02 January 2016

Cassoulet — white beans with duck and sausage

One of the best memories Walt and I have of eating cassoulet takes us back to the town of Castelnaudary in southwestern France in 1989. We were doing a 10-day driving trip around that region and decided to stay the night in the main hotel in the center of the town. It had a nice restaurant and, Castelnaudary being the birthplace of cassoulet according to local tradition, that's what we ordered. (Pronounce those [kah-stehl-noh-dah-ree] and [kah-soo-lay]).

Our waiter recommended the cassoulet, accompanied by a salad and a nice bottle of the local Fitou red wine. He was very attentive, and I think he enjoyed talking to two young (imagine!) Americans who spoke French and enjoyed good French food and cooking. After the fine dinner, he offered us — on the house — a couple of glasses of Armagnac brandy (also a local product) as a digestif (that's a strong after-dinner drink that supposedly helps you digest the rich food you just ate). We were staying upstairs in the hotel, so we didn't have to drive anywhere until the next morning. The whole thing is a very vivid and positive memory of those long-ago days when we started exploring France together.

Today I want to post the last of the 2016 cassoulet photos. I cooked the beans (big white beans called haricots lingots in France, or cannellini in Italy and the U.S.) in the slow-cooker for nearly 8 hours. They were maybe a little overcooked, but then the cassoulet needed only a short time in the oven so it was good that the beans were already done. I put a layer of beans in a baking dish and laid two slow-cooked duck leg pieces on top, browning the duck in a skillet first.

Then I added more cooked beans to cover the duck pieces (those are duck gizzards — gésier confits — along with the duck leg pieces in the photo above). On top of the beans, I placed a few pre-cooked, fairly plain pork sausages (saucisses de Toulouse are good) and spooned on a few more beans so that the sausages were nearly covered but still visible. Actually, I used some little chipolatas aux herbes that I had on hand. Cassoulet doesn't normally include smoked meats...

Next, I covered the beans with breadcrumbs. My breadcrumbs were home-made from stale baguettes, and I sautéed them lightly in some duck fat before I spread them over the beans. There is a little bit of duck fat in the beans too — beans need some fat for richness, and duck fat is a delicious ingredient. There's also a little bit of cooking liquid in the dish with the beans, and you can add more as it cooks. If the beans go into the oven already heated through, all you have to do is brown the top of the cassoulet quickly. Liquid will bubble up to the top in places.

It's hard to take a "pretty" picture of cassoulet, but it certainly does taste good. It's filling, obviously. The duck is tender and succulent, and the sausages add a little spice and contrast. The beans melt in your mouth, and the bread crumbs lend a nice crunch. Actually, we had a stray saucisse de Monbéliard (smoked pork sausage) in the fridge, already cooked, so we heated it up with the cassoulet and enjoyed it alongside.

13 comments:

Leon Sims said...

Other than YUM!!!! - I have no further comment - OH, I do. Yum Yum.

Evelyn said...

I'm thinking those lingots look perfect for your cassoulet. Enjoyed the back story also.

Bob Rossi said...

Cassoulet is one of my favorite things, and yours looks fantastic.

Gosia k said...

it looks delicious but not popular here

Seine Judeet (Judith) said...

Wow, that just sounds like it must have been fantastic... the trip in '89, too!

C in California said...

Hi Ken, a week away from your posts, and I am now really drooling as I catch up! I have now made cassoulet for the last three years for my french club, using three different recipes. Your's looks wonderful.

Happy New Year, and as I said to Walt, thank you for your posts everyday. Even if I miss a day (or a week), I always look back to see what you guys have been up to.

Ken Broadhurst said...

: ^)

Ken Broadhurst said...

The lingots I found, as far as I can figure out, were from northern Spain, around Barcelona. And why not? Barcelona is not that far from Toulouse, Carcassone, and Castelnaudary, the three places that claim cassoulet as their special invention.

Ken Broadhurst said...

It's one of my favorite things too, but I usually make it only once a year. It's kind of a production, especially if you make the confit too. I'm going to try to cook the duck legs the way you described. I've made duck legs in a red-wine sauce, a little like coq au vin, in the past, and that's really good to.

Ken Broadhurst said...

You have to like beans...

Ken Broadhurst said...

That trip is a good memory. Actually, we started driving in Grenoble, where I had attended a conference. We headed for the southwest and enjoyed seeing Nîmes, Narbonne, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Montauban, Bergerac, and Bordeaux. We went back to the southwest -- le Lot -- in 1995 and traveled around again. And we went to the Dordogne in 2006 for a few days. One thing I regret is that I never bought myself a cassole, the classic cassoulet cooking dish, on one of those trips.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Here's a recipe I read through and adapted for our cassoulet. It's a page posted by the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary. (The name of the town is the local form of Château Neuf du Roi.)

And here's a take on cassoulet using chicken instead of duck, on an American site. It looks really good too. I'm a great believer in taking French or other cooking techniques and applying them to ingredients that are easier to find (like chicken instead of duck) or that are just what you want to use (like black-eyed peas instead of white beans).

C in California said...

Hi Ken, I used the above site last month. Duck for twenty is just too expensive, so used a bit of duck along with chicken. It was very well received, both at the fete and at home. I need my dictionary for your first suggestion....