BVC Eats: Cassoulet in the USA

One of the classic French dishes is cassoulet. Everybody loves it, it’s endlessly adaptable, and it’s easy to make — in France.  Grocery stores in the southwest of France have special shelf and refrigerator sections dedicated to the ingredients. Duck is notably cheaper than chicken, and cassoulet is on every menu in town, like cheeseburgers. It’s peasant cuisine, a cheap starchy ingredient (beans) bulked out with different tasty bits. Here in the US, it’s more challenging because the ingredients are harder to find. It took me several months to amass, or make, this:

I’m using the recipe of Julia Child in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1, and this is more or less exactly how she does it. The yogurt container at the top contains beef stock, made by me and hoarded in the freezer for this moment. To its left are two duck legs, confited a few months ago. In the lower left corner is an essential: pig skin, purchased at the Asian grocery store. I’m only using half of this packet. La grande Julia puts this, diced, into the beans, and it imparts the proper mouthfeel and thickness, and she’s right. It’s this that makes people moan with delight when they take that first bite. Note also the packaged Toulouse sausage, which of course was not purchased in Toulouse but in a farm market in downtown Portland, OR. Julia makes her own, but thanks to the artisanal butchers in town I don’t have to.

The beans are soaked for perhaps two days and then cooked with aromatics, bay leaves, bacon or fat salt pork, and the blanched and cut-up pig skin:

The pork is roasted, the duck legs disjointed and fried in their own fat, and the lamb is stewed down in the stock:

Many, many garlic cloves make their way into this process. If you don’t peel them you can fish them out later and squeeze  the soft cooked garlic out into the beans, not a Julia trick but my own. Theoretically you can put in too much garlic, but I’ve never exceeded that speed of light. About half a baguette gets whizzed into crumbs for the topping. In France for want of a Cuisinart I was forced to do this with a box grater and I tell you, American technology really is better here.  When it’s all assembled and topped with crumb and parsley in a large oval cast iron pan, it goes into the oven for an hour or so, to emerge in its final glory:

I could, and did, eat this once a week, but in the US this is too difficult. This is a Big Cook. Julia’s recipe makes enough to feed at least eight people. Add a large green salad and twelve people would be happy — peasant cuisine, remember. There are similar dishes around the world. Next time maybe I should write about paella!

 

 

Authors

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *