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600 year-old cassoulet?


Culinista
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My sister asked me if she should believe a co-worker who claims that a restaurant in France has a pot of cassoulet that has been kept going for 600 years. Apparently the pot was mentioned in Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel.

Anyone know anything about this? (My first doubt here is that it would be cassoulet as opposed to pot-au-feu.)

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What pot exactly? The one where cassoulet is simmered, or the one where it's baked?

The fact that cassoulet is a baked dish (i.e. gratinéed) makes it impossible to add anything to it gradually, and no, a dish of cassoulet doesn't cook forever. The stew has to be simmered for a few hours but not too long (once the cooking liquid has become syrupy, it's time to turn off the heat), and the baking phase has a precise timing (once you have been able to "drown the crust" seven times, it's OK).

Anyway the legend is a known one, based on urban contempt for country lifestyles, people and cuisine; it's also available in a "potée auvergnate" version and for other regional dishes. I thought it had died decades ago. It probably survives in remote countries. Light of dead stars and the like, you know.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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I agree that since cassoulet is baked, it is unlikely to be kept going as a pot-au-feu would have been. (AJ Liebling mourns the loss of long-simmered dishes with the advent of modern cooking fuels). However, I'm curious about what place might have been mentioned in Rabelais in connection with either dish, and what restaurant might be trying to market itself accordingly.

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However, I'm curious about what place might have been mentioned in Rabelais in connection with either dish,

I don't know my Rabelais by heart, far from it, but I never heard there was anything of the sort in his writings. Also, cassoulet was a recent invention in his days.

and what restaurant might be trying to market itself accordingly.

I think that would be a very, very bad marketing idea for a restaurant. :biggrin:

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Waverly Root mentions in ‘The Food of France’ a “Lou Pastis en Pot” from

the Medoc (he mentions that name is derived from the old langre d’Oc

(Occidental?). A earthenware pot is greased with lard, and lined with

fig leaves and a few bay leaves, pork and beef are mixed with herbs and

spice, then placed in the pot. New wine is poured in and it is cooked

until half reduced. So far so conventional, but, the stew is allowed to

cool, then it is capped with lard and stored for a day or so. More meat

and wine is added (after removal of the fat) and the process is

repeated. After a few cycles you get a jellied meat conserve. I have

made it to this stage and it very good. Waverly Root suggests that as

you take out the meat you replace it, so the individual stew can last

for years.

Years maybe, but 600 is even more fanciful then Rabelais.

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Anatole France, I have read, claimed that the cassoulet in his favorite restaurant had been going continuously in the pot for twenty years--obviously not a cassoulet as we know it. "Lor’, there ain’t no recipe for soup!" a southern cook exclaimed to my father almost a century ago. "It jes’ accumulates!"

EDIT: My own take on cassoulet is here.

Edited by John Whiting (log)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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He pulling your leg..

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

blog

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  • 2 weeks later...

John, I loved your cassoulet blog. I'm also a cassoulet aficionado, and I've been known to start mine six months in advance (to cure the duck confit). Once my husband came home to find homemade sausage garlands suspended from the beams in the garage. It is our annual New Year's Eve dish, and sometimes I make enough to serve on my birthday, Jan. 6. Given that our birthdays are so close together, maybe next year we should do a cassoulet tasting :biggrin:

For making cassoulet, 6 months is one thing, 600 years quite another!

Edited by Culinista (log)
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I've never seen the 600-year cassoulet, but I have seen the 12-day nem au porc at the traiteur chinois.

There's also the Eternally Recycled Duck at the Nouveau Village Tao Tao, boulevard Vincent-Auriol.

When you order Peking duck, they may serve you the skin from a recent duck, then proceed to concoct soup and stir-fries out of a less recent duck, I mean much less recent. I'm not sure how many days is the duck lag. Once when I asked about that, the waiter replied by singing a song that had nothing to do with ducks or anything food-related.

Now that's an interesting and quite real culinary practice, much more picturesque than the nonexistent Perpetual Cassoulet (Clémence, obviously, was pulling old Anatole's leg, probably hoping to be written about and still commented decades away).

