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Archive for January 6th, 2010

Cassoulet is a hearty mixture of meat, beans and vegetables cooked for an extended period until the meat is meltingly tender, its home being the Languedoc region of France.  The town of Castelnaudary styles itself as the ‘Capital of Cassoulet’ with Toulouse and Carcassonne also having their own variations.  Every chef and restaurant in the region would claim to have the authentic recipe.  Depending on which recipe you read, the beans are either white haricot, also known as cannellini, or a mixture of haricot and butter beans.  It is usual to use more than one type of meat or meat product.  The original versions are usually based around a piece of duck, if possible confit of duck or even goose, cooked with some of the following: smoked bacon, smoked sausage and/or belly pork.  Occasionally lamb is included and in Toulouse the famous local Toulouse sausage is used. 

In the end I decided to invent my own version of Cassoulet, which I have named Cassoulet ‘Franglais’: my English version of the French dish. Consulting my recipe collection I found several versions from which I collectively took my list of basic ingredients and method. I found one recipe which substituted chicken for duck, which is a very good and less expensive substitute for day-to-day cooking. If I was making the dish for a special occasion I would be tempted to buy a duck leg or two depending on the number of diners. I found Toulouse style sausages in both Sainsburys ‘Taste the Difference’ and Morrison’s ‘The Best’ ranges, but one recipe suggested that Cumberland sausage could be substituted. Another recipe used a combination of both haricot and butter beans so either would be suitable: if the recipe is being doubled one can of each could be added. I understand that some French chefs would shudder at the breadcrumb topping whilst others include it. I put it in my version as it made a lovely crispy topping. The one instruction that all my books were in agreement over was the long cooking time. Ideally this should be cooked the day before to give the flavours a chance to mature before reheating and serving. It should certainly have at least two hours in the oven. If you have a slow cooker this would be an ideal dish to come home to at the end of a cold winter day: it could even be started the previous evening, I suppose.  Just add the breadcrumb topping towards the end and finish under the grill or scatter over a layer of freshly toasted breadcrumbs before serving.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Cassoulet ‘Franglais’
(Serves 4)

1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 medium sized carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 large tomatoes, cut into 8 pieces
1 leek, washed thoroughly and sliced into rings
2tbsp tomato puree
1tsp herbes de Provence
1tsp dried orange peel (see My Kitchen>New & Unusual Ingredients>Dried Orange Peel)
1 bay leaf
4ozs/125g button mushrooms
4ozs/125g smoked streaky bacon or bacon pieces if available, diced
4ozs/125g rindless belly pork strip, diced
2 or 3 thick Toulouse sausages or thick Cumberland sausage
2 chicken thigh pieces or 1 chicken leg
1 small glass of white wine (optional, but very French!)
½pint/10fl ozs/225ml chicken stock or water & ½stock cube/½tsp stock powder
400ml/14oz can of white haricot/cannellini beans or butter beans
Black pepper to taste
4ozs/125g white breadcrumbs

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 350oF/180oC/170oC Fan oven/Gas 4

2.  Fry the diced onion, celery, carrot and garlic gently in the oil for about 5 minutes.  Stir in the diced bacon, leek and mushroom and cook for 5 minutes more. 

3.  Add the mixed herbs, orange peel and chopped belly pork.  Stir and cook for a further 5 minutes. 

4.  Skin the chicken.  Briefly brown the sausages under the grill.  It does not matter if they are not thoroughly cooked.  Put the whole sausages and the chicken into the pan.  Add the bay leaf, tomato puree and tomato pieces.

5.  Stir in the wine and then the chicken stock or water and chicken stock cube (a small amount of stock cube goes a long way so I use just half a cube or spoonful).

6.  Transfer the mixture to a deep lidded casserole dish and put in the oven. Cook for at least two hours. 

7.  At this stage the Cassoulet can be returned, uncovered, to the oven for the final 30 minutes cooking time or stored overnight ready for reheating the next day.   

8.  Thirty minutes before serving remove the chicken pieces and sausages from the casserole.  Strip the meat from the chicken bones and slice the sausages into about six pieces, depending on size.  Stir the meat into the casserole with the drained and rinsed white beans.  If you are reheating the dish, then this step can be done while the mixture is cold, but make sure that the Cassoulet is thoroughly heated through before serving.

9.  Ten minutes before serving the Cassoulet stir once more and cover with a thick layer of breadcrumbs, which will turn golden brown. 

10.  Serve with a jacket potato, if required.

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