25 April 2012

SRKitchen school: A touch of French - Cassoulet

It is warming, comforting, yummy and just a little bit naughty. That is the Cassoulet; a slow cooked casserole from the south of France.

I took great delight in deliciously devouring my first Cassoulet in the beautiful town of Carcassonne, France in 2006.

The beautiful Cité in Carcassonne, France
(photo by SRKitchen, 2006)

I was with my dear friend, Asha, and we'd decided to leave the depressing grey skies of London (where we lived at the time) to enjoy a long weekend in this breathtaking, world heritage listed, fortified walled town -- or Cité -- to enjoy a European winter fairyland.

Asha & I felt like we had stepped onto the set of a
Disney production in Carcassonne, France
(photo by SRKitchen, 2006)

You will find a plethora of cassoulet recipes on the internet, all varying in ingredients and the number of days it can take to make them. Basically, it is a casserole of beans, meats and herbs. 

A connoisseur of the cassoulet, Jean-Claude Rodriguez, describes the cassoulet as a sharing dish. "When a cassoulet arrives at the table, bubbling with aromas, something magical happens -- it's Communion around a dish." I absolutely adore this description. 

Traditional French dish - Cassoulet
(photo by Chris McCurley)

So when Asha asked for her second cooking lesson in The Self-Raising Kitchen, she decided she wanted to try her hand at the Cassoulet; a far cry from her first lesson making the humble omelette.

I don't think I made it easy for Asha, however. I had made cassoulets previously, but this time I wanted to experiment a little with several recipes. I used this one, this one and I had written out a different herb crust topping on my cooking notes, of which I have no recollection where I got it from.

Although the quantities can easily be varied, please note you will need a very large dish for this. We ended up having to take some of the meat and juice out, which I put into a saucepan and left simmering on the stove while the casserole dish cooked in the oven.

Asha did a superb job experimenting with me to make this recipe. We hope you like it.


by The Self-Raising Kitchen

Serves 10
Serving up the Cassoulet
(photo by Chris McCurley)
2 large brown onions
8 garlic cloves
2/3 cups white beans (cannelini, haricot, butter beans)
400g speck (you can buy speck from most supermarkets in their specialty meat sections)
750g pork belly
1 chicken* (ask your butcher to cut the meat off the frame and keep this to make a stock. Cut up the chicken into palm size portions, where you can.)
3 garlic sausages (if your can't find substitute with pork sausages)
2 rosemary sprigs
4 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
1 tin diced tomato (400ml)
375ml white wine
4 cups of good quality (or homemade) chicken stock

*Please note: Traditionally duck is used. If you can't purchase duck, or you're looking for something a little more cost effective, chicken is a great substitute.

Garlic and herb crust ingredients
4 cups fresh breadcrumbs 
1.5 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
50g butter, melted
1 tbsp thyme, chopped

If using dried beans, place in bowl and cover beans with plenty of cold water. Leave over night.

Preheat oven to 140 degrees celsius.  Cut speck into 2cm batons. Cut pork belly into 4cm batons. Heat oil in a large casserole dish over high heat. Cook pork in small portions to allow meat to brown and not broil in its own juices. Set aside. Do this each for the speck, chicken and whole sausages. Cut sausages into quarters.

Add onion and garlic, stirring, for 5 minutes or until soft. Add stock, wine, tomato and herbs to the dish. Add salt to taste. Stir.

Add beans, pork, speck, chicken and sausages. Bake in a preheated oven, covered, for 1.5 hours or until meat is tender.

Towards the end of the 1.5 hours, combine the breadcrumbs, flat-leaf parsley, garlic, thyme and melted butter in a bowl. Ensure breadcrumbs are coated with butter, but not oily. Sprinkle this mixture over the cassoulet and bake, uncovered, for a further 30-40 minutes or until the top is crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and serve with some fresh bread to sop up the juices.

Cassoulet - the sharing dish
(photo by Chris McCurley)

I would like to make a special thank you to Chris McCurley for taking such sensational photos for this post. You are welcome at my house for dinner anytime, Chris.

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