There I sat, blog getting all stale, thinking about jumping in on the John “Angel Jack” Hornor Jacbos/Chuck “Wunderbeard” Wendig structure gangbang, but all I really have to say on that I’ve already been quoted as saying. You find what you look for. Read a book looking for a three-act structure, you’ll find one. Read a book looking for a five-act structure, you’ll find one. Read a book looking for Jungian Archetypes, Freudian Symbolism, Feminist Whatever, and that’s what’s gonna jump out and tap dance on your eyeballs. Read a book looking for definite articles that start with Q . . ., well, make it a long book, and in Arabic or something. So, basically, I come down on the whole structure-as-a-writing-tool deal the same way I do on the outline-as-writing-tool deal. If it works for you, great. But it’s not something I think about when I’m writing.
Hardly a blog post, huh? What to do, what to do . . .
Well, cook dinner, that’s what. So I mosey over to the fridge, and I realize we’re getting leftover heavy. Got an almost-out-of-date chunk of smoked sausage, got some chicken, got the usual assortment of root veggies and fungi. Looks like it’s time for some kind of stewy mish-mash.
But cassoulet sounds so much tastier than stewy mish-mash, don’t it? So I run through the usual cassoulet prep, get the whole thing bubbling away on the stove, and that gets that ambrosial down-market French odeur wafting through the household (cassoulet ain’t fancy-pants, black-berets-and-Gauloise cooking, this is as-manly-as-the-French-get, pitchforks-at-the-Bastille stuff) and that smell alone is enough to give you a nose erection. Which is why there are so many Frenchmen running around with those Gerard Depardieu snifters. A childhood of smelling cassoulet leaves ‘em honker hung. So i tweet that the cassoulet is smelling good, and Wendig immediately demands a recipe.
Recipe? Homey don’t play that. Besides, cassoulet isn’t a single dish, it’s a philosophie de leftouvres, an approach, a culinary genre.
So, okey dokey, here we go. Cassoulet, a user’s guide.
First, understand this isn’t REAL cassoulet, OK? I mean you want Julia Child shit with ducks in it and such, well put your damn beret back on and Google it. This is the Irish proletariat running French proletariat cooking through the blender and making do with what’s in the cupboard.
So far as I can tell, cassoulet is French for leftovers cooked with beans – basically it’s Gallic for chilli. So what do you need? Some white beans (I always keep a few cans of Great Northerns in the larder for cassoulet emergencies). Some chicken broth. Some white wine maybe. Mustard (we’ll get to that.) Some ‘taters (and you know what I’m talking about, don’t you Shannon. And no, we don’t PEEL the ‘taters, we just slice ‘em up as is nice and thin so they thicken up the goo.) Got an onion laying around? Some carrots? Mushrooms? Yeah, baby. Garlic? Well hell yes – and no, I don’t mean powder you heathen bastards, I mean real live cloves of garlic that you slice up. And then whatever leftover meat you got—sausage, beef, chicken, small children (or cannibal veal, as I like to call them), it’s all good.
Get your big-ass pot, the one you usually boil pasta in. Dump some olive oil in the bottom (and don’t ask me how much of any of this, OK? How much is your call. I haven’t measured anything since Junior High when me and the guys went out back of the garage with the tape measure and . . . but I digress.) Get the oil fired up to say mediumish and throw that sliced up garlic in (and if the garlic isn’t pretty much covering the bottom of the pot, well, get some more fucking garlic). After a bit, toss the ‘shrooms/onions/carrots on in there. Meanwhile, slice a couple ‘taters up real thin and toss them on in there as well. Stir that mess around a bit ‘til it looks good to you. I like to wait until it starts to stick to the pan a bit – not quite burnt, mind you, but just a nice brown skin forming that you can scrape up and inform the rest of the dish with. Then you open up the cans of beans and dump them in bean juice and all. Got some white wine? Can’t hurt.
I said mustard, right? Your choice. I tend toward a Dijon, but will go with a brown horseradishy blend if I’m going more beefish on the meat end of things. But use what you got. Now, if what you got is that French’s Yellow shit, well, de gustibus non est desputandum and all that, but you’re an idiot. How much? We’ve been over that, right? You gotta eat it, you figure it out. And then throw in your meat. The chicken broth is an add-as-you-go-to-maintain-consistency deal, basically food lube.
How long? The longer the better, couple hours, anyway. Like chilli, the stuff is often better the next day after all the ingredients have had a chance to commune. Long enough, at least, that the ‘taters have disappeared into their gluey essence – you can taste ‘em, you just can’t see them anymore.
There you go, Wendig. Have at it.