Last February, my friend Sarah dreamed up a very funny and exaggerated idea for her birthday party. Naturally, my first reaction was jealousy.
She wanted to have a dinner of 50 people at her friend’s artist loft at the Bowery. She wanted to make all the food herself, and outsource the rentals and making salads for me. I told her, crazy, that making so much food alone wasn’t going to be a fun way to spend her birthday. Trust me, I know from many wrong years of experience. But she insisted it wouldn’t be a big deal. I was only going to make one dish: cassoulet.
Now, that may sound like a reasonable option. But yes, Sarah is a vegetarian. This means that not only would you be cooking for 50 people on your birthday, but you would be cooking one of the meatiest dishes on the planet. She planned to make a vegetarian version as well, and also two gluten-free pans. But still…
The plan progressed. I placed a rental order for 6 long folding tables and 50 chairs, lots of tea lights and serving utensils. Sarah bought butcher paper, 50 jars of ball jam, and many pounds of duck fat and sausage. Now, in many ways, mockery aside, Sarah’s plan could easily have been my creation. He decided to simplify a dish that usually includes bacon, pork shoulder, ham hock, sausages, and a whole duck to include just one of those things. Their cassoulet was solely sausage-based, with duck and pork sausages to get the flavor of many meats.
I was still skeptical the night of, and continued to be skeptical after entering the door. I arrived an hour early with plenty of homemade salad dressing only to find that the cassoulet hadn’t yet been put in the oven to reheat, and there were no salad vegetables to wear. Sarah didn’t seem stressed by this. I noticed a jar of jam dyed with red wine, and I knew why. So I followed suit, grabbed a jug of wine, and then ran to Whole Foods to buy 10 arugula shells.
The party was a good time, so much so, that I secretly hope you dream of an equally fun food logistics nightmare for this year. As dinner wasn’t ready until around 11pm, and jam jars were used before, I don’t remember much about the cassoulet other than it was so delicious. I found myself looking forward to doing it a few weeks ago, so I called Sarah to ask her about the recipe. I couldn’t believe I had only used sausages, but in many ways, Sarah made me a believer that night.
decided to develop my own simplified cassoulet for a slow cooker piece I was writing for Learnvest. In addition to sausages, I also used pork shoulder and whole chicken feet to take the place of the duck. These three proteins are super affordable, so if you’re looking to host 50 of your closest friends for dinner, this would be a smart choice, as long as you don’t have to buy the salad veggies.
Sarah will be joining me at Martha’s Vineyard for a cozy New Year’s Eve this year. I imagine an equally comforting but classy meal adorning our table. But since there will be a second vegetarian involved, it probably won’t include cassoulet. Let’s hope none of you get stuck on an island with a bunch of meatless people and give this dish a try as part of your Christmas table.