To bring winter to a proper end . . . try this multi-step classic casserole from Alsace.
Makes eight hearty main-course servings.
1 1/2 lbs. boneless stewing lamb, not lean, cut in 1″ chunks
1 lb. boneless stew beef, not lean, cut in 1″ chunks
1 lb. boneless stewing pork, not lean, cut in 1″ chunks
2 pig’s feet, halved
1 tablespoon salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme, leaves only
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley leaves, plus extra for garnish
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped celery root
1/4 teaspoon quatre epices (a French spice blend; you can make your own with ground clove, ground allspice, dried thyme, powdered ginger)
1 bottle dry Riesling (you may substitute other dry white wine)
a left-over piece of pork fat
3 lbs. large, waxy potatoes, peeled, sliced 1/4″ thick on a mandoline
1 cup chopped shallots
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
2 medium leeks, light-green-to-white parts only, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1. Place the meats in a large, non-reactive bowl. Sprinkle with about 2/3 of the salt, and pepper well. Toss in bowl with bay leaves, thyme, parsley, garlic, celery root and quatre epices. Pour about 1/2 of the wine over all, tossing. Cover, and refrigerate overnight, stirring occasionally. Cap and refrigerate the wine, as well.
2. Select a large ovenproof casserole with a cover (I used one made by the Alsatian company Staub–a greyish-black Majolique 6-quart beauty.) Rub the left-over pork fat all over the inside of the pot and lid. Discard fat.
3. When ready to cook (the next day), place the four pigs-feet halves in the bottom of the pot. Cover with half of the potatoes, neatly overlapping; salt with half the remaining salt. Top with half of the shallots, half of the carrots, and half of the leeks. Lift all off the meat out of the marinating bowl, and distribute meat evenly on top of the potatoes and vegetables.Top the meat with the rest of the vegetables, distributed evenly, and top that with the last half of the potatoes in an overlapping layer. Sprinkle remaining salt over the potatoes.
4. Measure the amount of wine left in the marinating bowl, and double it with water.Then pour the water-wine mixture over the meat and vegetables in the pot. The liquid should come up to just below the top level of potatoes. If there’s not enough liquid, mix the wine remaining in the reserved bottle with an equal amount of water, and pour water-wine mixture into the pot until the desired level is reached.
5. Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees.
6. Cover casserole with lid. Make sure the seal is tight; if it isn’t, reinforce with heavy aluminum steel. Place in oven, and cook for three hours.
7. Remove casserole, remove lid, and check condition of the stew. If the meats are very tender, and the liquid has cooked down to a rich broth, your baeckoffe is done. However, it’s likely that it will not yet be ideal. At this stage, place it on the cooktop, over medium-gentle flame, and let simmer gently, partially covered, over medium-low heat, until the meats have melted and the juice has thickened; this can take anywhere from 1-3 hours. Monitor regularly so that the juice doesn’t boil away…..and don’t stir the pot very much at all, in hope of keeping the potato slices whole.
8. Optional extra touch: when the baeckoffe is ready, pull up a little juice from the bottom with a spoon, glaze the top with it, and run the casserole under a hot broiler. This will give you a nice browned effect on the top potato layer.
FOR SERVING: It is wonderful to bring the big baeckoffe pot to the dining table, or a nearby sideboard. Serve each diner a hearty portion right out of the pot in a wide soup bowl, or on a dinner plate. Spoon liquid over each portion. Sprinkle with minced parsley just before serving. You may offer only crusty bread and good butter on the side, though many modern diners enjoy a crisp, refreshing salad alongside all that meat. Wine’s a no-brainer: a bottle of dry Alsatian Riesling, of course . . . though it doesn’t have to be the same Riesling used in the cooking.