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All About Cassoulet


stellabella
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Looks like my humble maiden-post has made it back from the depths...

I never did chime back with how the Cassoulet went...

...IT WAS FANTASTIC.... made enough for several large meals, and I just heated some for dinner last night, especially now that it's cold here in London. It was fun, sitting down with a big bowl of beans, melted bits of belly pork and a chunk or two of duck.... Had a couple of baguettes heated up to break into the bowl and there were two bowlfuls in my tum, all consumed while watching David Attenborough DVD's...

I used the recipe, and it didn't take that long really. It was over a month ago, and all it took was to start assembling browning and boiling in the afternoon and by 9pm I had a piping bowl on the table. I couldn't help tossing in some cubes of frozen stock and deliberately held back on the flour. Didn't navarin any lamb ('cos I was trying hard to get the belly pork flavour thing going)... the sausages were OOOHHHH... good... left 'em chunky and all the same size so surprise surprise for the lucky diner (ME!!)

I also bought some butter beans (one wine bar I was at served their cassoulet with butter beans... nice) and I'll probably try a version with them after I return from Australia in November, when it's REALLY COLD.

Thanks again for all the encouragement.

"Coffee and cigarettes... the breakfast of champions!"

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Cassoulet de Toulouse report:

The beans were called "cocos biancos," allegedly a kind of cannelini, but I was not able to persue the question with Annabelle, the woman who grows them, because she was getting lunch when I bought them from her stall at the farmer's market. They were more rotund than normal cannelini, the pods a bit shorter. I bought around 3.5 lbs., which worked out almost exactly to 2 lbs. shelled (the quantity called for in the recipe). A few days later I read in the Larousse article on cassoulet that the beans prefered in Toulouse are called cocos there, so I had a good feeling about them.

Also in the Larousse I read that true cassoulet must always be cooked in a special earthenware cassole, never enamel. On the next page the picture showed a lovely cassoulet nestled in a Le Creuset casserole, which was comforting, because that was what I was going to use. (In fact, the first time I made cassoulet I used a gigantic stainless sauté pan because it was the biggest pan I had, and it came out fine, though not so aesthetically pleasing)

The meat cost nearly $100 dollars -- partially because my butcher ordered me a whole pork belly (unsmoked, skin on). He would have taken it back, but there was something so wonderful about it that I just bought the whole thing. I think Elizabeth David noted that cassoulet is not particularly cheap to make despite its rustic origins. By a strange bay area phenomenon it is easier to get confit than a whole duck to make it yourself, so that's what I did. I got the end of a prosciutto di San Daniele for $7/lb. which was a major score. I got their delicious garlic sausage, and also some duck sausage, just for fun.

In the interest of brevity I will skip the narrative of the three-day cooking process, except to say that I attempted to follow the recipe pretty closely, making allowances for the fresh beans. I was distracted by the catastophic finale of the A's season, though, and the beans got very soft cooking in the ragout -- too soft for my taste, but rescued in time to prevent them from disintegrating. They weren't in there much more than an hour. On the final day when you reheat it with pureed pork fat, I strained out the beans for the simmering session, but left it in the oven longer at the end to compensate. For these reasons the beans were more delicate in flavor than dried beans. Part of the problem was that, in my greediness for as many fatty meats as possible, I used the Toulouse recipe instead of the fresh fava one.

I also departed from the recipe by defatting pretty aggressively. Less for "health" concerns than the thought that 3 of my guests would be flying the next day, either across the country or across the atlantic. The thought of sitting on a plane for 5, or 10, hours with a stomach full of fat made me a little queasy, so I took pity on the guests. Instead of skimming a little fat before putting it in the fridge overnight, I took it all off when I pulled it out the next day -- about 2 cups worth. I also defatted the meats thoroughly during the final assembly (except for the pork belly of course). Don't worry, there was still plenty of fat, and flavor.

It was wonderful. I mean, cassoulet is almost the perfect food. We were all smiling involuntarily the whole meal. As I noted, the beans were a little too soft for me, but I really didn't care when I was eating it. The thing that shocked me is that we ate the whole thing! 7 people. It seems unfathomable, but I don't even feel that bad today. I made a salad with a lot of bitter greens to act as a palate cleanser. We finished it off with chocolate souffle and a cheese course and it wasn't even that overwhelming (we needed a little help from Mr. Calvados before the cheese).

