Monday, July 14, 2008

The French National Dish

Coming on the heels of my Arc de Triomphe post, it is only appropriate that today, Bastille Day, the recipe should be the quintessential French dish, Cassoulet. One could certainly argue there are any number of really good french dishes to promote, but research more or less shows that Cassoulet is the French National Dish. There are a number of recipes out there for Cassoulet, below is but one from Epicurious and here's a link to a "Cassoulet experience" from from one of the food blogs that I read with some frequency, the Amateur Gourmet.

I will note here that possibly one of my favorite French food is escargot. If they are on the menu, chances are I will order them, as I told my blogging friend, Mary when she posted about "eating slugs." Thinking about my trip to France (mentioned in yesterday's post) reminded me of when I would head out to a small local eatery where I was staying for possibly the best frites I have ever had along with a cold GLASS bottle of Coke. I long for those days. If you are having a party, here's a posting from someone else, that might give you pause.

For cassoulet
  • 1 1/2 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern or cannellini (3 2/3 cups), picked over and rinsed
  • 2 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 4 qt water
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic plus 2 cloves, halved
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 confit duck legs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 lb saucisson à l'ail or other fully cooked garlic pork sausage (not cured or dried), casing removed
For garlic-crumb topping
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from a baguette)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Special equipment: cheesecloth; kitchen string; a 17- by 11-inch heavy roasting pan or 7-qt shallow flameproof casserole dish

Make cassoulet:
Cover beans with cold water by 2 inches in a bowl and soak at room temperature at least 8 and up to 24 hours, or quick-soak (see cooks' note, below). Drain well in a colander.

Make a bouquet garni by wrapping parsley, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns, and 2 sprigs thyme in cheesecloth and tying with kitchen string, then put in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot along with pork shoulder and water (4 quarts). Simmer, uncovered, skimming froth occasionally, 1 1/4 hours.

Add beans, onions, carrot, and chopped garlic and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until beans are just tender, about 45 minutes.

While beans simmer, put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Straddle roasting pan across 2 burners and heat 1 tablespoon oil in roasting pan over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown duck legs, turning occasionally to brown skin and meat all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer duck legs with tongs to a platter as browned.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from roasting pan, then reduce heat to moderately low and cook halved garlic cloves, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Drain bean and pork mixture in a colander set over a large bowl (discard bouquet garni). Stir salt and pepper into broth in bowl and reserve.

Spread bean and pork mixture in roasting pan (with garlic halves), then nestle duck legs, skin sides up, in mixture. Add remaining 3 sprigs thyme and 6 cups reserved broth (liquid should come up around base of duck legs; reserve remaining broth, covered and chilled, for reheating if making dish ahead, or for another use). Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes.

While cassoulet bakes, heat remaining tablespoon oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. If necessary, halve sausage crosswise to fit in skillet, then brown, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cool slightly. When sausage is cool enough to handle, halve pieces lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Nestle sausage into cassoulet and bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes. Gently stir beans, mashing some with back of spoon, to thicken broth before serving.

Prepare garlic-crumb topping while cassoulet finishes baking:
Cook garlic in oil in cleaned 10-inch skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add bread crumbs, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until crumbs are crisp and golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in parsley.

Serve cassoulet with crumb topping.

Cooks' notes:
  • To quick-soak beans, cover dried beans with cold water by 2 inches in a 4- to 5-quart pot. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, over moderate heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat and soak beans, uncovered, 1 hour.
  • Cassoulet can be made 3 days ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Reheat, covered, in a preheated 350°F oven 30 minutes. If beans have soaked up the liquid, add some of reserved broth before reheating.


ScottE. said...


You know, I've never had a cassoulet, so someday I might have to try it. I often stay away from beans, but I do read alot of about this dish and should give it a try.

One thing I have tried and don't enjoy are the snails. That being said, one of my favorite restaurants is Cafe Berlin on Capital Hill. They serve them. And all the people I've known who have ordered them love them. Buttery and garlicky...but not for me.

Brave Astronaut said...

Remember, I'm available to come and try out any recipes.

Mary Witzl said...

I had no idea a cassoulet was so elaborate or time-consuming! No wonder I've never made one, but after reading this, I wish someone else would...

Brave Astronaut said...

Mary - come for a visit and I promise to make you cassoulet - and escargot. :)