So it is with mixed feelings, yet a deep sense of conviction, that I post the following recipe. If it's not something you can make right now, sock it away somewhere for future reference and think about making it a possibility in the future.

Okay. First you need a preserved goose or duck leg. If you are in the habit of roasting ducks and geese, you will have noticed that it's difficult to time the cooking process so that the legs are fully done without the breast becoming dry. The best way to deal with this issue is to remove the legs and roast the breast on its own. While you're doing this, pull out the extra fat from the cavity and skin of the bird and render it in the oven on low heat. Then you have the ingredients for...


2 goose or duck leg quarters
a handful of pickling or kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2-3 sprigs of thyme
2-3 bay leaves (dry or fresh) crumbled or julienned
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. olive oil
rendered goose or duck fat

Mix together the salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves, and garlic, and rub them thoroughly into the skin and meat of the legs. Cover and refrigerate for 48 hours, giving the meat another rub after the first 24 hours. Scrape off and reserve the seasonings.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown the legs on both sides. Place them in a deep ovenproof dish in which they fit as snugly as possible. Add the scraped-off seasonings and enough fat to cover. Bake at 300 degrees for 2 hours. Let cool.
At this point you can cover and refrigerate the fat-covered legs almost indefinitely. The fat will preserve them.

Now, as long as you have access to various pig parts, you are ready to make a cassoulet.


The beans
1/2 lb. dried navy, great northern, cannelini, or borlotti beans
1 smallish onion, peeled and stuck with 3 whole cloves
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 bay leaves
a small handful of parsley stalks
a few sprigs of thyme
up to 1/4 lb. diced pork rind

Put the beans in a large pot with water to cover by about 2 inches. If your water is a little acidic, as ours seems to be, it helps to add a pinch of baking soda to un-toughen the beans. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and let soak overnight.
Drain the beans, add fresh water to cover by 2 inches, then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum that develops, then reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender but still retain their shape. This can take as little as an hour, or as long as several hours, depending on your water and the age of the beans.
Season with salt and pepper (go easy on the salt, since the beans will suck up some salt from the bacon later) and fish out the cloved onion and the herbs. Drain if there's too much liquid, but theoretically the beans should have soaked up most of it and you can leave it as is.

The meat and sauce
1 preserved goose or duck leg quarter, with a little rendered fat left caked on it
1/2 lb. fresh pork (belly, shoulder, whatever), cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 lb. unsmoked bacon, diced
3 good-sized garlicky, peppery sausage links (I would horrify the French by my use of homemade Italian sausages)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large tomatoes, chopped, with their juice (or a can of diced tomatoes)
1-2 tsp. tomato paste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
at least a cup of good fresh breadcrumbs (white is traditional, but I use wheat and quite like the effect)

About an hour from the end of the bean-cooking time, place the goose or duck leg in a large skillet over medium heat. The fat will melt off of it and provide you with something to fry the meat in. Brown the leg crisply on both sides. Remove the leg from the pan and set aside. Now use the same fat to fry the fresh pork and the bacon. Remove these, too, and set aside. Fry the sausages and set them aside.
Shred the meat from the goose or duck leg. Cut the sausages into 1- to 2-inch-long pieces.
Pour off and reserve all but a couple tablespoons of the accumulated fat in the pan. Now fry the onion and garlic gently until softened. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer about 20 minutes until you have a pulpy sauce.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
When the beans are cooked, stir the tomato sauce into them. Season if needed, again keeping in mind the saltiness of the meat. Put roughly 2/3 of this mix into a deep ovenproof ceramic dish (I am very devoted to my Emile Henry dish, pictured, which I received as a gift this past Christmas). Add the goose shreds and the pork and bacon pieces and press them lightly into the beans. Now add the remaining bean mixture.
Sprinkle with about 1/3 c. of your breadcrumbs, drizzle with some of the reserved fat, and place in the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Every 30 to 45 minutes, break up the crust that has formed, add more breadcrumbs, and drizzle again with fat.
About 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time, press the sausage chunks into the top and add your final layer of crumbs and fat. The sausages should brown nicely in the remaining time.
I like to serve this with nothing except a fresh, crisp salad; Hugh suggests one made with watercress and oranges, and he's exactly right. The salad cuts the richness nicely. Even so, you should expect to fall asleep shortly after eating.