“This post is the first in a new series which seeks to share our passion for France and our culinary travel experiences.”
Having recently returned from another wonderful trip to my native France; visiting again the medieval cities of Carcassone and Toulouse, I am ever in awe of the diverse regional cuisines we discover. Our travelers were treated to regional cuisine and its history on a visit to the Universal Cassoulet Academy along the Cassoulet Trail that extends from Narbonne on the sandy shores of the Mediterranean to the city of Toulouse. Dinner was prepared and served by the region’s Master Cassoulet Chefs; Cassoulet Ambassadors to the world!
A few months ago, Liz and I were invited by this prestigious Academy in France to attend the first dinner of their new Embassy of the Universal Academy of Cassoulet at Alain Ducasse’s Restaurant Benoit in NYC. These Cassoulet Ambassadors traveled as a group from France, bringing with them their traditional red robes, floppy hats, medals, and of course their passion for this dish. They assembled, cooked and ceremoniously served steaming cauldrons of the hearty bean-based creation to the curious gathering of guests that included food writers, teachers, media and of course, chefs in the private dining room on the 2nd floor of Benoit. It was a night only the French could pull off, made complete with fanfare, music and a delectable selection of wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon.
Cassoulet “the god of Occitan cuisine” is the traditional dish of Southwest France. The ingredients and methods of preparation are steeped in tradition. Chefs as rightful heirs to the skill required to orchestrate a Cassoulet par excellence, combine their culinary talent and respect for the traditions which motivate them. The use of distinguished local products speak to identify the region of origin as do Choucroute, Bouillabaisse, Tablier de Sapeur, truffles and foie gras.
There is no one single recipe for cassoulet: each chef has his own recipe, passed down through the generations; regional products, personal touch and the love of good food.
There are 3 distinct versions of Cassoulet from 3 different towns: The Trinity!
Castelnaudary “the Father” – Carcassonne “the Son” – Toulouse “the Holy Spirit”
CASTELNAUDARY: lingot beans, preserved meat; pork chine, belly, rind and knuckle
CARCASSONNE: Red-legged partridge is added
TOULOUSE: Lamb and mutton, pork rind sausage, duck confit and Toulouse sausage
The objective is the same for all the ingredients; to use the best, locally produced products. The preferred bean is the Mazeres longot (white beans). Canned cooked beans…..not allowed! Confit (preserved meat) are goose, duck and/or pork shoulder, knuckles and chine. Canned meats….. not allowed! Pork Sausage is 100% pork (Toulouse Sausage) made fresh following traditional methods.
The dish is earthenware; the standard shape used only for this dish. Slow cooking in a low oven is essential, as is breaking the crust several times. Some purists believe that breaking the crust seven times results in the superb Cassoulet!
1kg dried haricots beans or Mazères lingot
1kg Toulouse sausage
Pork: 1 knuckle, 1 trotter, 500g fresh rind, 400g chine, 1 ham bone
1 whole bulb of garlic, 4 large onions
5 preserved duck or goose legs and its fat
1 bouquet garni (parsley, celery, thyme, bay)
coarse salt, pepper
1 kg dried lingot beans (white beans)
1 pig’s trotter and 1 pork knuckle
300g pork rind
1 ham bone
250g neck, chine or shoulder of pork
5 preserved duck legs cut in half
400g fresh Toulouse Sausage
150g chopped onion
The day before cooking the cassoulet, prepare a stock with the rind, trotter, knuckle, ham bone and bouquet garni, garlic and onions. Simmer on a low heat for about 2½ hours. Skim and degrease carefully, salt lightly. Also the day before, soak the beans overnight, changing the water at least 2 or 3 times.
The next morning: drain the rind, trotter, knuckle, ham bone and bouquet garni. Strain the stock. Cut the meat into large chunks. Squeeze the bouquet garni to extract maximum flavor. Put the preserved meat to melt in a pan and set aside.
Cut the pork chine into cubes and brown in the warm fat then add the finely chopped onions and garlic and fry until lightly browned. Drain and set aside.
Put the beans into cold water and bring to a boil; skim well and cook gently for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain well.
Lightly brown the Toulouse sausages in the oven and cut into serving pieces; reserve
Moisten the beans with some of the reserved stock. Place the beans, all of the meats, garlic and onions into the casserole. Add pepper generously and adjust the salt if necessary. Push the meats down into the beans.
Cover the top with the Toulouse sausage pieces. Cook in low oven for about 2 hours. Push the meats below the surface regularly and moisten with the remaining stock if necessary.
Cassoulet is also wonderful even reheated. A casserole for 10 should be reheated in the oven for at least 2 hours, adding extra stock as needed.