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Cassoulet

By Ann | March 2, 2013

cassoulet 2

Last week, I reveled in reading F. Scott Fitzgerald and baking banana bread, but this week I have to admit, I missed my manuscript. I thought I couldn’t wait to turn it in, but after a few days without it, I started to feel kind of lost. An experienced writer would tell me now is the time to start the next Big Project, but, I don’t know, that seems so abrupt and heartless — like diving into a cold swimming pool, or quitting smoking cold turkey. I wanted to live within my book a little longer, to dream about its French countryside locations. And then I remembered, my work wasn’t complete. I still needed to test my recipe for cassoulet.

As any French food lover will tell you, there are as many recipes for cassoulet as there are cassoulet cooks. I wanted mine to be faithful to the versions I’d eaten in Cassoulet Country — that is, the former province of Languedoc — which meant loads of beans, confit de canard, saucisse de Toulouse — and no breadcrumbs. A crunchy breadcrumb topping is considered sacrilege in this part of the world; instead the beans form a natural crust during cooking, with the starch, and juice, and fat of the dish sealed in the heat of the oven.

Cassoulet is not a dish for the faint of heart — or hurried. Mine took five days. I started by soaking some Northern beans overnight. The next day I cooked them briefly in chicken stock. (All hail the United States and its flowing rivers of packaged, unsalted chicken stock.) Day three found me browning pork belly, duck confit, and saucisse de Toulouse — I’d ordered the latter two online from the marvelous French Selections — layering the ingredients into my cassole – a special, handmade terracotta bowl that I’d lugged home from Castelnaudary — and cooking everything in a slow oven for three hours. Day four: I baked it again and cooled it. Day five: I baked it again and ate it. In total: six hours of cooking.

Thanks to the long, slow simmer, the beans were like velvet, deeply rich with pork fat and mellowed garlic. The confit slipped from the bone, the cubes of pork belly dissolved on the tongue. The fat from the meat had totally disappeared — into the beans, I realized — giving everything a lovely, luscious, round richness. It was a beautiful cassoulet, earthy and sumptuous, a taste of la France profonde on a chilly mid-Atlantic evening.

Six hours of cooking gave me lots of time to contemplate my emotions about the end of this book project. There was a lot of relief, a bit of sadness. I had stretched my four-year stint in France to almost five by continuing to immerse myself in the manuscript. Now that I’ve typed the word “FIN” it’s truly time to move on. And when I snuck my first spoonful of beans from the bubbling cassole, and finally tasted their deep velvety richness, I felt something else, something more than satisfaction, more than contentment — I think it was peace. I had made a cassoulet that could rival any I’d eaten in Cassoulet Country, made it with my own two hands. In the unlikely event that I never return to France again, I know that I will always carry France with me — at least, in the kitchen. More than anything, this book has made me self-sufficient.

Alas, dear readers, I can’t share my cassoulet recipe, though it will be in my book, published this fall! In the meantime, here are some cassoulet links from around the internets. None of them are quite like mine, but then again, every cook’s cassoulet is different, so of course they wouldn’t be. Here’s to finding self-sufficiency in the kitchen!

Recipe from la Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary (French)

Kate Hill’s cassoulet recipe

Toulouse-style cassoulet from Paula Wolfert (Food & Wine)

Searching for the Secrets of Cassoulet (Saveur)

Topics: Mastering the Art of French Eating | 14 Comments »

14 Responses to “Cassoulet”

  1. Sara Says:
    March 2nd, 2013 at 3:30 am

    There’s nothing more satisfying than finally enjoying something that you’ve labored over for so long. I’m incredibly jealous of your beautiful bowl, and the cassoulet looks delicious! Congratulations on finishing your manuscript! Enjoy the rest. I’m sure the next Big Project isn’t too far off …

  2. Amy Kim (@kimchi_mom) Says:
    March 2nd, 2013 at 6:18 am

    I made “cassoulet” (short cuts and all) a couple of years ago and thought it was pretty good. Now that I’m reading your description of cassoulet, I feel like a sham! My cassoulet was blanketed with breadcrumbs and it spent a total of 2.5 hours in the oven.

    I would love to try a bite of the real stuff!!

    Congrats on finishing your manuscript…I’ll be looking out for your book in the fall!

  3. CK Says:
    March 2nd, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    As someone who grew up in Boston, I’ve been a bean lover since I could lift a spoon. The beans in this cassoulet were the best I’ve ever tasted. Brava!

  4. Mardi (eat. live. travel. write) Says:
    March 2nd, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Ann I CANNOT WAIT for your book :)))) This cassoulet sounds and looks amazing.

  5. Lindsey Says:
    March 2nd, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    France continues to bestow its gifts, not least of which is confidence in the kitchen! I hope to someday try your Cassoulet (made with YOUR two hands) and read all the stories around it in your book!
    I say, ignore those who may press you to move onto the next project. Celebrate the beauty of this one until you’re ready for a new adventure!

  6. Voie de Vie Says:
    March 2nd, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    I get that feeling of peace. Nirvana in a pot, peut-etre?

    Definitely looking forward to the book. Is the booktour set yet? :)

  7. Lynde Says:
    March 3rd, 2013 at 7:41 am

    On a cold rainy Oregon day I was hoping for the recipe but alas will wait until Fall when no doubt it will be rainy again with a good excuse to make the dish! Bravo on turning the last page of the book!

  8. Bob Says:
    March 3rd, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    What an attractive looking cassoulet. After reading your cooking description, I know I’ve never eaten the real thing. Five days of yearning! Can’t wait for your new book and the complete recipe. Congratulations!

  9. Jeanne Says:
    March 4th, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    This looks and sounds delicious. Congratulations on the completion of your manuscript. I am looking forward to savoring your new book.

  10. Ann Says:
    March 5th, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Sara — The next time you’re in France, make a trip to the Frères Not pottery in Castelnaudary. Their stuff is gorgeous (and handmade)!

    Amy Kim — There’s no such thing as “fake” cassoulet. Your version sounds delicious, too!

    Mardi — Merci! I was surprised by how well the beans held their shape after hours of cooking.

  11. Ann Says:
    March 5th, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Lindsey — Yes, I’ll have to find some chicken sausage for a special cassoulet for you!

    Voie de Vie — Nirvana in a pot — brilliant!

    Lynde — Thank you! I would be honored if you tried my recipe when it’s published!

    Bob — And three days of delicious aromas wafting from the oven…

    Jeanne — Thank you! It was so decadent we shared the leftovers with friends. :)

  12. Andi Says:
    March 6th, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Mu hubby makes this for me as a treat, I love cassoulet and duck confit – best birthday gift ever each year!

  13. Anastasia Says:
    March 8th, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    You miss your manuscript and turn into blogging! We win! This cassoulet is gorgeous!

  14. Emma Says:
    March 10th, 2013 at 11:19 am

    How did I miss this, it looks amazing!

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