Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cassoulete? Was it real?

I ended my last post mentioning making a cassoulete with Louise. Now given my persinikityness about cassoulete I have to ask if this effort was a real cassoulete or just a fancy bean stew. I'm going to describe how Louise & I made it and let you be the judge.

First, Louise went shopping for ingredients. She got a nice ham hock, 3 lamb shanks and a pound of local sausage. (The local sausage seemed to have quite a bit of filler in it & wasn't as good as an all meat Toulouse sausage.) We had brought over a large can of duck confit from France. (I actually prefer to use the canned confit even though I can buy individual pieces or easily make my own when at home in France. Normally the canned stuff is nice & tender and you get quite a lot of extra high quality dick fat.) Louise found some nice dry white beans, not lingots or tarbais, but they were fine. We had the rest of the ingredients available; vegetables for the mirepoix, tomato puree and our herbs. Not to mention a bit of strong red wine.

So, we browned all of the meats, boiled the beans in lots of water for 15 minutes then added garlic (1 head) and the puree to that pot. We sweated the mirepoix for about 20 minutes then added it and the herbs (juniper berries, thyme & herbs de provence) to the bean pot. We let everything rest for half an hour then started our assembly.

Now here was a problem. We didn't have a cassole or other large crock. We also were limited by the oven height of Louise's AGA cooker. The solution was a deep stock pot that just fit the oven with it's lid off. We covered it with foil fot the first cooking. We built up the layers of meat & beans finishing off with the confit. We'd got the bean liquid abour right & only had to add about 1/3 bottle of wine to cover. Into the oven it went for about 3 hours.

The 'cassoulete' then came out & rested for a few hours. It then went back into the oven, uncovered. After about 45 minutes it came out & got its first bread crumb topping. After another half hour, when the crumbs were browned nicely, we pushed the crumbs down into the pot and added the second crumb layer. When this was nicely browned we were ready to eat.

The dish was delicious, all 8 of us throughly enjoyed it. Was it a cassoulete? Well, the ingredients were all there for a classic dish. We could have used a better sausage and the bean to meat ratio was a bit off; we needed more beans. It turned out that the lack of a big earthen ware pot didn't seem to matter from a taste point of view. Of course the presentation wasn't nearly as nice, but it looked good once on the plate.

You be the judge. Sorry that I didn't take any pictures, but you can use your imagination.

I'll be interested to hear any opinions.

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