One of the things I enjoy doing on a periodic basis is providing food for a group of medical residents, medical students, and other "miscellaneous" medical staff that meets weekly through the school term for dinner and Bible study together. Earlier this fall, I had the privilege of providing a main dish for the group. I needed to come up with something easily carried to the meeting place and sufficient for about 30 people. I also wanted to try something different from prior offerings as well as take advantage of whatever the local stores had on their weekly specials.
As I considered my options, I began to think a cassoulet would be good, but then I had to do a little research to be sure what I would be serving was really cassoulet. Every time I had been served something by this name, I had enjoyed a wonderful meal, but there were tremendous variations in each instance.
Off to the internet to get some clarification. The source of my "truth" was every college professor's most dreaded source, Wikipedia, but it provided me with enough information to know I was on the right path:
Cassoulet (from Occitan caçolet [kasuˈlet], French: [kasuˈlɛ]) is a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans.
The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides.
I felt better after reading this, because I realized that none of the cassoulets I had ever tasted completely fit this definition, so why couldn't I be just as free-form with the dish? I definitely wouldn't be using a cassole, since my large scale recipe was going to have to fit into my nice big electric roaster. Goose, duck, mutton, and pork skin would also be out, but the rest of my planned dish would be pretty close to this description--as long as you ignored the fact that I would be using plain old navy beans instead of haricots.
The final dish, as prepared in the recipe below, was a hit. Full of flavor (even if not a low fat choice), it also was extremely economical. A local store had bone in pork roasts on sale for $1.19; because they trim their meat well, the 9.4 pound roast yielded 7 1/2 pounds of boneless meat for a total of just $11.19. The other meats were also bargains at almost the same per pound price; adding in the vegetables and the various seasonings, I was still able to prepare a main dish for 30 people for less than $20! (The bone that I cut out before cooking was the basis for another meal, a simple vegetable and bean soup, so that stretched the cost even further.)
This was so easy to make in this quantity that I think I will plan to make this again in the same quantity even if serving fewer people. It freezes well and would be great to have in the freezer for a last minute supper or meal to pull out for after church guests.
Cassoulet for a Crowd
2 cups dried navy beans, pre-cooked and drained
6 cups water OR combination of water and liquid drained from beans
3 to 4 cups chopped onions--about 3 large onions
1 pound pork/bacon sausage (the kind in a tube) sliced into 10 patties
9 to 10 pounds bone-in pork roast, cut into 1 to 2 inch cubes
7 cups sliced carrots
1 cup celery
2 T mixed dried herbs--as usual, my mix was two parts each basil, thyme, and rosemary and one part marjoram
1/2 head garlic--at least 5 to 6 cloves--minced
2 t salt
8 oz miniature chipotle sausages, sliced (Little Smokies is one brand to look for)
1 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
Pre-cook the beans according to directions; this may be done well in advance of the main preparation, with the beans refrigerated or frozen.
Place the slices of sausage in a very large skillet and saute until golden brown. Remove, cut each in quarters, and place in a large roaster (or roasting pan if using the oven).
In the sausage drippings, slowly saute the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic until the onions are golden brown and the carrots just barely tender. Add the vegetables to the sausages in the roaster.
Turn the heat under the remaining drippings to medium high and begin browning the pork cubes in batches. Do not crowd. If necessary, add a bit of canola oil to the pan as you proceed. As the meat is browned, move it to the roaster with the vegetables and sausage.
When all the meat is browned and in the roaster, sprinkle the seasonings over all. Rinse the pan used for sauteing with the water and add to the roaster, along with the cooked beans. Cover and begin simmering at 275 to 300 for several hours. About two hours before serving, add the sliced chipotle sausages and taste for seasoning.
Serve over rice.
Large Quantity Rice
Baking rice is one of the easiest ways to prepare this side dish for any number of people, especially if you don't have a rice cooker.
8 cups rice
16 to 17 cups boiling water
2 T salt
Place the rice in a large flat pan. If using the disposable restaurant sized pans, use two together to insulate the edges and cook more evenly.
Place the salt in the water in a large pot and bring to a boil. When boiling, carefully pour over the rice and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Stir. If the rice is not quite done, cover and return to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serves 25 to 30.
Even if you aren't cooking for a crowd, you can cut these amounts in half, using one 9 X 13 pan or similar-sized casserole. This will provide enough rice for a week's worth of menus (OR you can even freeze some of the extra in meal-sized packages). This is good to keep in mind if you don't want to invest in a rice cooker.