I served this stew with steamed couscous, using Paula Wolfert's method, and mashed potatoes (which are more traditional, since Slater is a British cookbook author); I enjoyed both, though William preferred the couscous. I also tried it with quinoa, but I don't recommend it since the quinoa was only so-so.
While I was cooking this dish, I was doubtful since certain parts of the recipe seemed to not be going so well (see comments about cutting the sausages when they are raw), but I really loved eating it.
I made a bunch of modifications to this recipe:
- I used Italian Butter Beans (the same type as in this post), instead of the recommended flageolet or haricot beans. Since I only had time to soak my beans for 6 hours, they took forever (2.5 hours!) to cook. So, instead of adding the beans as recommended in the last 25 minutes of cooking, I added the beans to the stew at the same time as the stock and Madeira, so that the beans got an additional 50 minutes of simmering.
- I only used 1 onion, since 3 onions seemed like a lot. While the beans were cooking, I took the time to really slowly cook the onion pieces until it was almost caramelized (45 minutes of cooking).
- I used 4 garlic cloves, because an extra clove broke off from the head when I was removing the suggested 3 cloves.
- I removed the onions from the pan before browning the sausages. I browned the sausages in two batches because my pot wasn't big enough for all the sausages. After browning them, I drained the excess oil from the pot before adding the other ingredients.
- I used granny smith apples for my dessert apples. I soaked the apples in some water with a little bit of lemon juice after peeling, coring, and quartering them, until I was ready to cook them.
- I used a mixture of chicken stock and the bean cooking liquid instead of just chicken stock. The bean cooking liquid was very flavorful, and I think it helped to give additional body to the stew.
- The dish should be served as a stew with a fork and knife. It is awkward to serve this in soup bowls (as I tried to when I first set it out), because the pieces are too big to eat with just a spoon. The best way to serve this is on a plate drizzled around some sort of carbohydrate (I used couscous, but I assume mashed potatoes would be good here) which has been piled on the side (see picture).
- I forgot to add the black pepper.
- The liquid in my stew didn't reduce very much. However, it still had good body from the cooked flour and the bean cooking liquid.
Next time here are some modifications that I would make:
- I would halve the recipe. My stock pot wasn't big enough for this recipe, so I recommend halving the recipe just so it will fit in my oval Le Creuset French oven, or perhaps using my larger cast iron Dutch oven next time. The entire recipe fed two of us for nearly 4 days.
- Slate's books, "Tender" and "Ripe", are beautifully written and photographed; the flavors in his recipes are often well chosen, warm and cosy, and fill you with longing, however sometimes I get frustrated with how "rustic" they are. For example, in this recipe the sausages should not be cut into short lengths when they are raw; I knew this was odd but I followed the recipe anyways just to see what would happen. Of course, the cut ends bloated in an unattractive bloated way; Slate may not care about this since he likes things to be rustic and simple, but I think you should brown them whole, and then cut them or even wait to cut them until halfway through the simmering (at 25 minutes). This is because raw sausages tend to bloat unattractively when they are cut. If they are cut after they are partially cooked, then they will keep a clean crisp edge.