Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cassoulet




Those of you who read Lostpastremembered regularly know that I love my neighbors at D’Artagnan  (yes, that means you Lily Hodge and Katie Holler!).  They have been my salvation for a million necessary delights to do wild and esoteric antique game dishes.  One of the many perks of this relationship is leftovers.  After I made pheasant under glass, I had most of the rest of a pheasant ready to throw into something.  Given Ariane Daguin’s (founder of D’Artagnan)  Gascon heritage, it seemed only fair to use my bounty to make one of my favorite dishes for winter -- cassoulet! I got a few confit duck legs from them, some duck fat and wild boar sausage added ham shank and made a spectacular cassoulet…. the second of the season (ok, I love cassoulet and the first went so fast… it was inhaled by the male diners!).  The best part about cassoulet is that you can play with the ingredients and add different sausages or meats and make the dish your own.

May I add, should you want to get all of the makings for a cassoulet in one gorgeous package, D’Artagnan is featuring their Cassoulet Recipe Kit  at a reduced price till Jan 10, 2011 to celebrate National Bean Day (Jan 6)…it’s an insanely great deal!   

Of course,  I couldn’t write about cassoulet without a little bit of history, could I????  Jeff Iverson  at Time Magazine wrote a whole article about it because, well, let’s face it -- the dish has both fascinating roots and rabid partisans.  There are as many recipes for the dish as inhabitants of the Languedoc, I reckon.  D’Artagnan founder Ariane Daguin’s dad, the famous chef Andre Daguin, has a spectacular version that is in Paula Wolfert’s book,  The Cooking of Southwest France : Recipes from France's Magnificent Rustic Cuisine

It is made with fava beans instead of the tarbais white bean that is today’s classic bean for the dish.  I am dying to make it in spring when the fava beans return-- I read favas were the original bean component of the dish as the tarbais style bean didn’t arrive from South America till the 16th century – in fact, it was called fevolade before it was cassoulet!). 

Iverson said: “Natives of southwestern France's Languedoc region link their very cultural identity to the archetypical peasant dish, a rich, earthy casserole of beans, meat and herbs. Cassoulet is said to date back to the 14th century siege of Castelnaudary during the Hundred Years' War, when citizens created a communal dish so hearty their revivified soldiers sent the invaders packing. But since then several cities have laid claim to the true recipe.”

Michael Balter in an article in the more familiar territory of Saveur Magazine said: “Traditionally, each of these towns has its own version of the dish, though it is generally acknowledged that cassoulet had its beginnings in Castelnaudary."


"Convention has it that the cassoulet of Castelnaudary is based largely on pork and pork rind, sausage, and (sometimes) goose; the Carcassonne variety contains leg of mutton and (occasionally) partridge; and the cassoulet of Toulouse includes fresh lard, mutton, local Toulouse sausage, and duck or goose. Prosper Montagné, a celebrated turn-of-the-century French chef, wrote that cassoulet was the "God" of Occitan—southern French—cuisine, with three incarnations: "God the Father, which is the cassoulet of Castelnaudary; God the Son, which is that of Carcassonne; and the Holy Spirit, which is that of Toulouse."  Prosper was very diplomatic, but his descriptions really make me want to try them all!

Although I admit to making my cassoulet in a giant vintage Dru pot (Julia Child used them on her older shows… blue with little tulips on the side), supposedly the true cassoulet cannot be achieved without a cassole.

The idea of the dish is simple, a wider mouth allows for more surface area for the brown crusty top, and the spout allows you to pour off any superfluous fat that may have accumulated.  The king of cassole makers is Poterie Not Frères near the village of Mas-Saintes-Puelles.  They make them with Issel clay in an oven that was built in 1830. The cassole was first made in Issel, a village north of Castelnaudary hundreds of years ago.

 

Poterie Not Frères pottery photo from Kate Hill

Now the Not family are the only remaining artisanal manufacturers of cassoles in the area and the magnificent Kate Hill of Camont: Kate Hill's Gascon Kitchen recommends and uses them for her weekend cassoulet class in France (you can find out how to do that HERE). I can only imagine how much fun that would be.


Kate also sells these beauties at her place in Gascony, France should you be in the neighborhood.  You can get a small version of them in the USA online HERE (unfortunately, they are out of stock at the moment!) .


or stop in at the charming shop, La Fanion in NYC (if you are in my neck of the woods)  to pick up a slightly less tapered version (they go from $78-$198 for a giant feed-an-army size). There is an American made version (to Wolfert's specs) HERE. Whatever you choose as a vessel for your cassoulet, it is all about the flavor and that is in this recipe in spades!

