It's Autumn, it's getting cold. Time for comfort food. And in my book, there's nothing better than a the a pot of Cassoulet, the lovely breadcrumb crust, the smell of garlicky beans, the intense flavour from slow roasted pork, duck and sausages.
Since the French can't agree where it originated, or even on a definitive recipe (they come to blows over the legitimacy of using breadcrumbs) there is no right way of doing it. What follows is the gleanings of trial after trial, and them made just a little bit easier.
This comes as close to my signature dish as they come, except maybe for salmon with tagliatelli.
This isn't a half hour recipe by a long chalk. There's a quicker version here if your in a rush. Even this isn't the absolute pedant's way of doing it, but it's good enough. It's still a weekend job though.
You can taste the care, the slowness and the rustic Gaulic charm in every mouthful. And you won't need many mouthfuls either - it's very filling. I wouldn't have anything other than a green salad with this.
6 Toulouse sausages
8 rashers of good quality smoked bacon, chopped into inch squares
6 big strips of belly pork cubed
1 tin of organic chopped tomatoes (or 3 fresh beef tomatoes finely chopped)
2 cans of baked beans. 1 thoroughly rinsed of sauce in a colander
5 cloves of garlic
1 large onion
1 day old baguette
- The day before you want to eat it, roast your duck according to the instructions. Pour the fat into a jug (not a plastic one), let it cool and then put in the fridge. Once the duck has rested for half an hour, strip the skin and cut off all the meat - make it pretty big chunks. Put that in the fridge overnight. (If you fancy duck soup, put the carcass in a big pot, put a whole onion (peeled), three scrubbed carrots and a sprig of time and put over a low heat on the hob for four hours. Do not let it boil. Sieve the liquid into another pot, boil until it's reduced by a third, with whatever vegetables you fancy in it. I like leeks and carrots, plus a little shredded duck)
- Next day, melt a spoonful of duck fat in the frying pan. Brown the sausages and put on a place. Then brown the belly pork and add to the plate.
- Finely chop the onion and 1 garlic clove. Melt another spoonful of duck fat in a big pan and slowly fry them until they go translucent. Add the bacon and fry for 2 minutes.
- Add the can/chopped tomato and bring to a simmer. Then add the two cans of beans. Throw in the other garlic cloves and slowly bring to the boil, then let it simmer for 30 minutes.
- Two minutes before it's done, throw in the sausages and belly pork.
- Put the mixture into a large, heavy pot and tuck in the duck you cooked yesterday. Stir it all so everything is evenly mixed.
- Put the oven on at 160%c.
- Blitz the baguette into fine breadcrumbs. Spread half on top of the mixture in the pot. Put the lid on and put it in the oven for 1 hour.
- 5 minutes before you take it out, melt two tablespoons of duck fat in a pan.
- Take the pot out. Mix the breadcrumbs on top into the the mixture below. Make sure it's all even. Spread the rest of the breadcrumbs on top, then evenly pour the melted fat over it.
- Put back in the oven with the lid off for another half hour...or a bit longer. When the crust goes golden and the liquid bubbles though the sides it's done.
- Leave for 5 minutes and then serve. Don't have much at first, it will fill you up quickly.
- It's best eaten with an intense french red wine. Chateau Neuf du Pape really works, or another full bodies Rhone. Medoc or Saint Emmilion are great too. On the other hand, a Leffe works great too.