31 January, 2007


Well mes saucisses, winter has finally blown in and it is time to raid the pantry and whip up some hearty food. I have been intrigued by cassoulet ever since a hazy day (of the mind not the weather) in Carcassonne, when a traveling companion was set on finding some cassoulet authentique in the famous walled city. While we did find a nice lunch under the shade of some mulberry trees, the authenticness of the medieval town was of a more Disneyesque hue. They had steam tables full of cassoulet, they also had plates of oven roasted pork chops or chicken with haricots-verts . Wine and shade was all that I desired while others picked through the Ye Olde Gift Shoppe for plastic coats of armor.

But from that day until now the idea cassoulet has stuck with me, French comfort food. I would listen to my friend Brian talk about it and it became a mystic stew of various ends and joints. Soissons or Arpajon, saucisses de Toulouse ou de campagne, confit of goose, bacon, salted pork, mutton, who would get these exotic ingredients for a pot of beans? Why the French of course. But wait: For the French (I know I am over simplifying and romanticizing country life) it's actually no trouble at all, these ingredients are all (as they have been for centuries) in the larder.

Emboldened by this realization I raided the larder, also known here in the Chicago Southland as the Beer Fridge, in an attempt to capture the essence of cassoulet, and I would do it without driving to Whole Foods for goose fat. As regular readers will attest, even though I profess the desire to live simply, I always find a lot of little things to do to keep it simple, this simple pot of beans is no exception.
Cassoulet d’Owl Head

The Beans.

203g - 7-1/8 oz bacon cut into 1 inch by ½ inch cubes
454g - 16oz dry great northern beans sorted and washed.
1 medium onion peeled studded with 4 cloves
1 carrot chopped
Bouquet garni (handful of thyme, a couple of bay leaves)

A handful of thyme from under the snow

In the stock pot I melted the bacon a bit then added all other ingredients along with six cups of water. Brought the beans to simmer then slow cooked until beans were tender, 4-6 hours. Add salt to taste.

Saucisses de Campange

2 lbs Pork shoulder
20 g salt
5 g quatre-epices (See Notes)
½ c (126g) red wine

I diced meat, tossed it with the spices and , then rested the mixture in the fridge for at an hour. I ground through large plate into mixer bowl. I added the wine and mixed with paddle attachment for about a minute.

I stuffed the mixture into hog casings, and realizing at this point I wasn't going to finish until the next day, I hung them in the fridge to dry a little bit. I made eight 6-8 inch sausages.

The next day I started the again:

The Ragout

2 lbs pork shoulder cut into 1 inch cubes
1 28oz. can whole peeled tomatoes

10g quatre-epices
6 cloves garlic smashed, peeled and chopped

Bouquet garni (handful of thyme, a couple of bay leaves)

In a large saute pan, I browned the pork in a bit of lard, then I threw in the rest of the ingredients and simmer for a couple of hours so that the sauce had cooked down a bit and the pork was fork tender. Add salt to taste.

Final assembly

2 c toasted bread crumbs
dollops of lard or butter

I got the pot of beans from the day before and saved the beans and the bacon for the dutch oven. I got out the dutch oven, still warm from baking the No Knead bread, and quickly browned the skins of four sausages in a thin film of oil over medium high heat. Then I assemble the cassoulet: A few ladles of the ragout and then a layer of beans and bacon. Next I placed the four browned sausages in the pot. In go the rest of the beans, the rest of the ragout, leveled it out, then put on the bread crumbs. I had planned on using lard to dot the crust, but the lard I made in December had started to turn, so few tablespoons of butter here and there was a suitable replacement. I put the pot, covered, into a 325F oven for about two hours. Since most everything was cooked already, it probably didn't need cook it that long. I looked for doneness in the sausage (internal temp 150F) and everything looked warmed through and bubbly.

Now a few notes about the ingredients: I had three pounds and fourteen ounces of pork belly left over from making bacon, hence the call for two pounds for the sausage and two pounds in the ragout. When I do it again, I would use two and a half to three pounds of meat for the ragout, and if I am at the store, I would look at using lamb shoulder. A bouquet garni, will usually have a minimum of parsley in addition to the sprigs of thyme and bay leaf, but I didn't have any. For the quatre-epices, I mixed 15 g white pepper ground, 2g clove ground, 2g dried ginger ground and 2g nutmeg grated. I hope to have more about the spice mix soon.

Cassoulet d'Owl Head avec pain de No-Knead

There you have it, pork and beans French cousin, Cassoulet, warming and immensely satisfying on a cold winter day. So now your appetite is piqued but you are thinking "Gee who has all the time do do this?" I sympathize, I have an espresso machine that is constantly running. But for those who would like to try something quick, click over to Andouille and White Bean Soup by Restaurant Widow, it looks good and simple.



Anonymous said...

Man, you take the term "from scratch" to a whole new level. I have to say that the version Brian made that still sticks in my head (and brian will kill me for saying this) is the version we made using a little cheat - D'Artagnan's smoked duck breast. It is small but man does it just infuse the dish with smokey goodness.

Brian caved in and purchased a couple containers of duck fat and I have been sent on a mission to China Town to pick up duck legs so we can make our own duck confit for the cassoulet. Thanks for nothing Dean and Deluca!

mac said...

Thanks for the comment. I talked to Brian last night, he hadn't read the article but when I said I didn't use goose he said, "Then it isn’t cassoulet" I said just read the article. Both in The Oxford Companion to Food, and in Larousse Gastronomique (the most recent editions which I happen to have on loan from the library), The definitions of cassoulet say the use of confits d’oie ou de canard, varies on a regional basis (I can hear the cries of suburban homemakers from centuries past, “I’m not taking the ox cart to Toulouse to get you a GD duck!”). In fact Larousse, goes on to report that the Etats Generaux de la Gatronomie Francaise of 1966, laid down the law on what could be called cassoulet: “At least 30% pork (which can include sausage and Toulouse sausage), mutton or preserved goose; 70 percent haricot beans and stock, herbs and flavorings.” SO what I made I can’t sell as cassoulet in France, or they will take my beret away. If I lived in NYC with you cabbages I’m sure our cassoulet would include duck or even goose and mutton and it would be wonderful, but out here in the provinces, I just didn’t want to drive twenty miles for a duck.

As for your inference about Dean and Delucca, I’m right with you man. I loved that place, I never cook without my D and D apron, but once you start figuring out that you can easily make a lot of those fancy pants things that they are charging 30 bucks a pound for, it becomes only an inspiration not a resource. I hope you two send me some pics of the confit.

Finally regarding the addition smoked meat into the beans, my first thought was that does sound really good, and if I had some smoked meat, I would have thrown it in. One time I cooked a pot of beans in my smoker, I had placed it under a piece of shoulder and slow cooked it for 6 hours, smoky lovin. But, the last line in the cassoulet entry from Larousse, states: “Important note – Never use smoked meat, Strasbourg sausages or mutton.” Where’s Brian?

josh said...


mac said...

Yeah, it's in the dictionary. Now get back to work.