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I've got a 4-month old cassoulet in my freezer. Yikes!

Four months old is fresh from the oven. I've a wild goose in mine whose use-by date is in Roman numerals.

How about a one day cassoulette? Just to go to the other extreem. I have my 'classic' version which takes 2-3 days not counting confit making which I used to do when living in the states, but don't do now that we live in France. (aside; we happen to live not a million miles from Najac; ask your friends if they know where Parisot is.)

A couple of years ago I decided that I didn't want to wait when the urge for cassoulette struck me so I devised the following recipe. I taught a friend to make this a couple of weeks ago; we started at 09:30, put the assembled beast into the oven for first cooking at 11:00. We & it rested until 18:30 then back into the oven (it, not us) did the breadcrumb thing twice & served it at 20:00.

Here goes if I can copy & paste correctly:

Quick Cassoulette

Ingredients:

1) Vegetables

-1 Large yellow onion

-3-4 stalks of celery

-3-4 medium size carrots

2) Dry & canned goods

-1-2 tubes of tomato puree

-500- 750g of white (lingot) beans

-1-2 cans (4 cuisse to the can) of confit de canard

3) Meats

-500-750g fresh Toulouse sausage

-1 large ham hock (jarret) OR 2 smaller lightly salted ham hocks

-4 or more Lamb shanks. If no shanks use bone in Lamb cutlets

4) Herbs

-1+ head of garlic

-Thyme to taste

-Herbs de Provence to taste

-10+ crushed juniper berries

-Salt & Pepper

5) Misc.

-Duck fat

-Freshly made bread crumbs

-Chopped parsley

NOTES:

Using the smaller quantities of ingredients this recipe will make a large Cassoulette filling my big green pot. If, however, you would like to make more then up the quantities as you wish. (The green crock feeds 8 happily) The Cassoulette freezes perfectly.

Feel free to vary ingredients & quantities as you wish. Do not, however, be stingy with the herbs or garlic & remember that it’s the combination of meats that is important.

Step by Step: (this is roughly the right order)

A. Place all of the beans in a large pot & cover well with water. Cover pot & bring beans to the boil. Meanwhile skin, crush & roughly chop all of the garlic. Add to the beans. Boil beans for about 10 minutes. Turn off & let sit covered until you’re ready for them. (if you are using an unsalted ham hock lightly salt & pepper the beans at this point. if hocks salted then don’t)

B. Cut the skin off of the ham hocks.

If they are salted put in water & bring to the boil for 5 minutes, pour the water off, discard then proceed.

In a large deep pot brown the hocks over high heat using some duck fat. Lightly season. Remove & set aside.

(Cut the skin into about 1 cm wide strips. Cut 1 or 2 strips into squares & save for later. The rest can be salted, put in a medium oven and turned into crackling. Cook’s bonus never makes it to table.)

C. Place the Toulouse sausage in a large frying pan & add enough water to 1/3 cover them. Over high heat bring to the boil. Turn sausages when about ½ the water has boiled off. When dry prick the skins & add some duck fat to the pan. Sear until the sausages are nicely browned. Set aside.

D. Put the lamb into the same pot with the same fat as you used to brown the hocks. Brown the lamb & set aside.

E. Chop up the celery, onion & carrot fairly finely. Put in the same browning pot. Add fat if necessary & gently (low heat) sweat the vegs for 10-15 minutes.

F. Add the vegs to the beans. Add the tomato puree to the beans. Stir well & taste for seasoning. Adjust if/as necessary. Add the rest of the herbs. Taste & adjust to your taste. (I like lots of herbs so am heavy handed, but you will be able to further adjust later so don’t overdo it at this stage.)

