January 18, 2022 —

Cassoulet de Toulouse à la Pappa

  • A good five hours - at least.
  • 6 PEOPLE
  • medium

This cassoulet includes Toulouse sausages. Elizabeth David has a recipe for cassoulet with Toulouse sausages and calls it cassoulet de Touluse à la ménagère.  I think the translation is roughly housewife’s Toulouse cassoulet. So my version is translated as Dad’s Toulouse cassoulet!

A perfect winter warmer - Cassoulet!

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What you need

500g Tarbais haricot beans, or other similar large white haricot (from online French retailer or market) or cannellini beans.

500g pork belly with rind

500g pork spareribs

200g smoked bacon lardons or 500g thick smoked bacon slices cut into large pieces

500g Toulouse sausages (ideally from French retailer or market)

6 x confit of duck leg (homemade or purchased from French retailer or market) or fresh duck legs

2 large white onions

2 medium carrots chopped

2 sticks of celery chopped

4 cloves of garlic chopped

2 cloves of garlic unpeeled

large bunch of parsley with stalks

4 large beef tomatoes skinned and deseeded

350ml dry white wine

800ml chicken stock

Bay leaves

Fresh sprigs of thyme

4 cloves

Goose or duck fat or olive oil

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Dad's Recipe Tales

Cassoulet

A cassoulet is a rustic casserole of beans and meats from the south of France. Richard Olney, says in the preface to his book, Simple French Food, that the cassoulet is a classic example of a ‘simple food’. Indeed, the cassoulet is often described as peasant food. However, Olney also says that like so many simple historic culinary preparations, it also has complex aspects, mainly alchemical, where poor or vulgar elements can be transformed into something transcendental. So simple, not really, peasant, maybe, wonderful, yes.

I was first attracted to cassoulet from American childhood memories of tins of ‘pork and beans’. The addition of pork to the beans seemed to elevate the beans above the ordinary tins of beans (even though it could be hard to actually find any pork!) ‘Franks and beans’ is another American variation that includes frankfurters – or wieners – with the beans. Elsewhere, the Spanish fabada is a stew of meat and beans, the Portuguese feijoada is a stew of pork beef and beans, and there are many Arab variations on dried fava bean and lamb stews. Clearly, the idea of beans and meat is not new or distinctly French.

My current fondness for cassoulet is based on the delicious and transformative addition of duck confit to the beans. Although it is very common for cassoulets to feature confit of duck, not all cassoulets do. As Jenny Baker mentions in her book Simple French Cuisine, there is as much mystique surrounding the cassoulet as there is for the bouillabaisse – and with as many variations as there are cooks.

Elizabeth David, in her book, French Provencal Cooking, gives a recipe of the Languedoc, which includes garlic sausage, confit goose, shoulder of mutton and salt pork. Her recipe for cassoulet de Toulouse, is better known and includes Toulouse sausages, garlic boiling sausage, pork spareribs, shoulder of lamb and salt pork – but no confit of duck or goose. Whereas Julia Child, in her book, French Cooking (Volume One), says that Touloussains insist that a cassoulet includes goose confit (she presumes this is because of all the geese in the area providing the local delicacy, foie gras). She goes on to dismiss such talk of history and geographic provenance as historic background… since a good cassoulet can be made anywhere out of beans and whatever traditional meats are available: goose, game, pork, sausages, lamb, mutton. Though her recipe only includes confit goose as a variation (she also mentions duck as a variation, but fresh duck, not confit).

So where and when did cassoulet become synonymous with confit of duck? Perhaps it was the commercialisation of cassoulet, where it might have been easier to tuck the duck legs into the large tins of cassoulet. Or perhaps the drop in demand for foie gras, means there are not as many geese about? Either way, it is the preserved nature of either duck or goose that enriches the cassoulet. And for a devoted foodie, there can be no better challenge than making confit of duck legs in anticipation of making a cassoulet a couple weeks later…

How Dad Cooked It

Notes on ingredients

As described in the story above, a cassoulet is basically a meat and bean stew. And similar dishes use all types of beans and meat, so if ingredients are difficult to source, we do not need to get too hung up on being highly authentic. What I feel is important is that the beans are allowed to cook with some braising type of meat and bones, which can help identify the best type of ingredients. The method of cooking is staged so that braising type meat is introduced at the beginning and tender meats are added toward the end.

Many recipes include lamb or mutton, but although I was tempted, adding lamb to the list of meat felt like too much meat. In any event, I believe cassoulet are as much about the beans than the meat. But even here, the French haricots used in cassoulets are rather specialist – Elizabeth David says to use haricot of the type ‘Soissons’ – they are much larger, even larger than a cannellini. They are also very expensive – but if you can source a similar bean (such as haricot Tarbais), I feel they are worth extra cost. Le Marché du Quatier in London’s Borough Market sells large haricot beans loosely wrapped (as well as excellent duck confit). I got my haricot Tarbais (and Toulouse sausages) from French Click online store. Some recipes include garlic sausage, but I find this unrelentingly garlicky. However, it is the nature of cassoulet to have some garlic in the flavour.

Many traditional cassoulets include large pork rinds and though I get the idea of gelatinous fat melding ingredients together, I cut back by using a smaller rind still attached to a belly of pork. I think bones are a good idea for a cassoulet – they could come from a knuckle of pork, but I used pork spare ribs. Salt pork is often called for and I presume this is a cured gammon joint – perhaps another knuckle. I have used bacon lardons instead which impart a little salt into the mix. If you can find large thick slices of smoked bacon so much the better. There is often something smoked so I combined the salt and smoke in smoked bacon.

