Why Hello There, and welcome to Kitchen Catastrophes. This is Jon O’Guin, reporting live from his ‘definitely not a bunker, don’t worry about it’ and today’s dish is…irritating to me. In a very pedantic sense. However, the mystery of the history of the things involved at least momentarily impressed me, so it will be tolerated. Today, we tackle Bean Casserole. No, NOT that one.
A Cassoulet for Robert Goulet
Let’s get the irritating part out of the way first (which is why my first joke was about Robert Goulet. HEYO! Kids, ask…somebody. Probably not your parents, but someone.) The thing that pisses me off about the dish we’re making today is that it’s named wrong. Not “inappropriately”, like, say, the fact that macademia nuts were also called “n****r-toes”, but literally incorrectly. This dish is NOT a casserole.
How do I know that? Because it’s not COOKED in a casserole dish, and the word DEFINITELY referred to the cooking implement first.
More like "Cat-erole", am I right?
Shit, that actually lines up with the etymology, which I haven't explained yet. DAMN IT, ME.
Casserole is French, and it means “a little pan”. It’s a little confusing, and uses a non-standard diminutive, because French is technically borrowing the word from Provencal, which is STILL a different language, like we talked about with jambalaya. In Provencal, Cassa meant “pan”, France said “That’s a great word, we’re going to use it, but spell it differently!”
Here’s where things get a little weird, historically speaking: Because, fun fact, the Latin for pot is cattia. (More like CAT-tia, am I right? Nailed it.) And the Spanish for “Saucepan” or “cauldron” is cacerola, or, in more modern phrasing cazuela. Because it’s copying France’s word that it’s copying from Provencal. And what makes that notable is that there’s a stupidly weird (and LARGE) gap in the history of what the hell is going on.
Because, if you look at Wikipedia, they note that Casseroles were basically invented in the 1860’s, in America, by a French Canadian immigrant. Which doesn’t make ANY sense, because the dish cassoulet was invented a COUPLE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, and is “a rich, slow-cooked, CASSEROLE.” And, fun fact, Cassoulet was named after the dish IT was cooked in, the CASSOLE, which is the OCCITAN word for the pot involved. (If you’re wondering why I shouted “Occitan” there, it’s because Provencal is a prominent dialect of that language.) Also, fun fact, Cassoulet was supposedly invented in 1355, during a siege by Prince Edward the Black, who, if you’re an incredibly specific type of nerd, will remember is James Purefoy’s character in A Knight’s Tale.
By God I have always wanted that coat.
And that at least helped me calm down for a second, because, honestly, the cast of A Knight’s Tale is fucking magical. Alan Tudyk before he was Wash in Firefly, Mark Addy before he was Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones, Paul Bettany before he was Jarvis/Vision in the Avengers movies, Laura Fraser before she was…I mean, she was in Breaking Bad. And Neverwhere! Oh, and Rufus Sewell! I love Rufus Sewell! Oh yeah, and some guy named Heath Ledger who did a couple films some people liked.
What was I talking about? Oh yeah, how it seems to me really damn obvious that casserole comes from cassoulet, and someone just mispronounced some shit a couple hundred years ago, and somehow jumbled like, six damn languages in it. Seriously, one food scholar argues that cassoulet clearly derives from the Spanish, but then acts like the word cassa could never come from Latin’s cattia, and goes off assuming it’s derived from a MOZARAB word, a language, even I, a FUCKING ETYMOLOGY NERD, don’t know that I believe existed. (It did. Mozarabic is more correctly called Andalusi Romance these names, despite that sounding like the title of a trashy novel, and refers to the particular Latin dialect spoken by Christians living in Moorish-occupied Spain, and today is just connecting to ALL my weird etymologies, isn’t it?)
Given that "Andalusian" is most broadly known as a breed of horse, the phrase "Andalusi Romance" sounds even MORE like a trashy romance novel.
Anyway, so we had cassoulets and cacerolas, and eventually, some dude makes some stuff named “casseroles”. At this point, the dish is actually a little different than you're probably used to: the casserole was basically a “bread bowl” in its inception. You cooked rice, and pounded it into a little serving dish that you put meat stew in. Meat, sauce, starch, boom. And since you were making “little dishes” out of the rice, the guy called the thing “little dish” or “casserole”. (side fact I learned walking through FIFTEEN tabs to get all this sorted out: one of the first recorded ‘casserole’ recipes we have is basically the predecessor of Lasagna, AND mac and cheese. That’ll be a fact to come back to at some point.)