G. Drain beans reserving all of the liquid.

H. You now start to assemble the Cassoulette in the crock or pot that it will be cooked & served in.

a. Spoon a layer of beans into the pot.

b. Put the hock(s) in the middle of the pot.

c. Add some more beans.

d. Put the lamb in around the sides

e. A few more beans.

f. Add the pieces of ham skin.

g. Cut up the sausage into 2-3 cm lengths & add ½ to the pot.

h. Open the confit cans (if you didn’t earlier to get at the fat.) Wipe off as much fat as possible with your hands then arrange the cuisses around the pot.

i. Add the rest of the sausage.

j. Add the rest of the beans.

k. Press everything down & adjust if necessary to fit the pot with a little room at the top.

l. Pour in the reserved bean juice until it just covers the rest of the ingredients.

m. Put the lid on & place the pot into a 180C. Oven for about 3 hours.

n. Check periodically & push the cuisses back down gently as they tend to float up. Check seasonings & adjust if needed.

o. Check beans for softness. If still a little hard add ½ hour to final cooking time.

I. Take out of the oven & let stand until ready for the final preparation. A minimum of 3-4 hours is best; overnight in fridge even better. If overnight then take the Cassoulette out of the fridge about 2 hours before you want to start the final cooking.

J. Allow 1 ½ hours for final cooking PLUS any extra for beans. Longer cooking within reason won’t hurt.

K. Make 3-4 cups of breadcrumbs & add chopped parsley & some herbs de Provence.

L. Put Cassoulette into a 180C. Oven. After ½ - ¾ hour check the juice level.

a. If it’s not over the top of everything add some more bean juice. (If no bean juice left red wine will do instead.)

b. If it’s way over then remove the lid & continue cooking.

M. ½ hour before you want to serve sprinkle a good coating of breadcrumbs over the top & put back into the oven with the lid off.

N. After 15 minutes push the crumbs down into the Cassoulette & spread the rest of them over the top.

O. When the top is nicely browned the Cassoulette is ready to serve.

(A little top heat from the broiler may be needed to do the browning.)

There you go! Quick Cassoulette. It takes about an hour to get up to the first cooking stage. After that most of the cooking is unattended with a few quick checks & additions.

Enjoy.

Try it & let me have your thoughts & comparision. By the way I agree about the confit. I find the cheapest way is to buy cans in the local HypeMarket when they're on sale. Fresh duck leg/thighs (cuisses) only seem to be available periodicaly in the spring.

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I find the cheapest way is to buy cans in the local HypeMarket when they're on sale. Fresh duck leg/thighs (cuisses) only seem to be available periodicaly in the spring.

For those not lucky enough to live in, was it NW of Toulouse, I can recommend the confit de canard at Galeries Lafayette; but for confit d'oie, I'm stuck.

Dave, you do realize that you've got us all drooling, not only over your recipe but your home. (OT -I love that area.)

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Cassolet is made in a dish called a Cassole. I bought one in the SW from one of the last few potters that makes them

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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Could it also be made in a cassoulette like the one sold by Macy's?

It can be made in virtually any casserole whose top is at least as wide as its bottom. An old-fashioned pottery mixing bowl with a slightly hemispherical taper to the top works perfectly well and is near as dammit the shape and proportion of a traditional cassole, except for the slightly curved sides. Such bowls are not totally oven-proof, but starting with a cold oven and not going above a medium heat, there's no problem.

EDIT: It will even work with a traditional bean pot, but you don't get much crust.

Edited by John Whiting (log)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Yes!!!! it was. I was staying nearby in Monteliou on a farm and was served a cassolet and asked about her traditional cassole. She gave me directions to the Nots. A few months later, Saveur published an article Searching for the secrets of Cassoulet. In one photo, it pictures Phillipe Not at the wheel.

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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A few months later, Saveur published an article Searching for the secrets of Cassoulet. In one photo, it pictures Phillipe Not at the wheel.

It was that Saveur article that put me on to the Nots. I had it with me when we visited the pottery, and Phillipe autographed his picture for me.

I wish I had been as lucky at Hostellerie Étienne, which the article particularly recommended. We were served a thin, watery cassoulet with a minimum of meat. If Chef Rousselot were to serve up such a dish to LA Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary, they would stamp on his toque.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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