Cassoulet is a classic of French cuisine and the latest dish I had to cook. My reason for doing a cooking photoshoot of this dish was fairly simple – I bought a tin of duck confit on my last booze cruise to France, have cannellini beans, pork belly and other key ingredients, so why not try one of the great dishes of French rustic gastronomy?
Which recipe though? It’s yet another dish with a thousand variants, the vast majority claiming to be “authentic,” and lots more that the French would consider sacrilege. This is what Wikipedia has to say on cassoulet recipes:
Numerous regional variations exist, the best-known being the cassoulet from Castelnaudary, the self-proclaimed “Capital of Cassoulet”, Toulouse, and Carcassonne. All are made with white beans (haricots blancs or lingots), which have replaced the medieval broad bean Vicia fava, and duck or goose confit, meat and sausages. In the cassoulet of Toulouse, the meats are pork and mutton, the latter frequently a cold roast shoulder. The Carcassonne version is similar but doubles the portion of mutton and sometimes replaces the duck with partridge. The cassoulet of Castelnaudary uses a duck confit instead of mutton. Cassoulet is traditionally topped by fried bread cubes and cracklings.
Worse still, some of the “traditional” ingredients identified include that well-known French peasant ingredient, tabasco sauce! Bruno Loubet includes white wine in his but he is alone in that. Even the type of sausage to use seems subject to much controversy, though most simply say “garlic sausage.” Take one ingredient as an example: do you include tomatoes? According to the Raymond Blanc version of the recipe:
You never see tomatoes in a traditional cassoulet, but chef Raymond Blanc likes them for their colour and sweetness, so he puts a couple in
Yet of the dozen or so versions I sourced on the web, all included tomato as an ingredient. So if no two recipes are identical, so I will choose my own ingredients and make Cassoulet Millward!
A word on confit duck: thighs are ideal and can be bought in cans or jars, but you can make it at home if you fancy- try this recipe. It’s basically sections of duck on the bone cooked from cold in duck fat, which preserves them beautifully. They can be used in many dishes or on their own, and are wonderfully tender if not diet-friendly!
Oh, and in case you were wondering about the purpose of the breadcrumbs, they absorb the thin layer of duck fat on the top of the cassoulet and toast to a delicious ducky crisp. Yum!
- Haricot or similar dried beans, soaked overnight and boiled til tender (c1 hour)
- 2 rashers Belly pork, cut into chunks
- Confit duck (see above)
- Duck fat
- Lardons of streaky bacon
- 1 smoked garlic sausage or Toulouse sausage, cut into thick chunks
- 1-2 carrots, peeled & coarsely chopped
- 1 mild onion (ditto)
- 1 leek (ditto)
- 1 celery stick (ditto)
- 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
- Lemon juice
- Bouquet garni, including at least parsley, thyme and bay leaves
- Chicken stock (preferably home made)
- 1-2 tomatoes, cut into 8
- 1 clove, crushed
- Salt (ideally Maldon smoked salt) and fresh-ground black pepper
- Fresh breadcrumbs
Add duck fat to a heavy casserole – cast iron is perfect. When hot, add carrot, onion, leek, celery and lardons. Stir to coat well with fat for 2 minutes. Add garlic and tomatoes, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Turn down head and allow to sweat for a few more minutes. Add belly pork and sausage, and continue to cook until the pork is browning lightly. Then add the bouquet garni, clove, lemon juice and beans. Stir through then add chicken stock. Bring to the boil, cover and put on a long, slow cook – at least 2 hours.
Next add the duck and test for seasoning. Cook for a further 2 hours with the lid off. Finally, when the dish has developed a nice crust, top with breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, salt and pepper, then cook for a further half hour.
Serve with mashed potatoes and probably not a lot more!
PS. See a lot more discussion about this rustic classic here.