Cassoulet has been a very popular dish this month in the restaurant. It's one of my all time favourite French classics and I used to love to cook it for my Mama. Her penchant for garlic sausage, belly pork and confit duck was considerable and so to have all of these in one dish was heaven in a bowl to her. She was right but at 3 days in the making, this dish is definitely a labour of love, however very worth it.
We've have had so many positive comments about it in the dining room and we were especially rewarded last night for all the salting, curing, confit and braising when one guest remarked on its 'Authentic flavour' and another said it was 'The best cassoulet i've tasted outside Carcassonne" - Huge praise indeed and very gratefully received.
Here's a little bit about this legendary French classic, together with our recipe.
What is Cassoulet?
Cassoulet is a bean stew cooked in an earthenware casserole, hence the name. It is one of the classic dishes of the Languedoc, and of France. This famous bean stew--and “bean stew” hardly conveys the complexity of its flavours--is subject to much debate about what constitutes a “true” cassoulet. Cassoulet is a paradigm for a culinary understanding of the Languedoc, for there is a different recipe in every kitchen.
The history of cassoulet is a history of Languedoc. One legend places the birth of cassoulet during the siege of Castelnaudary by the Black Prince, Edward the Prince of Wales, in 1355. The besieged townspeople gathered their remaining food to create a big stew cooked in a cauldron.
Photo kindly reproduced from Vin en Vacances
The life of this famous bean stew begins in Castelnaudary. The cassoulet of Castelnaudary, a pleasant village in the Aude along the Canal du Midi, is certainly the oldest of the three cassoulets, the other two being from Carcassonne and Toulouse. Some authors speak of a fourth and fifth cassoulet, but in reality you can speak of three or a thousand. The Castelnaudary version is the most rustic, using only water from Castelnaudary and the produce of the Lauragais.
In older times the cassoulet was simmered in a cauldron over an open hearth fire of gorse wood collected in the Montagne Noire of the region. During hunting season the Carcassonnais will throw several red partridges and some lamb shoulder or leg into their cassoulet. In Toulouse it is enriched with confit of goose, pork skin, and saucisses de Toulouse, a simple pork sausage with a distinctive garlic flavour.
Lastly, you should know about the so-called secret of the seven skins: a film develops over the cassoulet while it cooks. This skin or film must be broken seven times to make a perfect cassoulet, culinary folklore instructs.
Here's our recipe... Bon appetite !
6 duck legs
2 boxes of salt flakes
A large pinch of mixed peppercorns
A few juniper berries
A few sprigs of dried thyme
The zest of one unwaxed lemon
2kg of duck fat
Wash and pat dry the duck legs, in a large container lay the duck legs down, then layer with salt, peppercorns, juniper, lemon and thyme. The duck should be completely covered. Cover in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 12 hours or more. After that time, remove the duck and wash off the salt. Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/ 165oc. Pack the cured duck legs into a large heavy based casserole and cover with duck fat. Cook on a very low heat for 6-10 hours. If you want to use your slow cooker then 6 hours on low is just as effective. Once the duck is cooked. It can be packed into a jar with the fat and kept for up to a couple of months.
One ladle of Duck fat
2 Onions roughly chopped
3 Carrots roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
500g pork belly, with rind, chopped into cubes
200g smoked lardons
6 cooked garlic sausages, thickly sliced
3 cans of haricot beans
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bouquet garni
2 glasses of dry white wine
1 pint of water
1 pint of duck or chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra chopped parsley for garnish
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3 /165oc
Heat the duck fat in a very large casserole and sauté the onions, carrots and celery, remove and put to onside. Next add the pork, lardons and sausage and sauté until slightly caramelised. Add the vegetables, back in and then add the beans, herbs, stock, wine and water. The liquid should just cover the ingredients. Bring to a simmer then place in the oven for 6 hours. Once finished, check for seasoning. Allow to rest. Next place the 6 confit duck legs under a hot grill for 10-15 mins until they are crispy. To plate up, ladle the cassoulet into bowls and add the duck leg and liberally strew with parsley. Make sure there's plenty of bread to mop up the juices.
Confit more duck legs than you need, then you won't have to go through the process every time you make it.