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Cassoulet Our Way

A Soul-Warming French Classic Made with Birmingham's Best

Cassoulet is a thing of beauty. It’s a traditional French peasant dish that, at its heart, is a bean stew flavored with pork, duck and garlic. The traditional recipe calls for specialty Tarbais beans, duck confit and a garlicky sausage called Saucisse de Toulouse. But this Cassoulet has none of those things, and I’m not sorry about it. Because the spirit of Cassoulet is a peasant dish, it's something simple with easily sourced ingredients likely already on hand. Most ingredients in this recipe can be sourced from the Market at Pepper Place or Birdsong Farmers Market. This dish is a celebration of all things Birmingham: our farmers, our produce and our ability to compete on the world stage when it comes to cuisine. It’s also the food equivalent of a big hug. 

The only problems you might have in sourcing are the feet and the fresh peas. For the feet, you have a few options: special order from a farmer at Pepper Place, Birdsong Market, Shipbrook Farm or an Asian grocer like Hometown Supermarket in Homewood.

If you don't have frozen or fresh field peas, use about ½ pound of dried white beans. Do not try to use green peas, split peas or lentils--they won’t work and they’ll cause you a headache. I used fresh, pink-eyed peas for this rendition.

For the stock, you have two options: make it from scratch or fake it. To make from scratch,
combine the chicken feet, the pig feet, the garlic, peppercorns and water in a large slow cooker and cook on low heat for about 18 hours. Strain out the bits and let cool. Once your stock has been refrigerated, it will firm up and set like Jello. This is exactly what we want. It means the cassoulet will be rich and will brown properly. To fake it, dissolve the unflavored gelatin in the store-bought stock, and call it a day.

Add the duck fat or bacon fat (or even oil) to a cold, wide pan (I used my 3 ½ quart Le Creuset
braiser) along with the cut pork jowl and then turn the heat to medium. Fry the pork until the
fat is rendered and crispy, about 8 minutes. Take the pork pieces out with a slotted spoon and drain all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. Save the extra fat for another use, as it’s quite delicious.

Put the chicken legs skin side down into the pan and fry until the skin is golden-brown and crisp, about another 5 minutes. Take the chicken legs out and set aside. They won’t be cooked at this stage and that’s okay. Add the celery, onions, carrots, garlic cloves, shishito peppers and sweet peppers to the pan and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Once cooked, add in all the other ingredients, and return the cooked pork. Stir everything together evenly. Add the chicken legs, skin side up, and make sure the skin isn’t submerged in the liquid.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes then remove and gently shake the pan so that the contents
wiggle a bit. You will probably see a skin beginning to form. The gentle shaking will keep the
skin moist and help it brown and crisp better. Bake for another 30 minutes, then gently shake again. Repeat this process until 2 ½ hours have passed. The liquid will reduce, and you may need to add a bit of water or extra stock to keep the beans from drying out.

When 2 ½ hours have passed, let stand for 15 minutes. Serve with crusty bread and a light salad.

For the stock:
1.5 pounds chicken feet
2.5 pounds split pig feet
1 head of garlic, cut across the cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 quarts water 

For the braise:
2 teaspoons duck fat or bacon fat
½ pound pork jowl or bacon (from Marble Creek Farmstead), cut into 1 centimeter pieces
2 whole chicken legs (from Marble Creek Farmstead)
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped onion
¾ cup shredded carrots
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and lightly crushed
½ cup chopped shishito peppers (from Ireland Farms)
½ cup chopped sweet orange peppers (From Mountain Sun Farms)
½ pound Conecuh sausage, cut into ½ inch chunks
½ pound smoked ham hocks (From Twin Springs Farm), cut into ½ inch pieces
1 pound fresh field peas, any variety (From Postell Farm)
1 teaspoon each chopped fresh sage (From Owl’s Hollow), dried thyme, dried rosemary
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups stock

Erin Howett is a Personal Chef based out of Birmingham, where she also develops CSA recipes for Mountain Sun Farm. Follow along with her cooking exploits on Instagram, at @eringracehowett. If you’re interested in the CSA from Mountain Sun Farm, follow the link in their Instagram bio, at @mountainsun_farm.

  • Cassoulet à la Birmingham