Legend states that cassoulet was ‘invented’ during the 100 years war when the town of Castelnaudary underwent a siege by the English troops, all the town which was threatened with starvation put all they had
into a big pot along with broad beans (fÃ¨ves) – invigorated by this hearty dish, the Castelnaudary soldiers (Chauriens) kicked the English into the English Channel.
This is of course a legend, which probably refers to the siege in 1355 by The Black Prince, which was not really a siege but a burning of the town.
There are many legends which recreate a colourful past for what is basically, a dish of the poor, which evolved in the 19th century to more or less what we eat today, with dried beans replacing the broad beans.
Cassoulet is a traditional hearty recipe from the South West of France, originating around the cities of Toulouse, Carcassonne and Castelnaudary, with Castelnaudary claiming the fame of the world centre of cassoulet.
The name comes from the dish that is used to cook the cassoulet in, a “cassole”, which was ‘invented’ by an Italian potter, Jean Gabalda, in 1377 in the village of Issel between castelnaudary and Revel.
The three principal cassoulets are said to be:
Carcassonne – The father
Castelnaudary – The Son
Toulouse – The Holy Ghost
Of cassoulet of course…
In some of the traditional recipes there is lamb, pork or even partridge in the Carcassonne version – the common denominators are always the dried beans – Soissons or tarbais varieties and always duck, well
mostly, or goose and always ‘confit’.
This is my own recipe which always goes down a treat with friends and family – even though I tread a tightrope across a minefield with some of the ingredients and the fact that I pre-cook my beans – there secret out, confession done – that feels good.
I even have a friend who’s mother used to add potatoes to the dish!
You do not need anything added – it is a whole meal in itself and a great start to a days skiing or walking in the Pyrenees.
I half-heartedly and with a wink apologise to all purists and the confrerie or brotherhood of cassoulet in Castelnaudary for my bastardisation of a great French classic but it retains all the taste and authenticity of the original dish.
The original was traditionally cooked in a corner of the baker’s oven, and the crust that forms on the top of the dish was traditionally broken 7 times before being served – you can do this if you wish.
Ingredients for 6 servings:
1 Kg Dried beans (Tarbais or Soissons if possible)
6 Duck thighs
1 Whole Garlic Sausage
6 Whole Toulouse sausages
300 Grammes Belly Pork
100 Grammes Duck fat
2 Large Onions
4 Cloves Garlic
4 Medium Tomatoes
2 Medium Carrots
1 sachet Bouquet Garni
4 Whole Cloves
4 drops Tabasco Sauce
150 Grammes Fresh Breadcrumbs
3 teaspoons Tomato PurÃ©e
Ground Black Pepper
3Â Duck Legs
Traditional cassoulet is made with goose or duck confit.
First we are going to make the traditional ‘confit de canard’ which is a traditional method of preserving duck and goose in the South West of France and is really one of the main ingredients that go into making dishes such as cassoulet.
It isn’t really difficult but does need a little forward planning.
To kill two birds with one stone, you can also soak the dried beans in a deep dish of cold water – but they need only soak for 12 hours so perhaps do this a little later.
When soaking the beans, you will ned to rinse and change the water 3 times – a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda will also help both the cooking and the after effects of eating the beans, but this is purely optional
Take the legs and the thighs of duck and trim off the excess fat and leave aside. Put the duck into a dish and cover with rough sea salt for at least 24 hours in the fridge, ensure that the dish is covered with cling film – it is better not to use tin foil as this will have a reaction with the salt.
After 24 hours rinse the duck pieces under fresh running water, pat dry with kitchen paper until completely dry.
Take the fat trimmed from the duck and melt it down in a deep frying pan or wok – add the duck fat to this and heat to 70Â°c – carefully put the duck pieces into the hot fat and cook for 2 hours on a low heat.
The cooking needs to be long but not too hot so that the duck dries out – after 2 hours test the tenderness of the duck – you should be able to easily put a fork into the meat without too much resistance.
Keep the duck pieces aside for later and retain the fat after having strained it through a wire sieve when cooled.
I normally make my own bouquet garni with 2 bay leaves, a couple of branches of fresh thyme and a sprig of fresh parsley tied together but you can also buy ready made sachets that resemble tea-bags.
Chop two of the onions finely and sweat them with a tablespoon of duck fat in a large saucepan (the larger the better) – when transparent but not browned add the beans then to mixture and cover with cold water, add the finely chopped carrots and a bouquet garni, spike the cloves into the third onion and addthis to the pan.
Cut off both ends of the garlic cloves, put them under the flat of a large knife blade and give it a hit with the flat of your hand to slightly flatten the garlic cloves – peel of the skin which will be easy to do and add the cloves of garlic to the pan.
This is not a traditional way, but I find it quicker and it also does not appear to alter the taste.
I normally add a stock cube at this point just to give a bit more flavour, bring the pan to the boil and lower the heat –
I usually cook this for about 2 hours – until the beans start to soften slightly but are still ‘al-dente’ to the bite – skim off any froth that rises to the surface and ensure that the pan doesn’t boil dry.
Cut the belly pork into strips about 2 centimeters thick and fry them gently in the duck fat, then fry the Toulouse sausages.
Drain the beans, retaining the liquid and add them to a deep, oven-dish (a traditional cassole or other earthen ware pot is the best) with a layer of beans with a layer of the duck, pork and sausage, finished with a layer of beans.
Add the finely diced tomatoes, Tabasco, black pepper and tomato purÃ©e adding enough of the liquid to cover the beans, then put the dish into an oven at between 130Â°c – 140Â°c for four hours, ensuring that it does not boil dry – add more of the liquid if needed – stir well 4 or 5 times during cooking.
After 4 hours, add 2 tablespoons of duck fat stirred into the mixture, slice the garlic sausage into 2 cm thick slices and put into the dish then cover with the breadcrumbs, return to the oven for a further 3/4 hour at 140Â°c, stirring once or twice – the dish should have a nice crispy crust but not be dry or burnt.
Serve the cassoulet with fresh crusty bread and a full bodied wine such as:
CorbiÃ¨res, Fitou,Â Cahors, Fronton, CabardÃ¨s, St Emlilion, CÃ´tes de Bourg