Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

600 year-old cassoulet?


Culinista
 Share

Recommended Posts

Did you try that recipe in the article?

I don't follow others' cassoulet recipes any more; I gradually adapt my own way of making a cassoulet, sometimes trying out single elements of other recipes. After eating at Hostellerie Étienne, I had no desire to try the recipe in Saveur. What we were served bore no relation to the pictures, the ingredients or the instructions.

I place no faith in a magazine that states baldly, "Soaking beans really isn't necessary." Phytohaemagglutinin, a poison found in red kidney beans, can be fatal, and all medical authorities recommend soaking prior to thorough cooking. In this instance, of course, the article is talking about white haricot beans, but soaking is dismissed so unequivocally that the uninformed reader (and who else would be bothering to read such an article?) might well assume that it applied to kidney beans as well.

As for salting the beans before cooking, there are so many possible sources of salt in the final recipe that it would be reckless. No matter if there's a bit more flavor in the salted beans as they come out of their first boiling; dried beans have very little flavor in their own right anyway, and virtually all dried bean recipes that anyone bothers to follow include lots of strong added flavors to make them more interesting. In a cassoulet, by the time they've bubbled away for several hours with all the other ingredients, they will have absorbed as much flavor as they need.

From a health standpoint, these days there is a general inclination to use less salt than eight years ago when this issue came out--at least among those whose palates aren't conditioned by junk food (including the expensive varieties).

Edited by John Whiting (log)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Looks like we're going to have the "Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de eGullet" soon. :raz:

Interesting recipe, Dave. I'll have to try it.

I bake mine in an enameled iron casserole, which works well. I've made small ones in gratin dishes. It's all about having a good crust surface area, but the pot must have a minimum depth to keep from drying out. Has someone ever written a formula to determine the best surface area/volume ratio?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Has someone ever written a formula to determine the best surface area/volume ratio?

Depth would have to be included as well. Before we got our cassoles, I made cassoulet in a custom-thrown pottery lasagne dish, rectangular to fit precisely on our oven shelf, and about four inches deep. It produced an *enormous* crust, which I love. Drying out was not a problem because I always check the fluid level regularly towards the end of the cooking time and top up as necessary. At a moderate oven temperature, there is less evaporation than absorption. Going down the outer edge with a flat spoon, I can check fluid level and consistency and also extract a couple of beans to see if they've reached the "explode in the mouth" stage.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Link to comment
Share on other sites

dried beans have very little flavor in their own right anyway...

Dear John, you clearly have not tried Soissons. A lot of people are scared by the price but I can feed a dinner party of 4 as a side to lamb, plus have a good soup with the leftovers with 300 grams of the dried beans. They plump up to gargantuan proportions. The flavor of these beans is very good.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dear John, you clearly have not tried Soissons.

I have, and they're a notable exception. I was speaking of the 99.9% of dried beans that are readily available and affordable for most people.

You cannot make cassoulet with any type of white beans. You should fine-textured legumes with thin skin. In the Southwest, three main types are recommended, apart from the very local varieties that can't be found outside of the region: lingots de Vendée, lingots de Soissons, and tarbais. Avoid the cocos (Navy beans), which are all skin. Soissons are tops.

The problem with tarbais is that, when they are too young, they melt to a cream and don't hold their shape. In this case, indeed, it is advisable not to soak them but briefly boil them before the actual cooking takes place.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You cannot make cassoulet with any type of white beans. You should fine-textured legumes with thin skin. In the Southwest, three main types are recommended, apart from the very local varieties that can't be found outside of the region: lingots de Vendée, lingots de Soissons, and tarbais. Avoid the cocos (Navy beans), which are all skin. Soissons are tops.

The problem with tarbais is that, when they are too young, they melt to a cream and don't hold their shape. In this case, indeed, it is advisable not to soak them but briefly boil them before the actual cooking takes place.

All this is fine in theory; in fact, most of the beans served in cassoulets in Languedoc restaurants come from Argentina.

Cassoulet was born as a what-can-we-do-with-what-we've-got recipe. Even the three principal cassoulet-producing areas can't agree among themselves as to the basic ingredients, and if you go into a Languedoc village with fifty housewives, you'll find at least fifty-one recipes.

EDIT: Cassoulet is too useful a dish to be monopolized by gourmets. I once made a cassoulet in one day from ingredients available in a rural north-of-Scotland supermarket. Chicken had to substitute for goose or duck, green fatty bacon for pork belly. Even dried haricot beans were unobtainable, only broad butter beans. (These are in fact closer to what was traditional in cassoulet's early years. According to Alan Davidson, haricot beans arrived in France from the New World by way of Spain in the 16th century, and only gradually replaced the broad beans in cassoulet.) There was plenty of good lean pork, lamb and decent sausage. A large bread bowl from a local shop sufficed as a cassole, and chicken fat did for goose. My French Languedoc-conditioned diners thought it about as good as most of the cassoulets they’d eaten.

Edited by John Whiting (log)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But why does Dave call it "cassoulette"?

Would you believe that its the Occitan spelling?

Thought not, would you believe that I never learned to spell (or type) in any language?

You'd be right. How about a multi-lingual spell checke on eG.