I decided on Madiran, then worried that it might frighten some of the guests, so went with Corbieres instead. But at the store, the magnum of Domaine Les Pallieres Gigondas was calling to me, so I caved and bought that too, deciding to use the Corbieres as backup (which it turned out we didn't need). So the sequence was:

Vouvray pétillant

Gigondas

Monbazillac

(Calvados)

It was pretty much perfect.

I would suggest making a lighter cassoulet, such as Wolfert-Daugin's fava recipe, with fresh beans. The traditional recipe is really designed around the weight of the dried beans. But if you are greedy like me, just watch your fresh beans closely.

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Great report.

I was worried about the fresh canneliini and happy to know you just didn't care in the end because the long, slow cooking allowed the development of a deep, satisfying taste.

On a budget note: You might think about picking up unsalted pork belly in an Asian market or soaking salt pork in several changes of water to rid it of salt.

“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

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Cassoulet de Toulouse report:

The beans were called "cocos biancos," allegedly a kind of cannelini, but I was not able to persue the question with Annabelle, the woman who grows them, because she was getting lunch when I bought them from her stall at the farmer's market. They were more rotund than normal cannelini, the pods a bit shorter. I bought around 3.5 lbs., which worked out almost exactly to 2 lbs. shelled (the quantity called for in the recipe). A few days later I read in the Larousse article on cassoulet that the beans prefered in Toulouse are called cocos there, so I had a good feeling about them.

*snip*

The meat cost nearly $100 dollars -- partially because my butcher ordered me a whole pork belly (unsmoked, skin on). He would have taken it back, but there was something so wonderful about it that I just bought the whole thing. I think Elizabeth David noted that cassoulet is not particularly cheap to make despite its rustic origins. By a strange bay area phenomenon it is easier to get confit than a whole duck to make it yourself, so that's what I did. I got the end of a prosciutto di San Daniele for $7/lb. which was a major score. I got their delicious garlic sausage, and also some duck sausage, just for fun.

*snip*

I love coco biancos... I buy them demi-sec from a farmer (Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farms) here in Oregon who grows them for Pascal Souton, a French chef who lives (and cooks) here. Dried, they make a really lovely cassoulet and don't fall apart so easily (obviously).

If you still have any pork belly left...make pancetta! It's really easy to do at home and very rewarding...but maybe you already know that.

regards,

trillium

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I make fresh shell beans a lot in season, and I was surprised by how fast these ones cooked. Overall, I would say that using dried beans allows for longer, slower cooking, and thus richer flavor, more of which is absorbed into the bean, but these were plenty rich, just more delicate. I will definitely make the fava recipe next spring.

Once I bought pork rind from the Ranch 99 market in El Cerrito, and they wouldn't even charge me. But I now live walking distance from Café Rouge, and their excellent meat market, so I had them order me the belly (and shoulder) from Niman Ranch (they make the confit and the sausage too; if you haven't been, I recommend it next time you're in Berkeley). In general, I'd rather support Niman than not. And I'd rather support people who make boudin noir and guanciale, and can get me something like caul fat on short notice. Plus, now I have a freezer full of pork.

It's been a couple months since I cooked a big complicated meal like this, and I'd almost forgotten how fun -- and satisfying -- it is. Now I'm really looking forward to your new book for more of the same.

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Cassoulet de Toulouse report:

...I also departed from the recipe by defatting pretty aggressively. Less for "health" concerns than the thought that 3 of my guests would be flying the next day, either across the country or across the atlantic. The thought of sitting on a plane for 5, or 10, hours with a stomach full of fat made me a little queasy, so I took pity on the guests. Instead of skimming a little fat before putting it in the fridge overnight, I took it all off when I pulled it out the next day -- about 2 cups worth. I also defatted the meats thoroughly during the final assembly (except for the pork belly of course). Don't worry, there was still plenty of fat, and flavor.

It was wonderful. I mean, cassoulet is almost the perfect food. We were all smiling involuntarily the whole meal. ...The thing that shocked me is that we ate the whole thing! 7 people. It seems unfathomable, but I don't even feel that bad today. It was pretty much perfect.

I'm glad that badthings has given such a glowing report.

Just last night I began rendering the pork fat which is the first stage of the Toulouse cassoulet I plan to serve over the holidays. The rendered pork fat is dripping through a coffee filter as I write. This is the first time I've done this and I'm surprised at how little fat is rendered from over 4 lbs of raw fat. I resisted temptation and discarded the bits that were left from it. Whenever I render a little chicken fat, I eat them. But there were so many from the pork I could visualize the tummy tuck surgeon ripping them from my hips and belly. What are they called? Cracklings? They should be called thighs.

