Do the colder months of the year make you feel like cooking warm comforting hearty meals? Yes.. then you like me will love this French recipe of Cassoulet which takes its name from the traditional casserole dish that is used for cooking this stew. Cassoulet varies regionally in the South of France with the best-known versions originating from Carcassonne, Toulouse and Castelnaudary.
I really like the recipe of Maria Villegas and Sarah Randall in their book ‘the food of france’. Be forewarned that cooking this recipe is a bit of a labour of love as Cassoulet is a time consuming dish to prepare, mainly because the different ingredients are cooked separately and then layered in a deep casserole. Liquid is then added up to the top of the beans. The separate cooking and layering takes time and for me, being a mum balancing work, family activities, home duties and my writing often doesn’t leave too much spare time for preparing timeconsuming dishes like this, but this is well worth the effort. If you have not cooked this dish because you are also busy, my secret is, I turn a YouTube or Netflix movie on whilst preparing the vegetables and usually do short household chores in between. Do you have a secret to cooking time consuming or intricate food?
This is a good option for winter entertaining as it is easy to keep warm in the oven and can be served straight from the table, and of course it feeds lots of people easily if you increase the ingredient quantities. I ladle my cassoulet onto a bed of mashed potato flavoured with truffle oil. Yum!!
400g (2cups) dried haricot beans
bouquet garni (rosemary, thyme, bay leaves)
1/2 large onion, cut into quarters
2 cloves garlic, crushed
225g salt pork or unsalted bacon, cut into cubes (I used salted pork bones for a stronger pork flavour)
1 tablespoon clarified butter
400g lamb shoulder
350g boiling sausages
1 celery stalk, sliced
4 pieces duck confit or 4 pieces roasted duck (I use roasted chicken legs as an easy to purchase option and I roast them while I prepare the rest of the meal)
6 large tomatoes
180g Toulouse sausages (I use a mixture of beef sausages and pork sausages, easily purchased from local supermarket when not in France)
4 slices baguette, made into crumbs
PUT the beans in a bowl and cover with cold water. Soak overnight, then drain and rinse.
PUT the beans in a large saucepan with the bouquet garni, onion, garlic and salt pork or pork bones. Add 2-3 litres of cold water (or half water and half unsalted chicken stock), bring to the boil and then simmer for 1 hour.
HEAT the clarified butter in a frying pan. Cut the lamb into 8 pieces and brown in the butter. Add the lamb, boiling sausage, celery and duck confit (or roasted chicken legs) to the top of the beans and push into the liquid.
Score a cross on the top of each tomato plunge into boiling water for 20 seconds, then peel the skin away from the cross. Chop the tomatoes finely, discarding the cores, and add to the top of the cassoulet. Push into the liquid and cook for a further hour.
BROWN the Toulouse sausage (or other sausages) in the frying pan and add to the top of cassoulet. Push into the liquid and cook for 30 minutes more. Preheat the oven to 160°C (unless already on because you’ve roasted chicken legs).
DISCARD the bouquet garni. Strain the liquid into a saucepan and boil over moderate heat until reduced by two-thirds. Remove all the meat from the saucepan, slice the sausages and pull the duck or chicken meat from the bones. Layer the meat and beans, alternatively, in a deep casserole. Pour in the liquid, to come no higher than the top of the beans.
SPRINKLE the cassoulet with the breadcrumbs and bake for 40 minutes. Every 10 minutes, break the breadcrumb crust with the back of a spoon to let a little liquid come through. If the beans look a bit dry, add a little stock or water to the edge of the dish. Serve straight from the casserole.
[Addition to this: Taste of France suggests that the way the locals (author of Taste of France lives in Carcassonne) cook this meal is without the bread crumbs. They are not considered an authentic addition to the dish. Read Taste of France’s extra comments below. ]
This recipe takes time (and a bit of love) and as Guillaume Ladoucette from the novel ‘the Matchmaker of Périgord’ says ‘Love is like a good cassoulet, it needs time and determination.’ Read book review here of this humorous story of a barber turned matchmaker in the village Amour-sur-Belle in the Dordgone Périgord.
Have you ever made cassoulet? Or enjoyed it in a cafe or restaurant in France? I love buying and trying different sausages from local french markets when visiting France. Let me know if you give this recipe a go and whether you enjoyed it. When at home in Australia I buy my french sausage from Pork Ewe Deli.
Happy cooking… Annette xx
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