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Cook-off 1--Cassoulet


Chris Amirault
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I've just read a good chunk of the Cassoulet cook-off thread and I need some talking off the ledge. I couldn't get my hands on the correct beans so I used great northern. When I cooked them, they fell apart and now resemble something a little closer to refried beans than whole, intact ones. I soldiered ahead layering in my dutch oven and it's been going through it's first baking for about 45 minutes now. Is there anything I should do? If this is messed up due to beans, I'm going to be so ticked!

Moderator's Note: This post was merged into this topic. For reference, it is referring to the Les Halles recipe

Edited by heidih
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There's nothing so bad in this life that pork fat can't make better.

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So, the beans won't be as intact as Tarbais beans, but it will still be delicious. Just make it, chill, and bake again to improve the crust as Bourdain recommends. If you do find Tarbais beans, you may find yourself asking, should I pay $18/lb for beans? For beans? They're not bad, and I did it once just to see what they were like, but it's not a make or break thing. With smaller beans, you just have to pre-cook them less, so they don't get too mushy.

Personally, I find this recipe has a little too much fat for my taste, so I cut back on the pork belly by half, but make it once according to the recipe, and see how you like it.

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David, I found myself questioning whether or not to add all that pork belly once I got to that point, and went ahead and did it. I'm kind of questioning my sanity now! It really is a lot of fat. Also, the book says this serves 4. More like 40! I'm having a group of girlfriends over tomorrow night to eat it and sending them all home with some or I'm going to be eating this for two weeks and gaining 20 lbs!

There's nothing so bad in this life that pork fat can't make better.

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Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so. When I made it the first time, it reminded me of the time when my wife wanted to start learning to cook (we weren't yet married), I gave her a copy of Beard's _Theory and Practice of Good Cooking_ and suggested she start by roasting a chicken. Being of scientific bent she followed the recipe very precisely, using two sticks of butter for one small chicken.

Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)
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Don't know about the 'Les Halles' cassoulet recipe as I don't have the book, but...

I used to make my cassoulet with great northern beans all the time when we last lived in the states. My method was to bring the beans to a boil then let them sit in the water for 2-3 hours before layering them into the cassole. They would still be a bit hard at this stage, but after the cooking with the meats they end up about right. Whole, but tender.

I agree with doing two crusts, pushing the first one down into the pot.

Given all the other fats in the cassoulet I normally just boil up some pork rind to soften it then cut it into small pieces and distribute these throughout the layers. This gives the flavor I'm looking for without adding too much fat.

If you can beg, borrow, steal or find one to buy using a cassole to cook your cassoulet in is a big help.

Lots of pictorial stuff about doing cassoulet on my blog, address below.

Good luck!!

PS: Think I'll start a business importing Tarbais beans. They cost nowhere that much here. We live less than 2 hours from Tarbes and, believe me, the French won't pay those kind of prices for beans. As far as I can tell Tarbais beans are simply good old lingots available everywhere, but with excellent marketing by the local co-op.

Edited by Dave Hatfield (log)
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Canned beans being so inexpensive, I don't see why more don't use them for something like cassoulet. With them, precooking is eliminated. We use them for cassoulet and baked beans. For both of those recipes, did it ONCE with dry beans, then canned, just to see the difference (flavorwise). Not finding any, switched over to canned, which reduces the steps in something as involved as cassoulet.

Ray

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The result always looks fattier than it tastes. Do not cut back, it is morally wrong to do so.

I never did it with Great Northerns, but I find that flagelots work very well and are generally less mushy than GNs.

I've found that a good crust takes at least three or four "crackings," though cheating with bread crumbs and the broiler is acceptable.

Edited by Busboy (log)

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YMMV, but I find that canned beans tend to fall apart in this and other applications where long cooking and a bit of rough treatment are necessary.

The result always looks fattier than it tastes. Do not cut back, it is morally wrong to do so.

I agree. The raison d'etre of cassoulet is the heavenly trinity of beans, meat, and fat combining in a rich, succulent mixture that is unattainable through any other means. Skin-on pork belly, confit, sausages... the fat (ETA and collagen) of all components is precisely what makes it good.

