Cassoulet is a classic, hearty and warming dish, a regional speciality of the Languedoc (France) consisting of meat and white beans. Its more autumn/winter than summer food, but when I cooked it, the weather was definitely not summery and I could use something warming. Lets hope that at the moment of posting this, its more like summer than it is now.
Classical cassoulet is very serious business, there are important requirements for cooking cassoulet. There are three French towns that claim to have the original recipe: Castelnaudary makes it with confit d’oie (goose), pork shoulder, sausage and pork rind; Carcassonne with partridge and lamb; Toulouse with confit de canard (duck) and Toulouse sausage. Cassoulet is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides, which of course is the only vessel to make cassoulet in. The origin of the beans and the water that is used, is very important as well, as is the cooking method (in a wood food fired oven, with specific wood).
And of course I made my own version of cassoulet. I used some soup pieces of chicken to make my own stock fresh and tasty stock, and used a lot of that to reduce down while cooking the beans in it. I also used borlotti beans instead of white beans. And I added some bacon, to give de stew a more hearty and savoury flavour.
Often beans from a tin are quite mushy and slimy, and of course they are already completely cooked, so you cannot let them stew any more. So I used dried bean for this dish, which was a first for me. Actually it worked really well, you do need to soak them, but once you put them in the water you don’t have to do anything but wait. The most notable was that the beans were much more firm than tinned beans, even when cooked through/stewed for a long time. It gave the dish a lot more texture, and a more filling feeling.
Oh, and if you’re making this, which you certainly should do, make a bit more: it keeps well and the flavours will be even better the next day.
Cassoulet (2-4 persons)
1 kg soup chicken (bone-in, whole or pieces)
1 onion, unpeeled, big chunks
3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, crushed
3 carrots, big chunks
4 stalks of celery, big chunks
1 leek, washed, big chunks
1 tsp pepper corns
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme
250 g beans (white or borlotti), soaked overnight (8-12 hours) in cold water, and drained
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
4 cloves of garlic, minced finely
100g bacon, in lardons
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
the soup chicken, flaked in pieces; bones, skin and sinews discarded
salt and pepper
good extra vergine olive oil
Start with making the bouillon. Put all the ingredients in a big pot an put on a very low heat. Leave it there for at least 4 hours, to infuse all the flavours into the water. Leave to cool for at least an hour with the chicken still in there, to keep it nice and moist. Take out the chicken, flake it into pieces, discard bones, skin and sinewy bits. Pour the bouillon through a sieve, pushing out the liquid from the vegetables (but not so much that you press through vegetable mash). Set aside 1/3 of the bouillon for other purposes (risotto!). Don’t add salt at this moment, that will make the skins of the beans tough when cooking the cassoulet.
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven (or other suitable stewing pan). Add the onion, fry until translucent. Add the bacon, fry a bit more. Then add the beans and garlic (in this way it will not burn), toast for a while. Then add a couple of ladles full of bouillon, the bay leaves, cloves and thyme, and let it bubble away. Check the cooking time of your beans, mine was 1-1,5 hours. Let the bouillon evaporate, but don’t let the beans get dry! So every 15 minutes or so, add a couple ladles of bouillon again. After 1,5 hours this will make a lovely full-bodied sauce and your beans will be nice and tender. Add in the chicken and heat it through, and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot, drizzled with good olive oil (some chopped parsley would be nice as well) and accompany with a nice red wine. Cassoulet is a meal on its own, but if you want, you can accompany it with some nice crusty bread to soak up the sauce.