By Jesse Griffiths
Photography by Jenna Noel
“Can I at least make you a cocktail?” Your guests will ask.
“Oh… if you have a minute,” you’ll reply, wiping the nonexistent sweat from your brow.
Admittedly, the casserole is time-intensive, but the bulk of the work is done well before guests arrive. Improvisation is appropriate with a dish like this, which students of food will recognize as a hybrid between Southwestern France’s cassoulet (which contains ingredients that are incessantly argued about and vary regionally) and good ol’ baked beans. It is, in essence, a gratin of pinto beans, which are the preferred bean in these parts, and remarkably suited for slow cooking with meats. Using quality, local, grassfed meats will not only improve the flavor of the casserole, but will add an underlying regional distinction. Turkey legs, peppers, goose legs, sweet potatoes, chorizo, collard greens, brisket, pork shoulder, andouille, bacon, whole quail, your neighbor’s smoked venison sausage—anything that can be cooked to death can, and should, be added to the pot.
Two days before Thanksgiving
Ostensibly, this is the easiest day. Salting the lamb necks, duck legs and short ribs early will season them all the way through before their journey. Soak the beans in water.
One day before Thanksgiving
The Hard Day.
This is the day that you’ll actually cook and sweat in the late part of the Texas summer known elsewhere as November. It’s best to take off from work and drink some wine. Brown the meats well and reflect on the veritable Noah’s Ark that’s going into your oven. Make the tart on this day, too—it’s better cold the next day, anyway. However, don’t bake the tart under the beans as they’ll bubble and drip down onto the tart.
They’re here! I don’t know who they are, but at least one of them is not eating lamb necks, which is fine because there’s nothing else to eat because this year you’re simplifying. Slice the tart. Whip some cream.
There’s something to be said for sleeping in on The Big Day, and for worrying about little else than burning bread crumbs (which, by the way, can be scraped off and replaced with fresh ones). Happy Thanksgiving.
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