If you don't want the fat, why make cassoulet?

Edited by Chris Amirault (log)

Chris Amirault

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There's still plenty of fat from the pork skin, sausage, and half the pork belly that Bourdain recommends. After I made it the first time, I thought the pork belly was taking over everything else, and instead of a balanced rich succulent mixture, it was that plus globs of pork belly that people were leaving at the side of their plates.

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Exactly David. The amount of pork belly seems out of whack with the rest. I'm not going to judge until I try it later this evening though :) I'm not afraid of fat, that's for sure!

There's nothing so bad in this life that pork fat can't make better.

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  • 2 months later...

Thank you so much for this inspiring thread. After living in Paris for decades, my husband and I made our first cassoulet this wkend, after reading your posts. Our recipe was sort of a fusion of quite a few of yours.

Am right now banging my head on the wall for not having done this before when we have had all the good duck sources and interesting sausages from our weekly market (Friday afternoon) in Place d'Anvers as well our regular rue des Martyrs market.

Thank you again. -- Long live duck/goose fat.

:laugh:

Edited by Parigi (log)
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  • 2 months later...

So I'm tackling Paula Wolfert's cassoulet de Toulouse in the coming week after having great success with culinary bear's confit instructions.

I have a few questions for the initiated:

1) Since I'm not prepared to put out $100+ for a cassole yet, any suggestions as to a decent substitute? Is a L-C dutch oven sufficient, or is cast iron undesirable?

2) In the excellent and well-known-here "Cooking of South West France", Wolfert mentions pork fat "ever-so-slightly rancid" - I've never heard rancidity referred to as a desirable trait - what gives?

3) Ham hocks - smoked or not? Anyone here that sells them, sells them smoked. I can procure them unsmoked from a butcher friend, but I'm not sure which is called for.

4) Acceptable substitute for Toulouse sausage, assuming I don't break down and make my own?

Thanks!

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1. Yes, a Le Creuset will work just fine

2. No clue

3. This is a matter of regional pride. Personally I would go with smoked, it would round out the blandness of the beans

4. I actually managed to find toulouse locally when I made mine. If you can't find it, substitute any raw pork sausage, but make it garlicky if you can

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1. I have to disagree therippa on the Le Creuset. I have been cooking Ms. Wolfert's cassoulet every year for almost a decade (and before that, every one else's recipe for another decade). While cast iron *will* work, if you have anything CLOSE to a clay pot (a cazuella?) it makes a huge difference in the creaminess of the beans and whole "chi" of the dish. If metal is all you have, then by all means use it, but if there is any reasonable substitute that is not metal, I would go that route.

2. It is a slight age to the pork that is hard to describe. It is a more enhanced flavor. Fresh is fine if that is what you have access to.

3. NOT smoked! Smokiness will pervade the flavor of the dish which is not something I would recommend. With all the other ingredients in the dish, there is no way in the world the beans would be "bland." They would be rich and redolent, but -- true -- not smoked.

4. A good mild sausage, garlic if possible?

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And my 2007 report.

And if you search my name here on eG and "cassoulet," you will read other reports from previous years.

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Thanks for the replies Carolyn, therippa.

Would fresh kielbasa be a reasonable substitute for the sausage?

I have some bigger stoneware pieces, like the big Le Creuset covered casserole, but I was concerned that a dish like this would be too shallow. Is the apparent depth/geometry of the classic cassole important, or would a moderately (4-5") deep stone casserole do better than the much deeper cast iron?

Carolyn, I'll pour over your links some - thanks. I did a search in the Cooking and Cookbooks forum, didn't think to check the regional forums.

Edited by rstagg (log)
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No, I don't think kielbasa would be appropriate at all; that is a sausage that is highly spiced AND heavily smoked, with flavors that would be the opposite of what you are striving for. Kielbasa is also a bit chewy.

I'm not sure where you are located, but Toulouse sausages are very mild -- almost like Bangers -- so the most mild, soft pork sausage is best. While Toulouse sausage contains a small amount of smoked bacon, it is mostly raw pork and garlic. Sausages like Kielbasa are heavily smoked and aged.

