Cassoulet, the legendary dish from the southwest France, has long been written and argued about. Of course, there are many local variations, and every grand-mère, whether from Toulouse, Castelnaudary, or Carcasson, feels hers is the correct one.
Regardless of place of origin, the breadcrumb crust is traditionally – or perhaps religiously and metaphorically – broken and turned 5 or perhaps 7 times (a mystical, magincal number, 7). You can choose to break the crust as many or as few times as you wish, just don’t bake the crumbs too dark. If they start to darken threateningly, lay a piece of foil loosely over the cassoulet. The beans will cook soft and mushy, rich with the flavors of the duck confit, pork belly, and sausage inside.
Pour duck stock over beans until liquid comes just below their surface. You might not use all of the stock; save the rest for moistening beans later
Liquify duck fat by placing the container in a warm spot or in warm water; use gentle heat. Toss breadcrumbs with some of the duck fat (don’t make them greasy soggy). Spread breadcrumbs evenly on top of cassoulet in a half-inch thick layer. Drizzle with another tablespoon or two of duck fat. You have more fat than you need
Bake cassoulet uncovered in the middle of a 350° F oven for 2½ to 3 hours for 4 person cassoutlet; 3 to 3½ hours for 6 person cassoulet. During cooking, break crust several times: When breadcrumbs turn golden brown, break crust with a kitchen spoon (I use a chopping motion) and stir them into themselves, but not down into the cassoulet. Gently smooth crumbs back into place on top of cassoulet with back of spoon. If beans become dry during baking, add a little more stock around the edge of the cassoulet, but not so much as to make cassoulet soupy (don’t wet the crumbs – disaster!). The beans will be luscious and creamy when done, cassoulet will be bubbling, and crumbs golden brown.
Be sure to repeat the breaking of the crust a second, then a third or fourth time – more if you wish or need to – until the crumbs are evenly golden throughout
If crumbs darken too much, lay a piece of foil loosely over the top
Serve the cassoulet in its dish at the table, accompanied by a chicory or butter lettuce salad in a mustardy or anchovy dressing. Crusty, rustic bread is a must, though that may seem surprising with the beans. Drink a nice bottle of young Bordeaux or something deeper and darker – Cahors, Corbières, Madiran, or other Languedoc wine – those would be my choice. Baked or poached pears or apples with crème fraîche are the correct dessert.
It’s as simple as that. Bon appetit!
©2018 christopher lee