Two dishes of cassoulet for New Years

Tradition is a wonderful thing in the kitchen, and for Jessica Rothacker, it’s also the norm. Southern family food traditions are reflected in the recipes and culture at her Athens, Georgia, restaurant, Heirloom, which features “supper” on its menu rather than dinner and serves familiar comfort food like mac ’n’ cheese and a barbecue pork plate with collards and black-eyed pea salad.

As a chef, Rothacker also recognizes that tradition is frequently a jumping-off point to create something new. Her good luck cassoulet, with stewed field peas and turnip green gremolata, is based on the traditional New Year’s meal of hoppin’ john and collards. “It is something that we have served as a New Year’s Eve dinner,” she says, “with the idea of it being kind of a take on the eating beans and greens on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to bring good luck in the following year.”

The cassoulet starts with a confit chicken leg and thigh seasoned with juniper berries, similar to a traditional duck confit. The dried berries are ground up and mixed with chopped and crumbled herbs for an aromatic rub; Rothacker says you can let it cure for several days or even just overnight before brushing off most of the rub.

Then, in the roasting pan, surround the chicken with plenty of olive oil and top it with duck fat—more olive oil also works as an alternative—and “when you put it in the oven with foil on top, it’ll melt the duck fat and then slowly cook the leg and thigh and make it nice and tender and juicy.” For presentation, she prefers a bone-in thigh with leg, but, she adds, “you can certainly do it boneless and it would still be delicious.”

The trick with the chicken is cooking it “low and slow,” which is not only delicious but practical: The rest of the dish is assembled while the chicken cooks. Rothacker dices the aromatics for the field peas and gets those on the stove to sweat. For sourcing fresh, rather than dried, peas during winter, she suggests checking the frozen foods aisle—“or you can save them from your summer harvest.” This element of the dish can also be made vegetarian by subbing in vegetable broth for chicken broth.

While the peas are cooking, she makes the gremolata. “You wouldn’t usually use turnip greens for this, but in this case we are using them to give everybody that good luck and money.” She likes to chop the greens slightly larger than the minced parsley, then mixes all ingredients, adding “a splash of red wine vinegar to make it pop.”

When the chicken is done cooking, Rothacker roasts the vegetables and sears the chicken on the stove to create a crispy brown finish. After tasting the peas and adjusting the seasoning, she assembles the cassoulet in a deep plate or pasta bowl, “or you could use a cast-iron skillet if you wanted to be a little home-style with it,” she suggests. Layer cooked field peas first, then lay the roasted vegetables around and on top; lean the leg and thigh up against those and garnish with a generous dollop of gremolata.

Good Luck Cassoulet heading-plus-icon

For the chicken:
  • 5 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 8 garlic cloves roughly chopped
  • 8 dried juniper berries lightly ground
  • 8 thyme sprigs roughly chopped
  • 2 bay leaves crumbled
  • 8 thigh and leg pieces preferably bone-in
  • 4 cups duck fat
  • Olive oil
For the field peas:
  • 2 carrots finely diced
  • 1 onion finely diced
  • 3 stalks celery finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or other neutral cooking oil
  • 1 pound lima beans or other field peas (if dried soaked overnight)
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
For the gremolata:
  • Zest of 4 lemons
  • 4 garlic cloves finely minced
  • 1 shallot finely minced
  • 2 bunches parsley minced
  • 2 cups packed turnip greens minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • Pinch of salt
For the roasted vegetables:
  • 2 pounds hakurei turnips (or salad turnips) (quartered) with greens reserved
  • 2 pounds baby carrots peeled and cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Warm crusty bread for serving
All the ingredients to make cassoulet

Step 1:

Cure the chicken in advance

Combine salt, pepper, garlic, juniper berries, thyme, and bay leaves. Toss with chicken in a large bowl, rubbing salt mixture into meat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place on bottom shelf of refrigerator. Cure 1 to 3 days, turning chicken over in mixture and rubbing it in once a day

Cooking off chicken to put into the cassoulet

Step 2:

Cook the chicken

When ready to cook chicken, preheat oven to 275 degrees. Brush seasoning mixture off chicken and place in a roasting pan. Dollop duck fat on top and pour olive oil about halfway up sides of pan. Cover with foil and cook for about 90 minutes. (Internal temperature of chicken should be 175 degrees when fully cooked.) Store chicken in fat until ready to use. (Chicken can be prepared up to 3 days in advance.)

Preparing the beans for cassoulet

Step 3:

Make the field peas

While chicken is cooking, sweat carrots, onion, celery, and garlic in canola oil. Add lima beans and chicken broth. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer until limas are cooked through, about 45 minutes. Stir in fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper.

All the ingredients to make gremolata

Step 4:

Make the gremolata

While lima beans are cooking, stir all ingredients together in a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to use

Roasting vegetables on a sheet pan

Step 5:

Make the roasted vegetables

When chicken is finished cooking, remove from oven and increase temperature to 375 degrees. Toss turnips and carrots in a bowl with olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper. Spread on a sheet pan and bake until tender, about 30 minutes.

The chicken cassoulet in shallow bowls

Step 6:

To assemble

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from fat and sear on both sides until golden brown and slightly crispy. Meanwhile, ladle lima bean mixture into shallow bowls. Place roasted vegetables in a tidy pile in center of field peas and lean chicken leg and thigh against vegetables. Sprinkle with gremolata and serve with warm crusty bread

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