I made an ‘almost’ proper cassoulet last week.
I say almost because I made it in one day rather than the traditional two or three…
But, let’s be honest…. I have a lot of will-power but not enough to have the scent of a bubbling cassoulet wafting through the house for 8 hours and then not dive in with two forks at the ready.
Besides, it wasn’t cold enough outside to cool it sufficiently and it didn’t fit in my fridge.
Since there are as many cassoulet recipes as there are cooks I will give you mine, which is a combination of every recipe I could find plus my own particular twists.
First let me tell you what cassoulet is…. and isn’t.
Cassoulet is a dish of white beans and meat originating in the Languedoc, in southwest France. There are three regional variations: that of Castelnaudary (claiming to be the original or authentic), Toulouse and Carcassonne.
In the interest of accuracy I decided to go to the ultimate source: my Larousse Gastronomique.
“The three types should have the following differences: that of Castelnaudary is prepared with fresh pork, ham, knuckle of pork, and fresh bacon skins; that of Carcassonne with the addition to the above of a shortened leg of mutton, and partridges in season; that of Toulouse, has added breast of pork, Toulouse sausage, mutton and confit d’oie (preserved goose) or confit de canard (preserved duck).”
Tradition and regional differences aside, when one orders cassoulet in a restaurant one can expect Toulouse sausages, duck confit, bacon, pork, and, maybe, some lamb. The less expensive the setting and price tag, the more sausage and less duck and pork. Forget the lamb.
As to the rest of the ingredients: garlic and onion are standard, leeks and tomatoes are sometimes; breadcrumbs are used or not; sometimes blood sausage but not often; carrots – yes or maybe no.
And the quantities vary wildly from ‘rub the pot with a clove of garlic’ to ‘peel one complete head of garlic’.
The dish, when finished, should have a lovely crust (with or without the breadcrumbs) and be moist but not have a lot of liquid.
Cassoulet is not:
- Made with fish
- Vegetarian (then it would be Baked Beans)
- Soup or soup-like
- Fast food
But it is worth every tiny ounce of effort required.
This will serve four hearty eaters. We ate roughly half the first night, then divided the leftovers and had half in a risotto and half in a pasta.
In addition to checking lots of sources, this is my recipe because this is what I had in my pantry….
The Beans: Do not use canned beans. Please.
2 cups dried white beans (13oz, 375gr), lingots, cannellini, Great Northern
1 whole onion studded with 2 whole cloves
3oz (90gr) bacon
2oz (60gr) dry-cured ham, such as Bayonne, Prosciutto
2 medium leeks, thinly slice, white and green
5 bay leaves
1 bouquet garni
1 tbs duck fat
1 1/2 – 2 quarts (litres) of water
Soak beans for four hours or overnight. Drain.
Fry bacon and ham in duck fat until crisp. Add leeks and fry until tender. Add remaining ingredients and enough water to cover the beans by 2 – 3 inches. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until beans are tender, 1 1/2 – 2 hours. When done remove onion, bay leaves, bouquet garni and discard.
4 duck legs – confit de canard
4 fat Toulouse (or other pork) sausages
1 cup peeled, chopped tomatoes
10 cloves garlic, crushed
Put a layer of beans, bacon and leeks in the bottom of a heavy pot. Top with the sausages. I cut them in half.
Bake, uncovered, at 350F (175C) until you see the top bubbling. Reduce the heat to 250F (125C) and continue baking for 3 hours. When the top gets dry and crusty, take the back of a spoon and push it gently into the liquid. If it starts to dry out, add more liquid.
I soaked the beans overnight, and made the cassoulet the next day. We had it that evening for dinner. It often is assembled, baked until bubbling then cooled and kept overnight. The long, slow baking will be the next day.
Once the scent fills your kitchen you’ll understand why I didn’t want to wait.
If I were to make it for more people, I would add other pork, some lamb, and take the duck off the bone to divide it into smaller pieces.
If you happen to have leftovers: Recipes for Leftover Cassoulet