A Cassoulet is more than just a bean stew for those in the know how. Originally a peasant dish with origins dating back to the 14th century (legend has it that the citizens of Castelnaudary were besieged during the Hundred Year War and made a meal with the only ingredients they could lay their hands on; the soldiers reinvigorated by this solid dish sent the English packing all the way back to the Channel), this classic of French cuisine is now sold commercially in cans in every supermarket, as well as existing at fine dining level.
The name of the dish comes from the very dish itself- a “cassolle”, a bowl with a particular shape, created in a village near Castelnaudary called Issel.
Variations do exist, with the most renowned being the cassoulets of Castelnaudary, Toulouse and Carcassonne. All are made with white beans (haricots blancs), duck or goose confit, meat and sausages. In Toulouse the meat is generally pork or mutton, in Carcassonne one often finds partridge and in Castelnaudary they don’t use mutton at all.
We’ve decided to bring you a recipe for this superb rustic, this one is the official recipe of the Castelnaudary tourist office. To your chopping boards!
The main ingredients of cassoulet are :
Great Northern beans (haricots lingot);
various meats including duck or goose confit, knuckle or shoulder of pork, pure pork sausages in traditional casing and pork rind, essential to give the stock a creamy consistency.
In addition to these basic ingredients, others can be added as described in the recipe below. Each chef has his/her own unique combination.
If using dried beans, soak them overnight in cold water. Rinse and place the beans in a pan filled with cold water. Bring to the boil to blanch the beans for 5 minutes and drain.
In the meantime prepare the stock using the pork rind cut into wide strips, the duck/goose carcass (if available) and/or a few pork bones. Some vegetables can be added to taste: onion, carrot, leek. Salt and pepper. Finally add some garlic minced with mature salted bacon.
Please note: hard water should not be used for this recipe.
Strain the stock, set aside the pork rind and discard the rest. The volume of stock should be at least twice the volume of the blanched beans.
Put the beans in the stock and cook for ½ an hour to 2 hours. The beans should be soft but remain whole. Whilst cooking a very small amount of tomato puree must be added (i.e. 1 tablespoon per kilo of beans).
Whilst the beans are cooking, prepare the meat. Place the pieces of confit in a large frying pan over a low heat to remove the fat. Lift out and drain the pieces of confit, leaving the fat in the pan. Add the pieces of pork meat to the fat and sauté them until golden. Take out of the pan and drain them. Use the same fat to fry the sausages. Once all this is done, place the ingredients in a “cassole” – a shallow earthenware dish – which has given its name to cassoulet.
Line the bottom of the cassole with the pork rind and add about a third of the beans. Then add the meat and pour the remaining beans over it. Add the sausages, pushing them down into the beans but taking care to leave the top of the sausages visible. Finally pour the hot stock, which should just cover the beans. Grind some black pepper over the top of the dish. Place in a pre-heated oven (150°/160°C – gas mark 5/6) and bake for 2 to 3 hours. A golden brown crust will form on top of the dish, which must be pushed down several times (7 times according to tradition) taking care not to crush the beans. This provides an opportunity to check that the beans are not drying out. Should this be the case some stock should be added, but not as much as to drown the beans. Serve the bubbling cassoulet in the cassole – straight out of the oven.
If this dish has whet your appetite for the beautiful Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, then we have a perfect selection of properties around Carcassonne, such as this adorable character house with 4 bedrooms, a garden and far-reaching views on the market for €170,000 (ref 33323), or a villa with a garden and pool priced at €230,000 (ref 33143). If you fancy pushing the boat out a little, a beautiful renovated stone house nestled in 4.5 acres of land with a swimming pool and outbuildings could be just the ticket, and it’s only 5 minutes from Carcassonne town centre (ref 29422). If you prefer the area around Toulouse, perhaps this typical Gersois farmhouse set in 2 acres of grounds with a swimming pool and various outbuildings could be your dream home. Located only 30 minutes from Toulouse it is on sale for €380,000 (ref 31552).