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All About Cassoulet


stellabella
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To my taste, the color and texture looks just right. If it's not "authentic", I don't want to know about it!  :raz:

Sure it tasted fine, but I guess that point is that although this is a greek dish, it could just conceivably be from some hypothetical SW-French village and called cassoulet?

Rabelais - have found mention of a bean and bacon dish and olla podrida, but nothing like cassoulet (yet).

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  • 5 months later...

Had Cassoulet for lunch yesterday at a local restaurant.

The menu was:

Homemade vegetable soup seved family style.

A Green salad with local dry ham & Emental cheese chunks.

The Cassoulet

A choice of desserts. I had a big piece of pear tart.

1/4 liter wine

Coffee.

The Cassoulet was a relatively simple one, but each person had a large piece of Toulouse sausage & a cuisse de confit de Camard. The beans were just right & laced with slivers of pork, a bit of tomato, lots of garlic & herbs.

Not a to die for Cassoulet, but very good as restaurant cassoulets go.

Prix fixe 11 Euros about $15.00.

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  • 4 weeks later...

We'll be in Languedoc Christmas week, south of Montpellier.

Dave Hatfield has made some suggestions, as well as others, on the France site.

Can't wait to have the real Cassoulet!

We'll be closest to Carcassonne. Not Castelnaudry or Toulouse.

(each town claims to make the best Cassoulet)

Cassoulet at our house in Philly in February!

Will definitely look for the Tarbais beans to take home.

Philly Francophiles

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 11 months later...
I have to say that after a lifetime of cassoulet eating and making I find it a far more integrated dish without either confit or sausage, let alone the heresy of mutton.

Mutton is one of the many local additions (for instance in Carcassonne and Toulouse), not a heresy.

Other local variations may or may not include confit and/or sausage, but a good assortment of various meat products (sausage, confit, garlic sausage, pork belly), is constitutive of cassoulet. The essential, basic addition is salted pork rinds. Failing that, what you get is baked beans.

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I have to say that after a lifetime of cassoulet eating and making I find it a far more integrated dish without either confit or sausage, let alone the heresy of mutton.

Mutton is one of the many local additions (for instance in Carcassonne and Toulouse), not a heresy.

Other local variations may or may not include confit and/or sausage, but a good assortment of various meat products (sausage, confit, garlic sausage, pork belly), is constitutive of cassoulet. The essential, basic addition is salted pork rinds. Failing that, what you get is baked beans.

There were 4 or 5 different meat products. I can't even say for sure that some smaller pieces were duck confit or something else. The sausages were definitely there, and a nice, crispy pork rind. The taste combination was excellent.

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I have to say that after a lifetime of cassoulet eating and making I find it a far more integrated dish without either confit or sausage, let alone the heresy of mutton.

Mutton is one of the many local additions (for instance in Carcassonne and Toulouse), not a heresy.

Other local variations may or may not include confit and/or sausage, but a good assortment of various meat products (sausage, confit, garlic sausage, pork belly), is constitutive of cassoulet. The essential, basic addition is salted pork rinds. Failing that, what you get is baked beans.

I agree,in general.Mutton ruins the dish,though.

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I agree,in general.Mutton ruins the dish,though.

I agree with you. I never use it. My favorite combination is rinds, pork belly and small peppery sausages, and preserved goose or duck when I have some.

On the other hand I adore lingot beans with mutton or lamb (navarin aux haricots or haricot de mouton), more a Parisian dish and one that should never be baked, but slowly simmered in a cocotte.

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Mutton ruins the dish,though.

Mutton, I think is one of those hot-button issues that divides the culinary world in two - to mix a few metaphores. I hate mutton in any form and indeed when visiting my daughter in New Zealand insisted on buying only export-quality young lamb (which was tough to get in provincial cities). My best eating companion in Paris (aside from Colette) though loves it in all forms. Funny.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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  • 1 year later...

[Moderator's note: Starting with this post, the topic "Cassoulet -- Is It Really All That?" mas been merged into this general cassoulet topic. CA]

I'm a little embarrassed to say this, but...I don't think I like cassoulet? Much?

The trouble is, I haven't eaten a whole lot of it, but I have cooked it a couple of times. (I know...that's flawed, but what the heck. I basically merged a recipe from Saveur with various wisdom from Larousse.) And the cooking involves filling my house with the smell of duck grease, which is initially lovely but later makes me feel a little queasy.

So I can't tell if I don't like cassoulet because a) I haven't eaten the good stuff, b) I've cooked it badly, c) I'm queasy from the duck grease, or d) all of the above.

In an attempt to educate myself, I recently ate cassoulet at a couple of restaurants. One version was totally awful--like Van de Kamp's canned beans, with some slithery bits of meat, and what tasted distinctly like a maple-flavored breakfast link. And the other was good and garlicky and fully of tasty sausage, but still...kinda just pork and beans, when you got down to it.

