Let’s forget about confit of duck, goose fat, and all the fancy stuff. Cassoulet is about fat and beans, so today’s is done with sausages and bacon. Annoyingly, the beans need to be the dried ones, so you will have to soak them. Tinned beans would turn to mush during the cooking. Delia makes a good point that if you’re using sausages, make sure the meat content is reasonably high, as bready sausages will also collapse.
I’m using the following (feeds four with seconds and leftovers):
- six Toulouse sausages (about 400g)
- 250g dried haricot beans
- an onion, a couple of carrots, and a couple of sticks of celery; all chopped up (a similar weight to the sausages)
- four cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
- about 75g tasty bacon of some sort chopped into quarter inch cubes (a single vacuum pack of cubed pancetta ideal)
- a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, drained – if we leave the juice then it’s too tomatoey and starts to resemble high class baked beans
- two bay leaves
- about a teaspoon dried thyme (or half a bunch fresh)
The pot. Pick a large one that’s good for the oven and the stove top, as we’re visiting both locations.
The beans need to be soaked in a litre of cold water, overnight, after which they’ll double in mass. (St Delia mentions the idea of putting the beans in cold water in a saucepan, bringing to the boil, turning the heat off and leaving for three hours as a way to accelerate the process.)
Once that’s done, change the water, apply some heat and get them going at a vicious boil for 15 minutes. After that, reduce to a simmer, and pop them on them on the back burner, both literally and figuratively. (You’ll need the front of the stove later.)
Crank the oven up to 160ºC, putting the sausages and bacon into the pot and the pot into the oven. Keep an eye on them, turning the sausages occasionally so we get an all over tan. After about half an hour, the sausages will be done enough for our purposes, so transfer the pot to the hob, on a low heat. Also, at this point, the beans will have been simmering for about 30 minutes, leave ‘em on the back burner, ready for action in a moment.
(But don’t turn off the oven.)
Remove the sausages from the pot, and set to one side. Tip the veg into the pot, and gently fry in the fat that will have been exuded by the pig. After about five minutes add the garlic, and fry until translucent; about two minutes. (Best way to do this is shove the veg to one side so there’s a small exposed bit of the bottom of the pan where the garlic can fry. A splash of olive oil to assist if required.)
Deglaze with a splash of wine (white or red, or failing that some hot water) and then add the beans plus enough of the cooking liquid to almost-but-not-quite cover everything. Think runny, rather than soupy. Herbs, salt, pepper.
Return the sausages on top. I’d slice the sausages into three or four pieces each. Return to the oven for another two hours, lowering the temperature to about 140ºC. Leave the pot uncovered so the top gradually darkens and becomes sticky. Pretty much impossible to overdo, but check the liquid levels every so often, and if necessary, top up from a freshly boiled jug.
Despite every town in the south of France claiming that it (and it alone) is the Home of Cassoulet, there’s no definitive recipe. You could…
- sprinkle some breadcrumbs on top about 30 minutes before it’s done
- double the quantity of sausage
- do it with pork belly cut up into two inch cubes instead of the sausages – the pork belly will need much longer – at least an hour – and a splash of water in the bottom of the pot – you might even want to do the pork belly for three hours so it totally breaks down
The Major is threatening to feed us with his cassoulet, which is a far superior product, and will feature his very own confit of duck. (I shall report back.)