Black eyed peas are thought to bring luck to those who eat them on New Year’s Day. This preparation is so rich and flavorful, even those who don’t need luck can enjoy this dish. Although I put cassoulet in the title, this recipe is largely influenced by African American and Southern cuisine. Black eyed peas were originally brough over from Africa and cultivated in the United States by enslaved people. (I highly recommend reading Michael Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene if you want to learn more about African American culinary history. It’s fascinating.) It’s loaded with meat: ham hock, sausages, pork belly, as well as bell pepper and collard greens. There is also confit in it, which is a usual component of French cassoulet. I use chicken here, but you could also use duck if you are feeling fancy.
This recipe is a time-consuming endeavor, as all cassoulet is, so it’s perfect for a holiday like New Year’s when you are off and can take on a cooking project. I start the process a few days ahead of time. The great thing is it could easily feed 10 people. Aside from time you will also need a very large Dutch oven. I used a 7 quart and it was just barely big enough. If you have a smaller pot you could scale back the meat a bit.
Cassoulet is intended to be a utilization dish. You can use alternative pork cuts here such as country style ribs or bacon instead of the pork belly. I do recommend getting your hands on the best ham hock you can find, ideally from a butcher. It adds a tremendous amount of flavor and richness to the cassoulet from the fat, collagen, and smokiness. We are fortunate that we get a half pig pork share from Out of Ashes farm every year, so our freezer is always well-stocked, and I used ingredients I had to make this. If you’re making a bone in ham for Christmas, you can use the ham bone and leftover home. They both freeze well.
Black Eyed Pea Cassoulet (Serves 10-12)
For the chicken confit:
- 1 lb chicken bone in chicken thighs
- 1 lb chicken drumsticks
- 2.5 cups rendered fat or oil of choice (I used a combination of duck fat, chicken fat and olive oil to have enough. Lard or butter would also work.)
- 1 tsp Allspice
- 1 T dried thyme or 2 T fresh
- 1 tsp juniper berries
- kosher salt
For the cassoulet:
- 1 lb black eyed peas
- 2 T of fat from the confit chicken
- 1 meaty ham hock
- 1 lb pork belly, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 lb large sausage links (I actually used bratwurst because it was what I have, but andouille would be a great choice too.)
- 1 bell pepper, medium diced
- 3 stalks of celery, medium diced
- 2 cups of yellow onion, medium diced
- 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced,
- 1 bunch of collard greens, thinly sliced
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 T tomato paste
- green onions and parsley for garnish
- Prepare the confit. Two to three days before you are making the cassoulet, grind the allspice and juniper berries either in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Add it to the chicken legs and thighs. Add the thyme. Then season liberally with kosher salt and ground black pepper. Cover and place in the refrigerator. Ideally, allow to sit for 1-2 nights before proceeding to step two.
- Preheat oven to 325F. If you are using a solid fat like duck fat, place it in the oven while the oven preheats. Nestle the chicken legs and thighs in the smallest oven safe dish they will all fit in. Pour the fat over them. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 2 to 2.5 hours, until fork tender. Keep in mind they will be cooked further in the cassoulet too. Allow to cool at room temp before covering and storing in the fridge. Keep the legs and thighs stored in the fat.
- The night before you are making the cassoulet, soak the black eyed peas. Rinse them and put them in a large pot. Cover by about 2 inches of water and soak overnight.
- Prepare the cassoulet. Preheat the oven to 350F. Warm a large Dutch oven (7qts or larger is ideal) over medium heat. Add the 2T fat from the confit and melt. When the oil is hot, brown the sausages on both sides then set aside. Then brown the pork belly. Add the bell peppers, celery, onion, and garlic and sweat, along with one tablespoon of dried thyme, and the cayenne.
- Add the collard greens and cook down by half.
- Add the soaked beans in their soaking liquid, and the bay leaves. Then nestle in all of the meat, including the confit. Bring to a boil. Then cover with the lid and place in the preheated oven.
- Cook for about 45 minutes. Then add the tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Carefully stir. You can leave the lid off now. Return to the oven for another 45 minutes until beans are tender.
- To serve, carefully pull the sausages, chicken, and ham hock aside. Taste the beans and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Cut the meat of the ham hock into slices and put on a platter. Cut the tougher looking parts into tiny pieces and mix them into the beans. (Those are some of my favorite!) Cut the sausage links in half if desired. Then serve bowls of beans topped with the various cuts of meat. Garnish with parsley and green onion. Serve with hot sauce if desired.