SOOO. My question: Is it constitutionally possible to just not like the stuff? (To hear people talk about it, you wouldn't think so...) Or am I missing some magical ingredient/element?

Concrete tips, as well as general moral support, appreciated.

Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

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Nothing wrong with not liking something. We all have things we'd rather not eat or on our 'not-favorite' list. Im not wild about sea cucumber but like cassoulet when I get it in a restaurant and it's done well (lots of duck confit, good sausage, properly cooked beans)

Red meat is not bad for you. Now blue-green meat, that’s bad for you!

Tommy Smothers

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Sometimes you just don't like stuff. I can't for the life of me figure out why people pay for caviar or high-end grappa.

I do like cassoulet, though. Maybe you should try mine and see if you come 'round to it. :wink:

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Ah, see, I haven't explained the whole story. I'm working on a cookbook with someone who really, really loves cassoulet, and she wants to include a recipe.

So I am, effectively, obliged to like it--or at least make it something that I like better than the version we currently have. But I am leery of going too far, and inadvertently taking out the innate cassoulet-ness of the thing. (Like, would anyone consider it cassoulet if I used big Greek-style gigantes beans?) I don't quite feel like I have the right to tinker much, if I haven't yet had the Platonic ideal of cassoulet. And I unfortunately don't have time or budget to fly to Toulouse and dine at the source. (Or wait...do I? <opens new tab for kayak.com>)

One more precise question: What's people's preferred liquid level? I've had stuff that's very soupy, and I've had more of a baked casserole texture. And all the recipes I've read all seem to peter out at the end, finishing up with a vague "cook till beans are tender" and no mention of what the texture _between_ the beans ought to be.

Edited by zora (log)

Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

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(Like, would anyone consider it cassoulet if I used big Greek-style gigantes beans?

Gigantes beans are very similar to the French Soissons beans, actually they are the same kind but gigantes are a bit thicker-skinned. Some "schools" of cassoulet (especially the Northern ones in Périgord or Quercy) actually recommend using Soissons beans for cassoulet, so I should say gigantes are perfect as long as you cook them long enough. Their chestnuty taste works wonders with the duck and pork.

About the liquid level: there are two definite stages in a cassoulet — the cooking of the beans and some of the meats in a big pan and the final browning in the oven. At the end of the first stage, you should have a lot of liquid so that it can turn into a thick, generous sauce at the end of the browning stage. Remember that you have to "drown" the top crust seven times during baking so that the sauce thickens the right way.

So at the end of the first stage, the cooking stock should be abundant and the dish almost soupy. Stock should be already slightly thickened from the beans and opaque, by no means clear.

I am of the mind that nobody on Earth could ever dislike a properly-made cassoulet.

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Ah, see, I haven't explained the whole story. I'm working on a cookbook with someone who really, really loves cassoulet, and she wants to include a recipe.

So I am, effectively, obliged to like it--or at least make it something that I like better than the version we currently have. But I am leery of going too far, and inadvertently taking out the innate cassoulet-ness of the thing. (Like, would anyone consider it cassoulet if I used big Greek-style gigantes beans?).

<snip>

One more precise question: What's people's preferred liquid level?  I've had stuff that's very soupy, and I've had more of a baked casserole texture. And all the recipes I've read all seem to peter out at the end, finishing up with a vague "cook till beans are tender" and no mention of what the texture _between_ the beans ought to be.

I like Cassoulet a lot and have been well served by Dave Hatfield's recipe. I can't even begin to weigh in

on what constitutes the essence of cassoulet but there is much discussion around it in

The Cassoulet Cook-Off

and

Cassoulet...Variations and thoughts

I'd venture to guess that Wolfert's version in The Cooking of Southwest France is fairly authoritative.

As far as liquid goes - I try to balance a nice crusty top with enough liquid 1/2 to 1 bean down from the top to have it be moist but not soupy.

As for the recipes inclusion in the cookbook - If you are co-writing the book then perhaps it could be included as one of her favorites thus relieving you of any need to even like Cassoulet.

Jon

--formerly known as 6ppc--

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I am of the mind that nobody on Earth could ever dislike a properly-made cassoulet.

See, that's what I'm thinking. I mean, what's _not_ to like?

Thanks so much for the specifics on beans and liquid levels! I will definitely try a batch with the gigantes--I think it might also give it a little more visual interest...

Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

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As I was just telling some new bakery staff I was training (in regard to cakes): EVERY component, be it the filling, the cake, the icing, should taste fabulous on its own...just putting together mediocre components will provide a mediocre outcome. Same thing with cassoulet. A so-so cassoulet can be easy. It takes time and passion and the best of everything to turn out a mouth-watering, comfort-inducing, mind-blowing cassoulet.