I hope that helps.

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3. NOT smoked! Smokiness will pervade the flavor of the dish which is not something I would recommend. With all the other ingredients in the dish, there is no way in the world the beans would be "bland." They would be rich and redolent, but -- true -- not smoked.

When I made Bourdain's version of the dish I felt it was terribly bland. I had cassoulet at Chapeau! (I know you know where that is :biggrin:) last week and I could definitely taste the smokiness in the dish...it came from the toulouse and another emulsified smoked sausage they had put in that wasn't mentioned on the menu. In the absence of toulouse in her prep, I think a smoked hock would fill in the gaps. Also, I feel hocks is one of those pieces of meat that needs a little something added (smoked, brined, confited, braised in a flavorful liquid) to it to make it edible...that was one of my problems with the pork belly bourdain has in his recipe. In the end, I had cassoulet with pork belly that was boiled in bean water. Yuck.

Edited by therippa (log)
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  • 8 months later...

I forget where it was where we were talking about cassoulet with or without bread crumbs, but if I remember correctly in that discussion I observed that in the Les Halles cookbook, Bourdain recommended breaking the crust to build up the crustiness rather than using breadcrumbs, but I had it tonight at Les Halles, and there were breadcrumbs. I don't know if that's their usual practice, or if it's just because it was a busy night with customers waiting for tables three deep at the bar.

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Don't know about 'gourmet' cassoulete, but the old peasant varieties always used bread crumbs.

They weren't about to waste the stale bread. Besides, the bread crumbs helped to soak up the juices.

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  • 2 months later...

Time to dig this chestnut up.

I'm cooking cassoulet for the first time tomorrow. I've got my duck confit cooked and cooling on the bench at the moment. The beans (Great Northern) are soaking. I have a couple of recipes on hand: Neil Perry's, Anthony Bourdain's, Larousse Gastronomique's. I think maybe I have one or two others in Fearnley-Whittingstall's and Reynaud's books. So much--too much--choice.

Skimming the thread, I see a lot of debate over the pork belly question. Aside from the confit and pork sausages, should be only meat content by pork belly? What about other cuts--neck, for example? I know some versions have mutton or lamb--is it worth throwing a small lamb shank? I'm not aiming to produce something that's authentic to a specific region so much as something that's true to the general idea behind cassoulet that tastes good.

Is it worth brining the pork and/or lamb now?

Edited by ChrisTaylor (log)

Chris Taylor

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I like some lamb in my Cassoulet so a shank is good.

No pork belly except for some skin cut up small. I use loin roasted & cut into bite size chunks or some times hocks. The belly much as I love it makes the cassoulet too fatty.

In all due modesty the recipe on my blog works well with USA ingredients and is pretty authentic without going to extremes. Paula Wolfert's recipe is very good as well.

Whichever way you do it enjoy!

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Wound up breaking my cassoulet cherry with:

* Great Northern beans

* 500 g-ish of none-too-fatty, if that's possible, pork belly

* 300 g-ish of diced neck and shoulder

* 3 pure pork sausages (I didn't really feel the need, on the first day of the school holidays, to make a trip to the really busy shopping centre where I'd maybe, if I was lucky and had sacrificed enough virginal goats, find some Toulouse sausages for $stupid per kilo).

* a lamb shank

* two confit duck legs

* much caramelised onion

It was nice. Heart-stopping. Warming. Rich as all hell. Nice. Is it an all time and forever favourite like coq au vin (made the right way--with rooster)? No.

I think I want to curl up in the corner and sleep now.

I'd argue the lamb really wasn't needed. If and when I make it again, it'll be pure pork and duck--and I'll try and up the duckiness by maybe cooking the beans in duck stock.

Edited by ChrisTaylor (log)

Chris Taylor

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I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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It never occured to me to cook my beans in duck stock; usually I cook them in ham stock. Actually it sounds like an interesting twist, and I think I even have some duck stock way back in the freezer. Upping the duckiness is brilliant, but I am going to play editor and just use the verb " to duck (up)," as in, I'm going to duck up my red beans 'n' rice. Or, alternatively, I'm going to upduck my roast potatoes.

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