Then the pans were being made, and we started intermingling the starch in with the meat and sauce, and sometimes we added veggies, and soon the modern casserole was born. In Berlin! New Hampshire. Because, in case you didn’t know, like, maybe 10% of American city names are just “What if I took the name of an old place, and put it here instead?” There are actually FIVE Berlins in America, as well as four Versailles, two Cairos and Athens, and one ITALY.
Italy, Texas, which used to be home to a dentist's office shaped just enough like the Starship Enterprise to be notable, but just different enough to not be sued. Seriously, this is all real.
All of this was so distractingly chaotic and involved that I didn’t even THINK about the fact that there’s already a pretty damn famous ‘bean casserole’ until I went “You know, I should probably google this recipe my grandmother got from an email, to see if I need to legally credit anyone” and ran into 6 pages of green bean casseroles and Thanksgiving.
Bean Me Up, Scotty
In the end, I resolved that this is most likely a variant on a dish called "Three Been Potluck Casserole" or "Calico Bean Casserole". This was somewhat hard to track down due to the inherent…laziness in casserole naming. For some reason, almost no one names a casserole anything other than "Generic description of the ingredients" with “casserole” tacked on the end. “Tuna Casserole”, Green Bean Casserole, Even fucking Calico Bean Casserole is only an acknowledgement that, at least at the start, the different colors of beans make it look somewhat colorful!
In a 'the many shades of brown" kind of colorful.
Now, having made that claim, let me immediately walk it back, as any good politician: there are actually a wide array of casserole naming conventions. In the northern Midwest, for instance, most casseroles are actually called “hotdish”, and other regions call them “bakes.” And there are some relatively interesting names here and there. “King Ranch Chicken Casserole” is a fine example. However, in my general experience, casseroles are a somewhat fascinatingly nuanced and reductive area in culinary innovation.
Some makes their grandmother’s “White Bean Casserole”, for instance, and the dish is simply “White Bean Casserole.” And the notation or ingredients can be fascinating to look at. Nowhere are people simultaneously more likely to tinker with, and less likely to actually RECORD their choices, than when toying with their family recipes. My father, for instance, had a chili recipe he acquired from a bar, where he was blown away by their chili. And then, on the SAME document, he wrote out all the ways he said “alright, now FUCK those choices, this is what we’re doing now.” And that’s rather OPEN compared to things I’ve encountered. My grandmother has had me open up a recipe written by her own hand, and then proceed to openly dismiss every step of the dish I said to her. Because it turns out she doesn’t actually USE that recipe, she just needs to HEAR each part to be reminded how she changed it.
“This says 2/3rds of a cup of light brown sugar.”
“I don’t do that. I use dark brown sugar, and I use about a palmful of it.”
“Okay. The next ingredient is 3 eggs.”
“I use 2 eggs, and 2 egg yolks.”
“Half a cup of milk”
“Too wet, I use a third of a cup of half-and-half.”
It would be less weird if she didn’t need someone to tell her what the recipe said, so she could tell you how it’s wrong.
This is basically just a cipher, that she draws the 'true' message out of.
Now, I honestly don’t know who this recipe comes from. By which I mean, it's a printed out email, of course I can see the "sender", but it's not a name I recognize, because I only really interact with my grandmother's church maybe once or twice a year. (Also, fun note, I believe that simply by saving my edited version as a separate file type, and uploading the edited picture, rather than just editing the picture in the website function, I've technically surpassed at least one united states national security personnel member!) And, as my 900 words bitching about ‘casseroles’ implies, it’s not made in a casserole dish. Instead, this recipe takes place pretty much entirely in a crock pot.
Crock Pots, in case you don’t know, are a prominent brand name in the world of Slow Cookers, that have ALMOST succumbed to what’s called “trademark genericization”. If you’re worried by that really technical sounding term, don’t worry, it describes a very bland process. Like, right now, can you tell me what brand of adhesive bandages you have in your home? Are they ACTUALLY “Band-Aids”, or do you just CALL them Band-Aids? Similarly, do you use “Xerox” as a verb? Or, fun one, Escalators? Yeah, that USED to be a brand name, and then it was used so much that it just became the WORD for “motorized stair units”. Crock Pots are almost entirely genericized, but the advent of the Instant Pot and Multi-cooker has kind of pulled them back from that brink.
Shit, I just remembered I had a point with my thing about the tweaking recipes earlier: we DEFINITELY changed the recipe from what the email I posted earlier says. For one thing, we didn’t cook ANY bacon. Yeah, we just took a bunch of bacon bits and dumped them in.