The beans must be fabulous and not old. (I use runner cannellini beans which are huge but remain beautifully intact and are unbelievably creamy.) The confit must be good (and plentiful!), as must the sausage and pork or lamb or whatever you are using. Garlic, herbs and seasonings must be done carefully (I love the technique Paula gives where you puree cooked and raw garlic with salt pork then stir it into the cassoulet adding such great flavor).

I have also had cassoulets that just didn't do it for me, zora. But oh man, when they are done with care and love and the best of ingredients...heaven. And it is even more fun when you have a boyfriend who is a potter and makes cassoles for you (lucky me!)

kit

"I'm bringing pastry back"

Weebl

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There's no accounting for taste, to each her own, one man's ceiling... and so on.

Now that I've got that relativism stuff out of the way: cassoulet is one of the most fantastic things in the world. When you get it right -- and that's a trick, to be sure -- it's remarkable.

I got started on my serious cassoulet jones at a restaurant in town (Al Forno) where they served a "fast" version. I liked it enough to know it wasn't as good as it could be. What turned out to be the first eG Cook-Off is devoted to cassoulet, and my experiences making it that first time lead to my incorporating the dish into our family's holiday traditions (it's our New Years lunch/dinner, to which all friends are welcome).

It is, of course, "just" baked beans with meat. As such, there are a lot of versions of it that take shortcuts, try to keep it lean, and use inferior ingredients. But those versions will tend to suck, and even passable cassoulet doesn't explain why people go gaga over it. A great version, though, does.

The meats and fat are braised within the cassoulet to a velvety tenderness; sausages in particular are amazing after being cooked with all the rest. The meats all remain distinct but, as in a stew, contribute flavor to each other. The right beans prepared the right way become smooth, flavorful, and redolent of the meat and fat. In particular, the beans have a creamy consistency that is no doubt a result of the rendered duck, pork, and other fats. Everything should be moist, neither wet nor dry.

If I make it to heaven, St. Peter will hand me a bowl of steaming cassoulet. If I end up in hell, I'm going get be forced to eat hundreds of bad bowls, which outnumber the good ones by several orders of magnitude. Bad bowls are bad because the beans are dry or have disintegrated; the meat is overcooked; the dish is not cooked throughout. It's a dish that reveals ingredient and process flaws.

If the smell of duck fat makes you queasy, it's a good bet that no version of this dish will truly satisfy you. (Do you like duck confit?) But I'd urge you first to head on over to the Cook-Off and try making it with fresh, quality ingredients (especially the right beans, good confit, and well-made sausages) before you write it off. Or try a variation that uses another meat. Or just try Busboy's, at the very least. :wink:

As for the texture between the beans: that turns into a thick, liquid mush comprised of bits of this and that moistened by the stock(s) you've added. Best to add hot stock to the beans half-way through and not just at the beginning, and then to adjust with more later if needed. It's easy to make dry beans, especially with enameled cast iron cookware, but more difficult to make beans that are soupy, unless you're taking shortcuts.

ETA: kitwilliams hit the nail on the head.

Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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. . .

It is, of course, "just" baked beans with meat.

. . .

And therein lies the problem. I totally understand that some people can love it but I am equally certain that even if St. Peter himself made it, I still wouldn't like it! I cannot bring myself to like beans no matter how hard I try. :shock:

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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Thanks a million for the detailed analysis, chrisamirault! I've spent the last couple hours reading the cassoulet cook-off thread.

Don't get me wrong--I love duck confit, and I've made it at home quite a few times. I think the queasiness kicks in when I spend all day doing a duck chop shop--breaking down the whole bird and making stock, making pate, etc. Then I wake up in the middle of the night with the smell all around me. (Doesn't help that my bedroom is directly upstairs from the kitchen.) Bleh.

My next attempt will definitely involve more liquid, and more and better sausage... It was just my butcher's standard house-made pork business, and it got lost in all the other business.

And pork rind. I didn't really appreciate the function of it before--I thought it was just in there for flavoring, not as something you end up eating.

On the other hand, I have to say I don't have a huge natural affinity for beans. A byproduct of being raised by hippies in the 70s? But I just had some beautifully cooked pinto beans the last time I was in New Mexico, and they were splendid. So I know there's hope!

Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

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Cassoulet can be, and often is, heavy and stodgy and bland. I have to say that the two best cassoulets I've had have been the two I've made here in France, and neither used the iconic Tarbais beans. Neither one had confit, either, as outrageous as that sounds. One was a product of the butcher selecting for me everything pork that he thought should go into a cassoulet and then my using what seemed like an unreasonable amount of garlic, and the other is my current favorite, the Catalan version from Cooking of Southwest France. But no matter what recipe you use, you really do have to like beans.

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