Surviving Winter with a Hearty Cassoulet

cassouletThe best way to survive the winter is with a diet of French country dishes that begin with lots of goose fat, carry on with lots of wine and end with lots of laughter. Cassoulet is, of course, one of the most perfect winter dishes. It is warming, delicious and has enough calories to keep you going for at least aweek. If not more.
Now before I give you my recipe, let me remind you once again that this is one of those typical French recipes that can be rather complicated… should you want it to be.

You can make a fuss about what kind of meat to use, where to cook the cassoulet and whether or not it should have a crisp crust. So many rules, so many different ways to make it. Just do what I do. Think like a French grandmère and every dish will always be perfect. As is the same in life, simplicity is usually key.
NOTE: Should this recipe still be too complicated or if you can’t source some of the ingredients, check out this week’s Vriendin (hitting the newsstands Wednesday) where you will find my easy peasy ‘supermarket’ version cassoulet.

Cassoulet
Serves 6

  • 550g white beans
  • 2 tbsps duck fat
  • 4 medium onions, chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 125g pork belly, cubed
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 1,5 L water
  • 5 tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
  • 65g tomato paste
  • salt (preferably fleur de sel) and freshly-cracked pepper
  • 1 tbsp duck fat
  • 350g lamb shoulder, cubed
  • 3 Toulouse sausages
  • 3  legs confit de canard
  • 2 handfuls fresh breadcrumbs

Soak the beans overnight. The next day, heat the duck fat, add the onions and the garlic and gently sauté for three minutes. Add the pork belly and cook for another minute. Add the drained beans, the bouquet garni and the water. Bring to the boil and add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato paste. Cover and simmer for one hour, but add the salt and pepper halfway through the cooking time. At the end of the cooking time, preheat the oven to 200°C. Heat ½ tbsp duck fat and brown the lamb. Add to the beans. Prick the sausages and brown them in the other ½ tbsp duck fat. Cut them into three pieces each and add to the beans as well. Take the duck legs out of the fat*, cut the meat into rough chunks and add to the beans. Stir well, and top the dish with a handful of breadcrumbs. Put the dish in the oven and cook uncovered for 45 minutes. Push the breadcrumbs down, add another layer of breadcrumbs and cook for a final 45 minutes, increasing the temperature to 220°C during the last ten minutes of cooking time. Serve with a Corbrieres, a Minervois or a Madiran.

*Heat the tin of confit de canard au bain marie before opening. The fat will melt and you can remove the legs in one piece.

 

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