Thursday, July 21, 2011

French Food

There’s two main reasons for my absence from blogging this week – I'm having too much fun enjoying the fun of cycling in France with a group of friends, and I’m eating too much yummy food – staying out late at night to enjoy the atmosphere. (also, I’m spending so much time reading all the Paris in July blogs).

One dish I thought I would post about know is the Cassoulet – a stew type dish, popular here in the south of France. We first tasted one in Carcassonne, and then again in Lourdes at the ‘Maison de Cassoulet’. I cant say I find it an attractive dish, but both have been quiet tasty, and proving to be great cycling food.

I did a little research and found that there history of the Csssoulet is a little blurry....

One website said: The origin of Cassoulet is a little obscure. Some say it is an Arab dish, others says it was created in Castelnaudary in the 14th and 15th centuries during the Hundred Years' war. But whatever its origin, it's one of the most delicious and satisfying of all French provincial dishes. It is a slow simmered casserole made primarily of white (haricot) beans plus meat but never chicken or fish.

The three famous recipes are Cassoulet de Castelnaudary which is made with pork as the main meat, Cassoulet de Toulouse, which sometimes has the addition of lamb and always Toulouse sausages and Cassoulet de Carcassonne which sometimes has the addition of partridge during the season. Goose or Duck Confit is also often used in the preparation of this dish.

There are many variations, some have more of this than that or some of this and none of that, but whatever the ingredients, the principals remain the same. More beans than meat, cooked in the oven for a very long time during which time the crust which will form should broken several times.

While another said - “The cassoulet is indisputably native to Castelnaudary. A certain Bringuier perfected the recipe, under rather indefinite circumstances. It is made with fresh pork, ham or pork knuckle, some sausage meat and fresh bacon rind. In Carcassonne, they add a shortened leg of mutton and, in the hunting season, a partridge. In Toulouse, in addition to these basic ingredients, they add some breast of pork, country sausage, mutton and especially preserved goose or duck (confit d’oie ou de canard). As for beans, they consider beans from Cazères and from Pamiers the best, not to mention the white beans from Alsace.

Le Cassoulet de Castelnaudary

800 grams dried white beans, coarse salt, 500 grams boneless lamb shoulder, 250 grams boneless pork shoulder, 125 grams fresh pork belly, butter, or good-quality fat, 10 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, water, freshly ground black pepper, 200 grams plain, fresh pork sausage, 300 grams fully cooked garlic sausages6, 500 grams tomatoes, or 4 tablespoons tomato paste, 75 grams fresh bread crumbs

1 & 2. Soak the beans for a few hours or overnight. Drain the beans and place them in a saucepan along with salted, cold water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the beans are about half cooked, about 30 minutes.

3. In the meantime, cut the lamb and the two types of pork into 3-centimeter cubes. Brown the meats, in batches, in butter or good quality fat in a large saucepan.

4. Drain the beans and add these to the meat along with the garlic. Add enough water to the saucepan to barely cover everything. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the saucepan to a boil, lower heat to simmer, cover the pan, and cook for about 2-1/2 hours. Add additional hot water during the cooking if the contents appear dry.

5. Poach the fresh pork sausage in barely simmering water for about 20 minutes, drain, and cut into thick slices.

6. Cut the garlic sausage into thick slices.

7. If using fresh tomatoes, peel, core, seed, and chop them. Cook the tomatoes in a little oil in a saucepan over medium heat until reduced to a thick puree.

8. Preheat oven to 180 °C.

9. Place the beans with the meats and sausage slices into an ovenproof, earthenware dish. Mix in the tomato puree. Level the surface. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs. Place the dish in the oven and bake until the top is brown and the beans are bubbling, about 1 hour.

10. Serve the cassoulet directly from the baking dish.

The above recipe, when served with bread and maybe a salad on the side, is sufficient for 6 to 8 diners. But what if you only want to prepare cassoulet for two? If we deconstruct the above recipe, we see that the completed dish is simply cooked meats in cooked white beans flavored with tomatoes and finished with a baked crust of bread crumbs. Thus it becomes possible to prepare individual cassoulets. The following example is for two portions.

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