I'm going to make the confits in the next week or two so they can develop. I think it will be a perfect New Years' day family dinner. Although a meal like this can be a lot of work, it isn't overwhelming as it can be staged out over time. My only doubt is whether it will be as good as the Catalan Stew I made from Wolfert's world of food.

Interestingly, my DIL has just today brought home Fran McCullough's "The Good Fat" which I am reading as the pork fat drips, slow ladleful by ladleful. (only 35 pages so far, so no book report here)

No book report, but I see a pattern: Fran McCullough has edited and published the work of cookbook authors including Paula Wolfert. :hmmm:

So? Paula writes these recipes where, instead of cutting the fat off the meat we buy as so many suggest, we run all over town to buy EXTRA fat to line the pot and confit the duck and sausage while her old editor writes a book to make us feel better about eating these foods. :laugh::laugh::laugh:

It's perfect because the food is so good and now guiltless.

Maybe when I finish reading Good Fat, I'll post a recipe I have for Chinese Almond cookies that can only be made with lard.

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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Check out this thread on lard:

Click

And another:

Click again

I am wondering why you are straining the lard. Check out the lard making techniques in the threads.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Check out this thread on lard:

...

I am wondering why you are straining the lard. Check out the lard making techniques in the threads.

Because I'm doing lard the hard way? :rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes::biggrin:

Because there were all these little itsy bits of solid stuff at the bottom, and I'm going to use some of it for baking as well as for the cassoulet.

Thanks for the lard leads, I'll read them through after dinner.

Anyway, I'm in interesting company, this is my favorite bit from Zuni Cafe (which I haven't cooked from yet):

"..but in the spirit of 'stop, think, there must be a harder way, 'I figured starting from scratch might be more gratifying.'''

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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Fifi, thanks again. I've read through the very informative lard threads. I keep wondering why some things I used to eat as a child don't taste as good. Lard's the likely answer.

I made my lard in the oven in a large LC casserole, so had no opportunity to triple bottle the lard as was suggested there. I'll try it next time. I did save the little brown bits that I so carefully strained away from the liquid in its own little jar, though.

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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:wub: The aroma of Cassoulet!

Here's a few thoughts on cassoulet: First I used Tarbais beans, and soaked them

in water for 2 days. This way the skin of the bean is imperceptible. It beautifully dissolves . And I would deglaze the meat with wine, and the more wine the better! As well as placing the skins of bacon and pork belly on the bottom of the pot. Duck

fat :raz: So here is a simplified Ingredient List for 8 servings

2 lbs. Tarbais beans (from D'artagnan, you have to order 6 lbs, but do I have a

great bean dish!)

1/2 lb. double smoked bacon

6 oz. fresh pork rind

10 cloves grlic

2 medium onions

1 carrot

Bouquet Garni:

5 parseley sprigs

3 celery leaves

1 thyme sprig

5 cloves

leek

10 peppercorn

wrapped in cheesecloth, tied with string

10 cups of water

pork demi-glace, 6 oz.

duck fat, rendered from prepared confit

garlic sausage 1 1/2 lb.

Red Burgandy wine

Duck legs

2 tomatoes, peeled and seeded

1/2 lb. duck gizzard

Salt and pepper to taste

Bread crumb topping, seasoned with parseley, garlic, salt and pepper

It's a three-day love feast, and boy do I talk to the cassoulet!

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How did I miss this thread the first time around? PCL, welcome to eGullet - and what is it about us - the Chinese diaspora - and gluttony? Jon? :biggrin: I have to admit that I used to buy my cassoulet here in Paris - in cans at the grocery store no less - and it's pretty damned good. But yeah, having made my own - it's hard to go back. The depth of flavour of homemade cassoulet - pure alchemy. For hardcore cassoulet fans there's a brotherhoood of the Castelnaudry cassoulet - there are crazy food cults all over France, God love 'em - that holds an annual festival - gluttony required of course - robes and chanting optional.

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I've never had Cassoulet but this thread is driving me crazy with the lust for it. Unfortunatly I do not have Wolfert's book yet (probably buy it when re-released) and a quick web search returned this recipe:

cassoulet from toulouse

Does the recipe sound pretty traditional?? It sounds like it to me even though it's author seems to be Mario Batali.

If not I would appreciate another recipe (not just the ingredient list).