Jean-Claude Rodriguez, founder of Académie Universelle du Cassoulet (a group of chefs dedicated to keeping up cassoulet standards) told Iverson "Cassoulet has such a religion around it because it's the plat de partage — the dish of sharing," he says. "When a cassoulet arrives at the table, bubbling with aromas, something magical happens — it's Communion around a dish."  




My Favorite Cassoulet,  serves 6-8

1/3 pound smoked ham, cut into chunks  (if no ham shank, use 1 pound of ham)
1 smoked ham shank from Flying Pigs Farm 
1 pound of dry tarbais beans, cooked thoroughly or 3 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 pieces good smoky bacon, roughly chopped
1 large carrot
1 medium onion, diced
1 leek
1/2 head of garlic, sliced plus 2 small garlic cloves, peeled and pressed
3 T tomato paste
1 quart chicken broth (plus one cup if cassoulet gets too thick)
sprig of thyme, sage and rosemary and marjoram if your can get it
4 D'Artagnan duck confit legs (or 2 with 2 pheasant legs)
1 lb wild boar sausage, skinned, sliced  (although it is traditionally made with French Garlic Sausage
2 T butter
1 ½ - 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (depending on the diameter of your dish you may want more or less)

*Bread crumbs are optional... some purists do not use breadcrumbs and prefer the darkened crust that forms on the top, breaking it while cooking so that more will form.

Sauté the bacon, add the vegetables, garlic and the duck fat and cook for a few moments.   Add tomato and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add 1quart broth & herbs, beans and ham and shank.  Cover the casserole and gently simmer the ragout over low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 300°.
Remove the skin from the pheasant and duck legs and reduce all skin and fat to crisps and put the crisps to the side.  Shred the duck meat and add to the pot.  Save the fat in the pan.
Add the sausages and cook over moderately high heat until browned all over and add to the pot. Cook for 1½ hours. Take the meat off the ham bone and return to the pot.
Gently stir the cassoulet.  If it seems too thick, add the extra stock.  You can add the skin crisps now or save them to serve with the cassoulet.  Take the breadcrumbs and crushed garlic and toss in the reserved duck fat.  Add 2 T butter to the mix.  Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the surface of the cassoulet. Bake the cassoulet for 1 ½ hours longer, until it is richly browned on the surface. Ariane Daguin recommends serving it bubbling hot for the best flavor. and aroma.


Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!

28 comments:

La Table De Nana said...

Ahh..my DSIL made one.. My daughter said he cooked it for 2 days:) This is simpler..love the dishes you recommended also..

I bet it's delicious.. You explore so much in the culinary world..It's an education for us.Thank you.

Linda said...

Deana...this looks perfect for the cold, snowy weather coming our way!

Wonderful post! Beautiful pics!

Sacha said...

What a nice note to the glory of this delicious dish that is the cassoulet! you're right there a recipe per village (that little similar to sauerkraut and other dishes very traditional) when I leave I fai a simmer (pickling) as long as possible
Thank you!
I present to you my best wishes for the new year!
Good weekend
A + + + Sacha

Faith said...

I can't think of anything more comforting to warm up to than a nice bowl of cassoulet, Deana! Your recipe looks pretty fantastic, although I would have to make a couple minor adjustments/substitutions since I don't eat pork. Thanks for sharing a bit of this dish's history with us, that is something I greatly enjoy about your posts!

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

You have not told us how much you enjoyed it.... I will try your recipe when I get back to France and see if I prefer it to mine :) I love trying the diffrent recipes but so far I still like my own best. Love the history behind the casseroles. LOL. Diane

The Gypsy Chef said...

Hi Deana,
great minds think alike. I bring my cassoulet ingredients home from France. As you can imagine my bags are always quite heavy. It's nice to know I can buy good ingredients in New York. I've made two this year and I am simply dying for another after reading your educational post! Thanks!
Happy New Year,
Pam

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I was just looking at a cassoulet recipe but it called for pork belly and sounded way too fatty. Your version sounds so much better. I've been wanting to try making cassoulet and I think I've found my inspiration ;)

Sommer J said...

Oh wow I am so craving this now, it looks so delicious. Last winter I made cassoulet and homemade baguettes to go along with it- twas amazing. I will have to go make that again in the near future! And I love reading the history of this dish as well! Those cassoles looks gorgeous...I'll have to see how far Gascony is from me.

Also, what great meats you got from your neighbors. I am amazed and hungry!! I wish I had amazing connects :)

andrew1860 said...

