Cassoulet

Serves 4 to 6, cooking time around 5 hours

This is a traditional French bean stew really, but to call it that is a slur on the meal and would probably insult every French person who makes it. When I say "traditional", it is just so, and as such, each area has its own version, and every person in that area will make it with slight variations; but, wherever you are in France and whoever makes your Cassoulet, it will be fantastic.

For some areas of France, it is a casserole of white Haricot Beans with just a little Sausage and Chicken included. For other areas, with the Beans is included very spicy sausage, Confit De Canard (see recipe here), salt Pork and then topped with Bread Crumbs or Cracked Bulgur Wheat.

This is my version which is an amalgam of my experiences when traveling through France. When we lived in the Correze region, our Local Mayor said my Cassoulet was the best he had ever had; praise indeed and I am pretty proud of it, however, we don't now have a log burning stove to cook on as we did in those days.

You will note the lack of salt in the recipe, add salt at the end if needed, otherwise the beans will not soften.

Ingredients:

1 lb (500g) dried cannellini beans soaked for 24 hours

2 Pints (1.1 Litres)  chicken stock, any further liquid needed can just be water

1 generous tablespoon duck fat

2 oz (56 g) salt pork, cut into 3/4-inch (1.9 cm) cubes or large Lardons

4 slices of Belly Pork about ½ inch thick and cut to 2 inch long pieces

4 to 6 pieces of Confit De Canard or chicken thighs if you can't get the Duck

4 to 6 links of garlic sausage, Toulouse Sausage or Italian spicy sausages (depending on size)

1 large onion, finely diced (more if you like Onion)

1 carrot, peeled, roughly chopped into ½ inch pieces

2 stalks celery, roughly chopped

1 whole head garlic, peeled and gently crushed on the back of a knife

6 sprigs fresh Thyme or ½ tablespoon dried

½ tablespoon dried Oregano

2 bay leaves

Freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

1 clove if desired

Handful Chopped Parsley if you wish

6 tablespoons of Cracked Bulgur Wheat for the topping ( this is my preferred choice) or Breadcrumbs to cover top if desired.

Method:

You need a large Cast Iron or heavy Casserole dish for this recipe as it needs to cook slowly. In some regions of France they take 24 to 36 hours to cook this, however it can be made in 4 to 5 hours. As I have said, we had a Log Burning stove when in France, the pot sat on top of that stove gently bubbling away for hours, we just topping up with stock as required.

The first part of this recipe is to soak the White Beans for 24 hours in a bowl of cold water, top this up regularly until the Beans stop taking water in (Fig 1).

In the pot or Casserole dish, over a medium heat melt the Duck fat, place the Onion, Carrot and Celery in the pot and cook until soft, then remove and retain in a bowl (Fig 2).

Next, turn up the heat and brown off the Pork, Salt Pork, Sausages and if using Chicken instead of Confit De Canard, then the Chicken needs to be browned too; Confit does not need browning as it is cooked already.

Remove all the meat from the Casserole dish and deglaze the base with a little white wine or water.

Turn down the temperature of the pan once again, drain the beans, add to the Casserole dish; introduce the herbs and Bay Leaves and stir to allow the beans to absorb the previous cooking juices (Fig 3).

Top up the pan with Chicken stock; add all of the ingredients back into the Casserole dish, ensure there is sufficient liquid to cover everything (Fig 4) and place in a moderate oven (150°C, 300°F) with the lid on for at least 3 hours, preferably 4 to 5 hours; topping up if required.

Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4

 

After removing from the oven and allowing it to cool, you can take the Duck (or Chicken) off the top and Tomato Puree can be stirred into the Cassoulet in order to change the color slightly (Fig 5). At this point you can also decide if you wish to serve with the Confit (or Chicken) whole (Fig 6) or if you want to shred it and stir it into the mix, this makes applying the topping of choice easier.

Traditionally the Cassoulet should be left overnight to cool then reheated in a warm oven once again (150°C) for about 1 hour, at which time you can take the lid off, add salt to taste (Fig 7) and then cover with the breadcrumbs or Bulgur Wheat to brown (Fig 8). You can also serve this dish without a topping. You are aiming to achieve a consistency in which the Beans have started to break up and thicken the Sauce.

Remove the Bay leaves and serve just as it is (Fig 9) with crusty bread, or some boiled potatoes. This is a really lovely winter warmer, it's worth the effort and most enjoyable. Chicken is a good substitute for the Duck Thighs, however if you take the time to make the Confit de Canard, I think it just puts the meal up a further notch on the taste scale.

Figure 5 Figure 6 Figure 7 Figure 8 Figure 9