While I'm here I should say that I agree about the depth of pot being important. I hadn't realised that I only mentioned 'my big green pot' in the recipe. (Michael, the friend I wrote up the recipe for knows my big green pot) Said pot is about 15 inches in diameter and just short of 7 inches deep. Slightly bulging sides with a lip for the lid. Purchased in England some 20 years ago.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree about the depth of pot being important.

As I mentioned in connection with using my lasagne dish, I found it to be important only in regard to checking and maintaining the fluid level. The cassoulets I made in it were as good as the later ones in cassoles (with the bonus of more crust), but required a bit of extra care and attention. (Obviously a very shallow dish wouldn't work at all.)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Would you believe that its the Occitan spelling?

Nope. :cool:

Thought not, would you believe that I never learned to spell (or type) in any language?

I wouldn't. :wink:

You'd be right. How about a multi-lingual spell checke on eG.

Much easier: the word has been written a few dozen times on this board, including this thread.

BTW: a cassolette is a small vessel that used to contain oil for lighting or ritual purposes. Recently the meaning has extended to a small china, glass or crockery cup that may be used for cooking food in an oven. Larger than a ramequin but smaller than a regular soufflé dish. There is no such thing as cassoulette in the French or Occitan language but you may have read the word "cassolette" somewhere.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

All this is fine in theory; in fact, most of the beans served in cassoulets in Languedoc restaurants come from Argentina.

That was not theory but pretty reliable guidelines for cassoulet, gathered in Ariège, Périgord, Languedoc and from some grannies and restaurateurs who, mind you, do not use beans from Argentina. I've never heard anyone from any region fight about those guidelines. Besides, if the Argentinian beans are of the large type that I find in some supermarkets, they are a pretty good substitute for soissons (but they have thicker skins). Likewise, Eastern Mediterranean large white beans (gigantes), which are another version of soissons, are perfect when they are young. Also, Lima beans or butter beans are nice, being closely related to soissons. And so on. It's not about using "the" perfect bean, it's about understanding beans and how they behave, wherever they come from.

Cassoulet was born as a what-can-we-do-with-what-we've-got recipe. Even the three principal cassoulet-producing areas can't agree among themselves as to the basic ingredients, and if you go into a Languedoc village with fifty housewives, you'll find at least fifty-one recipes.

All this is fine as folklore and couleur locale go, as in the legend of the Eternally Simmering Cassoulet, but in reality I've never noticed those scholarly disagreements about the basic ingredients. There are three main "schools", and some variants, and they just coexist. As for one housewife = one recipe, that is simply how regional cooking goes, not just cassoulet.

EDIT: Cassoulet is too useful a dish to be monopolized by gourmets.

Ah, those damn gourmets, them again. However, it takes some of them — and by "gourmets" I mean housewives too — to help some things retain their shape and cassoulet remain cassoulet through the ages. If it were really a what-we-can-do-with-what-we've-got recipe, the recipe(s) would have been lost long ago, diluted in a sea of options. If you study cassoulet closely you'll find that the recipes vary but that there are some steady principles running through them. As is the case in any regional cooking.

I once made a cassoulet in one day from ingredients available in a rural north-of-Scotland supermarket. Chicken had to substitute for goose or duck, green fatty bacon for pork belly. Even dried haricot beans were unobtainable, only broad butter beans. (These are in fact closer to what was traditional in cassoulet's early years.

Bravo for the butter beans (which are close to Lima beans, hence to soissons) but sorry, if there's chicken in it, that cannot be called a cassoulet.

According to Alan Davidson, haricot beans arrived in France from the New World by way of Spain in the 16th century, and only gradually replaced the broad beans in cassoulet.)

Lima beans, though broad, are not "broad beans" (i.e. fava beans, quite different from the haricot). So let's be clear on this matter: were those beans of the butterbean type (large haricots) or of the fava type (fèves, broad beans)? Indeed the primitive cassoulet, dating back to gallo-roman times, was made with fava beans. But if you used butter beans, you tapped into more recent history.

There was plenty of good lean pork, lamb and decent sausage. A large bread bowl from a local shop sufficed as a cassole, and chicken fat did for goose. My French Languedoc-conditioned diners thought it about as good as most of the cassoulets they’d eaten.

I'm sure it was delicious, but chicken in a cassoulet... Let's say that it was a new dish, cassoulet-style, the Whiting Cassole.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

The name Languedoc allegedly derives from the way the word "yes" was pronounced -- "òc" in language of Southern France now known as Occitane, as opposed to the way the northerners pronounced it: oïl. That Medoc is relatively far from Languedoc makes me wonder if it has a different derivation.

I have no experience with long-running cassoulets, but I worked for two months at an Italian restaurant which never during that time actually took its pot of tomato sauce off the stove. Every now and then someone would throw a some more tomatoes, some herbs, and a few meatballs and sausages in and that was it. It was quite good.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

So nobody has made it through Rabelais yet, huh? :raz:

John, I thought for sure you'd have the page number for me with the cassoulet reference!

We just polished off the last freezer cassoulet. Beautiful beans and meaty flavor, but the lamb was dry. Will switch butchers in the future.

Time to start collecting duck legs for more.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...