I have never had cassoulet before but you have peaked my interest as always thanks!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

This is one of my favourite winter dishes Deana! What a lovely combination of flavours and it sounds like D'Artagnan is such a treasured supplier and I'm sure they love your enthusiasm and authentic way that you treat their produce too!!

5 Star Foodie said...

I enjoyed learning the history of cassoulet, and your version sounds so good especially with the wild boar sausages! This is excellent!

All Our Fingers in the Pie said...

I cannot believe that another week has passed. I am lagging behind! I do not know what I feel for cassoulet. It is a very rich dish. But delicious. I make it only for very special occasions. I have never learned the history. Thanks!

Fresh Local and Best said...

This is a wonderful representation of a local dish sourced from good vendors nearby. There are so many good meats all in this one dish! I will have to check out La Fanion the next time I'm in Greenwich Village!

2 Stews said...

When I was young and first heard about cassoulet, I knew I must have a French gene in there somewhere. In the winter I have it in Paris and love to make it at home.

Now I HAVE to have one of Kate's cassoles. I think I am on a mission. Maybe a side trip from Paris ;-)

Thanks for the recipe and info!

Cathy said...

Great post, Deana! I've wanted to make cassoulet for a long time and you've inspired me to try it. I love reading the history of classic dishes like this. I appreciate you suggesting sources for the ingredients and will turn to them if I can't find what I need locally.

Heavenly Housewife said...

Nobody does left overs like you daaaaaaaahling! Your cassoulet looks so lovely.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend.
*kisses* HH

Mary said...

What a wonderful post for the New Year, Deana. Cassoulet is a glory - some would sa the glory - of the French peasant table and yours sounds delicious. I'm delighted you shared your version with us. Next time I have a quorum present I'll give your recipe a try. I hope you have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

Trix said...

No fair! You just made me want to spend a lot of money on a cassole! I must be getting old, because I used to lust after things like shoes or bags, and now I want fancy pots and pans and things to cook with. Also, favas are my very favorite bean by far, I love your idea of making "original" cassoulet in the spring with them.

Stella said...

This is an enchanting cassoulet, Deana! I would probably even break my diet to have some with you since you use such wonderful food products in your dishes. Oh, and I'm with Trix. I so want one of those crafted cassoulet dishes. Hmmm...?!
Hey, by the way, I hope 2011 is a happy and super relaxing year for you.
XOXO

Mr. P said...

I love cassoulet. Don't you think it's amazing the way that all the duck fat actually tastes healthy? I'm being serious!

So, will you be lamington-ing this year? There's a prize!

Marjie said...

Cold weather comfort food! With history lesson attached! And you can buy a special dish to make it in! The trifecta of greatness!

Happy New Year Deana! I guess I missed you last week....I think I missed a lot, somehow.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Mon Dieu.....Cassoulet is perfection in one pot. Beans, FATTY DUCK and all the loving spices make this French/Mexican go crazy!!!!!! Deana, your visit is always so WONDERFUL and coming to see you fills my appetite for the vintage, delicious and the EYE CATCHING! Yes, we must FIRST IDENTIFY what our bliss is then accept it and confess it. I took so long to finally say, "This is me....I am no longer going to be afraid." Why do we do this to ourselves? The bright side is when we finally find it, no matter how old we are!!!

BON APPETIT!! Anita

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I had to laugh during the holidays, as I watched Martha Stewart speed through cassoulet for 100! She made it sound so simple! While I'd never serve that many, I would like to try this someday.

Barbara said...

I enjoyed cassoulet every chance I got in France but have only made it a couple times here. (Leave it to D'Artagnan to be clever enough to have a recipe kit!)
My cassole disappeared years ago..I am tempted to order another! There are so many uses for that perfect baking dish.
Love your recipe, Deana, and what an inspiration for the winter months.

Ana Powell said...

Happy New Year.
I had the family over for Christmas and we had a great time together, the Blog was on stand by.
Lovely dish so flavoursome.
As always a great post.
I am flying out to Portugal tonight for a short break.
Take care ♥

Joanne said...

Cassoulet is a dish that I've had my eye on for quite a while and you've given us a great rendition of it here!

Sue said...

One of my favourite dishes! Your recipe sounds great and I like the idea of breadcrumbs on the top. Delicious.

tasteofbeirut said...

Deana

I am so impressed; only you of all people would manage to make a cassoulet like this; like the French say you are "more of a royal than the actual king" (plus royaliste que le roi); I love cassoulet, but only if it is prepared right, and this one has got to be the finest cassoulet I have seen in a long long time!