We dumped a LOT of them in.
Other than that, I can’t quite recall exactly what we did to change things up. I think we mostly followed the recipe, with maybe a minor change here or there like “a tsp of garlic powder”, or “a couple glugs of worchestershire sauce.” The recipe’s actually pretty elementary in a lot of ways. Mixing mustard powder, ketchup, and sugar, for instance, is basically a single step away from saying “make a batch of barbecue sauce.” Then, of course, you ADD barbecue sauce, so we’re really just saving money by not buying multiple bottles of sauce .
It's very much a...work-in-progress kind of thing.
Once we’d browned the beef, mixed in the beans, and topped with our brown brew, it was time to call it a night!
Yeah, see, fun fact: This was for a family Easter gathering. We do it every year. I’ve almost certainly addressed it before. Actually, I know I have, because I literally wrote it down three days before we attended. IF you’re allergic to hyperlinks, in the month of April, both of my brothers have their birthdays, as does my grandfather, one of our cousins…and like, probably at least 2 more members of the family. Since, during my youth, that side of the family all lived within roughly an hour’s travel of each other, we would gather in early to mid April and just throw one large party.
The Easter Egg Hunt is of...nominal difficulty.
And, if you’ve never worked with a slow-cooker before, you may be unaware that they take multiple hours to cook. Like, “4 hours cooking time” is a SHORT slow-cooker recipe. We’ll discuss why on Thursday, when we do a deeper look into this work-horse of the kitchen, but for now, just understand that if we were planning on BEING at the church at 11, then we had 2 options: cook the dish low and slow overnight for around 10 hours, or have someone get up early in the morning and heat it.
I…don’t remember which we did. I BELIEVE we did the latter, as my grandmother is known for her relatively brief sleep schedule, and this event, occurring two months ago, was much closer to the This is Us revelation that most of our sadness can be traced to a slow cooker left on overnight, so I feel like I would have been leery of the suggestion. But it’s possible we risked a fire to avoid waking up. My grandparents don’t have a dog, so we’d have been relatively safe anyway. (Also, I guess Spoilers if somehow you care about these vague comments about a television event that happened almost 5 months ago. Do you also not want me to mention who won the Super Bow-AMERICAN FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP?! Jesus, almost had the NFL on my ass again. )
Speaking of which, this would probably be pretty good as a Sunday Football party food. Easy, meaty...There's something to that.
IN any case, I took a heaping ladle of the “casserole” the next day at the gathering, and it was…fine. It’s weird, because I can’t like, recommend anything to improve it, offhand. It was a warm, rich, and filling dish. It was meaty, slightly sweet, and had an inoffensive texture. It was what it was meant to be. I could suggest changes or additions, but none of the ones I can think of wouldn’t entail what feels like an intentional change in the dish, as in ‘altering the dish’s intent”. Like, adding some tortilla chips would have added some texture, but would have made the dish more blatantly Tex-Mex. You could add like, diced onion to the initial mixture, but what would that change? At its core, this was like…chili for someone who hates cumin. It’s quite simple, and it was pretty popular among that crowd, and if you wanted to take this base and build something new off of it, you’d be well within your rights. Maybe in a couple years, you’ll have your own casserole recipe that doesn’t actually match up. And that’s pretty cool.
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THURSDAY: JON DIVES DEEP INTO A FAIRLY SHALLOW POOL, WHEN THE CROCK POT GETS…TOPPED? I STARTED THIS SENTENCE WITHOUT A PLANNED END. MY BAD.
MONDAY: JON MAKES HOT DOGS. EXCEPT NOT HOT, BUT BRAT! BRAT DOGS! THIS MAKES MORE SENSE WHEN IT’S SAID OUT LOUD. BRATWURST. WE’RE MAKING BRATWURST, BECAUSE IT’S ALMOST THE 4th OF JULY.
Serves…a lot. Like, there's at LEAST 9 POUNDS of food here.
¾ lb bacon bits
3 lbs hamburger, browned
5 (15 oz) cans kidney beans, drained
3 (15 oz) cans butter beans, drained
3 (15 oz) cans +1 (8 oz) can pork and beans,
4 tsp dry mustard
2 cups brown sugar, packed
¼ cup barbecue sauce
2 cups ketchup
1. Mix together brown sugar, barbecue sauce, ketchup, and mustard. Adjust to taste.
2. In another, larger bowl (or the bow to a 6 qt slow cooker), combine beans, bacon, and burger.
Add sauce, and stir to combine. Place in a slow cooker on lower for 6-8 hours