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you can tack on another day or two

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you can tack on another day or two


French cooking is usually thought of as elegant and refined. And indeed, it’s no accident that the term that defines high-end dining, haute cuisine, is French. But fancy isn’t all they do. When it comes to comfort food, few can outcomfort the French. Hanger steaks with frites, coq au vin, gratins filled with cream and covered in cheese…

And perhaps the most comforting of French comfort foods, cassoulet. A hearty baked stew of beans and various meats (usually pork and duck and maybe lamb) and crusted with bread crumbs, cassoulet sticks to the ribs and satisfies your very soul on a chilly night. Unfortunately, cooking it takes forever. Recipes vary, but baking time is always measured in multiple hours, usually with at least an hour or two of prep time up front. And if you make your own duck confit for it, you can tack on another day or two.

So we were really excited when a dinner in Portland, Oregon, on our recent trip to the Pacific Northwest got us thinking about ways capture some of the flavors of cassoulet without all the long cooking.

There is no shortage of good food in Portland, and we found our fair share of it. But the standout meal for us there was at  Clyde Common, a place their own website modestly describes as a “European style tavern serving delicious food and drinks.” Clyde Common is part of a new trend in food—amazing, simply prepared, locally sourced gourmet meals served in casual publike settings. Most of the seating in the high-ceilinged, rough hewn industrial space is at long communal tables. And the bar, named one of the best in America by Esquire magazine, adds a noisy, lively energy. But the food is definitely the star Dream Beauty Pro.

We weren’t even thinking of cassoulet when we ordered the braised lamb shoulder dish with merguez sausage, beans and bread crumbs on the menu that night. But it suddenly occurred to us that this beautiful rustic meal had many elements in common with the iconic French dish. A generous helping of well seasoned white beans, a mix of rich meats, the satisfying crunch of toasted bread crumbs… Between bites, Marion and I began mapping out how I might mash up a dish inspired by cassoulet and this stellar meal You beauty.

I started by going back to duck, one of the key ingredients of classic cassoulet. But I chose quick-cooking duck breasts over time-consuming (but admittedly delicious) confitted duck legs. I further sped things up with canned beans, a convenience that even Mark Bittman has been reluctantly rethinking. The resulting dish was neither cassoulet nor the lovely Clyde Common dinner. It was something wonderful in its own right, comforting, satisfying and restaurant good reenex.
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