Thanks

FM

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Of course, Paula is the expert on that, but that looks like a pretty good recipe. All the meats that you want are there. Compare with Julia's recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which has lamb) to get a better sense of what you're shooting for. If, inexplicably, you don't have MtAoFC, just go ahead and make it.

Also make sure the stock you add at the end does not cover the surface of the beans. Traditionally, the crust is broken and allowed to re-form between 3 and 8 times. And forget the non-stick -- sauté the sausage in duck fat.

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In my opinion I don't think smoked bacon is a good idea in cassoulet. Here is why: In the french southwest meats are cured in brine or salt and the taste is mild and the texture is really fatty.

“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

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This is why I'll never be a cookbook author -- I didn't even notice the bacon. You definitely do NOT want bacon. Use blanched salt pork or fresh pork belly. Somewhere I read that you will be excommunicated from Castelnaudry if you use any smoked meat. I also just noticed that there is no pork skin involved in this recipe -- you could skip it, but that would be cheating.

I mean the question comes down to how much you just want delicious fatty beans with pork and duck, versus how much you want to make something the way it is made in Toulouse.

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This is why I'll never be a cookbook author -- I didn't even notice the bacon. You definitely do NOT want bacon. Use blanched salt pork or fresh pork belly. Somewhere I read that you will be excommunicated from Castelnaudry if you use any smoked meat. I also just noticed that there is no pork skin involved in this recipe -- you could skip it, but that would be cheating.

I mean the question comes down to how much you just want delicious fatty beans with pork and duck, versus how much you want to make something the way it is made in Toulouse.

Thanks for the help badthings and Paula. I sure do have Mastering the Art... and I read the recipe in there last night (PRETTY INTIMIDATING). Since then I looked on FTV website for "cassoulet" and they have a few but only one of them by Ariane Daguin sounded pretty authentic. I think I will use that along with the sausage patties from MaTHAofFC to make mine in the --hopefuly near-- future.

Elie

Edited by FoodMan (log)

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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First cold snap here I am going to tackle this dish. My biggest worry is getting the dried beans that aren't too old. Paula's book should be here tomorrow so I haven't read it yet.

FoodMan... What are you going to do for beans and confit?

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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First cold snap here I am going to tackle this dish. My biggest worry is getting the dried beans that aren't too old. Paula's book should be here tomorrow so I haven't read it yet.

FoodMan... What are you going to do for beans and confit?

I will make my own confit and the beans are not that hard to find. I'm thinking good great white northern beans will work perfectly.

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I have a cassoulet question for New Yorkers -- where, in your opinion, can the most perfect expression of Cassoulet, whether touloussain or normadois, be found in the city? I'm doing an article on great cold weather dishes, and I'd like to be able to recommend a really first class cassoulet. Any suggestions for other classic french cold weather dishes, such as coq au vin, boeuf bourgouigon, etc. etc. would be welcome as well.

Mr. Cutlets

www.mr-cutlets.com

:laugh:

Mr-Cutlets.com: your source for advice, excerpts, Cutlets news, and links to buy Meat Me in Manhattan: A Carnivore's Guide to New York!
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In my opinion I don't think smoked bacon is a good idea in cassoulet. Here is why: In the french southwest meats are cured in brine or salt and the taste is mild and the texture is really fatty.

How about pancetta as a substitute if you can't find fatback (instead of bacon)?

Edited by mikeycook (log)

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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Mikey: pancetta is perfect for cassoulet. It is exactly the same thing as cansalade, the local seasoned pork belly of Toulouse.

It is just smoked meats which are not used in any dish that I know of in the French southwest. I think in the case of cassoulet with the all the work that you put it into it one should try to follow tradition.

“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

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Paula, thanks for the note. I live in NYC and am continually frustrated by the lack of reliable sources of fatback, salted or unsalted (Faicco's is the only place I can be sure of getting it and they are often closed when I get off work.) Pancetta is much more easily obtainable.

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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In my opinion I don't think smoked bacon is a good idea in cassoulet. Here is why: In the french southwest meats are cured in brine or salt and the taste is mild and the texture is really fatty.

How about pancetta as a substitute if you can't find fatback (instead of bacon)?

The recipe requires both bacon and rind. I thought the Pancetta would make a good sub for the bacon, correct??? as for the rind, boiled salt pork might do the job. I am also planning on visiting local hispanic butcher shops who might sell pork rind since it is used extensivly to make cracklings (Chicharron).

Elie

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E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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