the Rules of Cassoulet

Quick Cassoulet
Quick Cassoulet

As I mentioned over on the cocktail blog, I’m re-reading Toussaint-Samat’s A History of Food. I remember reading parts of it while in Culinary School and using it for a research paper (yes, folks, Culinary School requires homework, papers and all that other stuff in addition to cooking) but I really didn’t retain much. This time around I’m just finding the material so much more interesting–maybe I should have been blogging back then, too!

Cassoulet is sorta like gumbo–each person you ask is going to tell you their way is the right way. According to Toussaint-Samat, though, all cassoulet have these things in common:

  • Beans that are cooked twice (“two lots of water”).
  • It starts on the stove and finishes in the oven.
  • And have a crust of breadcrumbs that’s broken in 6 places.

The predecessor to America pork ‘n beans? Maybe, it certainly has some similarities.

I made a quickie cassoulet as a test for the cookbook, following (rather loosely, I must confess) the version presented in Joy of Cooking. Since I was going for simplicity for the new cook and speed as it was a weeknight I used canned great northern beans, 3 types of meat (chicken sausage, ham and diced chicken–no confit around that night, sad to say) and skipped the baking step.

According to the aforementioned rules I probably can’t call this a cassoulet (I suppose I’ll have to rename it to avoid some busy-body correcting me) without reworking it a bit (a possibility).

I can see multiple reasons to adjust the recipe to your needs but there’s always a work-around.

  • No time to soak and boil and cook the beans again? Canned will work, just buy quality canned goods, drain them and rinse them well before adding to your stew.
  • All out of confit? There are store-bought versions available at a specialty grocer or you can just omit it. And next time you see a duck in the store pick one up and confit-it so you can have it available for your next cassoulet.
  • Lack a Le Creuset to go stylishly from stove to oven? Transfer the stove-top beginnings to any available casserole dish with a lid and go with the flow.

But keep your eyes peeled at your favorite overstock or discount store–I’ve seen some amazing deals on very nice cookware that would be perfect for this sort of thing.

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