Finally, the duck confit. These are great to make at home, but they are a bit of a fuss. You can buy them at some French retailers (Le Marché du Quatier mentioned above) or from specialist butchers. Otherwise, If Julia Child suggest fresh duck, you could try fresh, but the curing of a confit does impart a distinctive flavour, so I would try to seek these out – even at the cost of compromising elsewhere…

On cooking and eating

This dish requires a lot of cooking time. Most of the recipes in my books say serve at midday, but that will require a very early start. It does feel like a Sunday lunch type of meal, but I think it is fine to eat at night (providing you keep to normal portions). Otherwise, cook it the day before and keep it in the fridge. Re-heat for a good 2 hours at 160C, Gas 3.

Serve with a green salad – perhaps including pre-cooked broccoli – dress lightly with oil and vinegar.

Method

  1. Soaking the beans. Check the beans for quality and remove any duds or anything that is not a bean. Put in a large bowl with a large amount of water. Leave to soak overnight.
  2. Pre-boil the beans. Drain the soaked beans. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the beans. Bring back to a rapid boil and boil for 2 minutes stirring constantly to disperse the beans. Leave to one side for half an hour.
  3. Purify the pork. In another saucepan fill with enough water to cover the pork. Bring to the boil and drop in the belly of pork and spare ribs, including the thick bacon slices if using. Bring back to the boil for a minute. Remove the belly and ribs (and sliced bacon if using). If using lardons, put these into the boiling water for a minute. Then strain.
  4. Simmer the pork. Refill the pan with just enough water to cover the pork and bring to a boil. Add the belly (skind side down) and ribs and simmer gently for 5 minutes, removing any scum that forms. Remove the ribs and continue cooking the belly gently for another 10 minutes (this to help soften the rind). Remove the pork, retaining the cooking liquid.
  5. First stage cooking of beans on the hob. Drain the beans. NB: this liquid is an interesting substance. Elizabeth David says this process releases oxide of potassium contained in the beans (responsible for flatulence – which the process tries to reduce). She says to pour it into an outside drain, not in a drain in the house as the smell will linger for days, she also says that some keep it bottled and use it as a cleaning agent. These days it is known as ‘aquafaba’ and a bit of a miracle liquid which can be used instead of eggs for vegans or otherwise used as a thickener, stabilizer, binder or emulsifier. I can only think that the modern beans are cultivated differently as the liquid has no bad smell. Many suggest keeping the liquid to continue the cooking; however, I have decided that it will do no harm to start afresh. Into a large saucepan, add the bacon (lardons or cut slices), one peeled onion stuck with four cloves, two unpeeled cloves of garlic and a tied bunch of parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. Add the pork cooking liquid, and enough fresh water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to created gentle but steady simmer. Simmer for 1 – 1/2 hours, topping up with hot water if necessary. Remove the onion, garlic and herbs. Strain retaining the cooking liquid.
  6. Preparing meats, vegetables and herbs for cassoulet. After the beans have been cooking as above for about an hour, pre-heat the oven to 150C, Gas 2, and prepare the vegetables, chopped onion and garlic. Put these in a pan with a little duck or goose fat (perhaps from the confit) – or olive oil – and gently fry until the onion is softened but not browned. Strain the contents of the pan and reserve the fat/oil. Return the fat/oil to the pan and brown the meat side of the belly of pork and the ribs. In another large saucepan add the wine and bring to the boil for two minutes, then add the tomato and break up with a wooden spoon. Add the stock and return to a boil. Add the pork belly and ribs, fried vegetables and another tied bunch of bay leaves and thyme and simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. Second stage cooking of beans with meats and vegetables in the oven. You will now have one pan of cooked beans and one pan of hot stock, tomatoes, vegetables and meat. We need to combine these and put them in the oven. Use whatever you have – a large casserole or a couple smaller casseroles. I used our giant Le Creuset to start and then transferred to 3 smaller casseroles (NB: the picture for this post is just one of the casseroles). When you have found your cooking vessels, combine the beans with the hot stock, tomatoes, vegetables and meat. Top up with the bean cooking liquid. Cook for 1 – 1/2 hours.
  8. Adjusting the meats and adding the sausages and confit. After the cassoulet has been gently cooking in the oven for about an hour, fry the sausages and the duck legs in a little goose or duck fat or olive oil until lightly browned. Cut the sausages into two or three pieces each. After the cassoulet has been in the oven for 1 – 1/2 hours, remove from the oven and remove the pork belly and ribs and place on a chopping board. Using tongs and a knife, cut the belly into pieces and scrape the meat off the bones. Return the pork to the cassoulet and bury the hot sausages and legs into the cassoulet. Return to the oven and when up to heat, continue to cook for 1/2 an hour. At least two hours in total so far in the oven.
  9. Finishing the cassoulet and adding a crust. Put the breadcrumbs in a large bowl and drizzle over a little goose or duck fat or olive oil and mix. Season with salt and pepper. Take the cassoulet from the oven and taste and season with salt and pepper to taste. Careful with the salt if using very salty bacon. Add the breadcrumbs to the top of the cassoulet and return to the oven. Increase the heat to 180C, Gas 4 and continue to cook for one hour. Some recipes say to continually break the surface and add more crumbs during this process – but I think it is fine to leave in place. Check and turn the cassoulet so it does not burn. Cover with tinfoil if necessary. Enjoy.
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