Posted By Stephen

Cassoulet is one of those dishes that has attained a somewhat mythical aura over the years and people are sometimes surprised or disappointed that there is no “authentic” single recipe for such an iconic dish, but rather that various people or regions have different versions of it. It is of course a dish of peasant origins and people would have used what ingredients they had to hand at the time, rather than following a specific recipe. The beans were there to make the meat go further, and at least some of the meat would have been preserved. Which leaves us with typical ingredients being beans (white haricot beans), bacon, confit duck, sausages, pork and/or lamb or mutton.

Based on my own experiences of eating cassoulet in restaurants, I had formulated my own opinions on what should and should not be in cassoulet: It should always contain bacon, confit duck, Toulouse sausages and should not contain any lamb or mutton. So when I found this recipe that contained lamb and no confit duck, I initially disregarded it, but upon re-reading it, decided that it didn’t sound all that bad and of course my opinions on its “authenticity” were unimportant.

Cassoulet is a good wintery dish, but we found ourselves wondering what to do with some cannellini beans during the week and decided that it would be a good excuse to make cassoulet, which we have never cooked before. Cannellini beans are a little larger than the smaller haricot beans that are “traditional” but the recipe mentioned above specified them, which was a reason for using it even in the face of its almost unforgiveable confit duck omission.

The recipe is available via the link above, but here is a quick overview: Cook the beans for an hour with an onion and herbs, bacon and the rind from the pork belly. While the beans are cooking, brown diced lamb and pork belly and then roast them with the sausages. Then combine everything in a large casserole dish and cook in the oven for two hours.

This turned out nicely but didn’t have as much flavour as I remember some restaurant versions having. It is of course one of those dishes that is really hot when you first taste it and you can’t taste much, but then as it cools down the flavours develop. Which is a reason not to be greedy and impatient, but we had enjoyed the smell of it cooking so much that we didn’t have a lot of patience left by the time it was done. And there is some left over too, I’m sure it’ll be even better when reheated.

If anyone is interested, the Wikipedia cassoulet page describes the differences between some regional variations.

Jun 15th, 2008

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