This article originally appeared in Food and Wine Magazine in October 2005
Paula’s book “The Cooking of Southwest France” is available through her website at www.paula-wolfert.com. We heartily recommend getting a copy because of all the background material included (not to mention all the other incredible recipes). An excellent read, also. We also recommend doing your cassoulet as Paula’s recipe suggests. It really is worth the effort to get the suggested ingredients and use the methods she notes. If you live in a rural area, lucky you, your local butcher can get most of it for you. Or check out www.localharvest.org for listings of local producers throughout the US. It makes a world of difference!
CASSOULET IN THE STYLE OF TOULOUSE
Cassoulet de Toulouse
This is the recipe given to me by Pierrette Lejanou. The addition of walnut oil at the last moment brightens the taste of the beans. You need to begin preparations two days before you plan to serve the cassoulet. (It’s good to be a friend of your local butcher.)
SERVES 10 TO 12
1 pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 12 chunks.
1 1/2 pounds fresh ham hock or pigs knuckles cracked by the butcher.
3/4 pound fresh pork skin with 1/4-inch layer of hard fat attached
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds dried white beans, such as Tarbais, Lingots, cocos, or cannellini, picked over to remove any grit
1/3 cup fat from confit or rendered duck fat
2 medium onions, chopped
3 small carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds
1/2 pound pancetta or ventreche, or blanched lean salt pork, in one piece, about 1-1/4 inches thick
1 whole head of garlic, unpeeled, plus 4 small cloves garlic, peeled
1 large plum tomato, peeled or 1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato paste
2 quarts unsalted chicken stock (store bought or homemade)
Herb bouquet: 4 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf, and 3 small ribs celery, tied together
6 confit of Pekin or Muscovy duck legs, or 3 confit of Moulard duck legs, drumsticks and thighs separated, homemade (See Cooking of SW France) or store bought
1/4 pound blanched fat salt pork with rind removed or fresh hard pork
1 pound Toulouse sausages, fresh garlic-flavored pork sausages, or
Confit of Toulouse Sausages (see Cooking of SW France)
4 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons French walnut oil, optional
1. 2 DAYS IN ADVANCE, season the pork shoulder, fresh ham hock or pigs knuckles, and the pork skin moderately with salt and pepper. Place in an earthenware or glass dish, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Wash the beans in cold water. Put them in a large bowl with three times their volume of cold water and let soak overnight, or for at least 12 hours.
2. THE FOLLOWING DAY, simmer the pork skin in water to cover until the skin is supple, 10 to 20 minutes. Drain, roll up the skin into bundles, and tie it with string. Cover and set aside in a cool place until needed.
3. Dry the chunks of pork shoulder with paper towels. In an 8 or 9-quart flameproof casserole, heat the duck fat over moderately high heat. Add the pork shoulder and lightly brown on all sides. Add the onions and carrots and saute, stirring, until the onions are soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the ham hock or pig’s knuckles and the whole piece of ventreche or pancetta. Allow these meats to brown a little around the edges, turning the pieces occasionally. Add the whole head of garlic and the tomato or tomato paste; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the stock, bundles of pork skin, and herb bouquet. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the ragout for 1-1/2 hours
4. When the ragout has cooked for 1 hour, drain beans put into a large saucepan, cover with fresh water and slowly bring to a boil. Skim and simmer for a few minutes, then drain and immediately add the beans to the simmering ragout. Continue simmering for up to 2 hours, or until the beans are tender.(You can tell when the beans are done by removing one or two beans with a spoon and blowing on them—the skins will burst.) Let cool, then skim off all the fat that has risen to the top; reserve 2 tablespoons of this fat for finishing the cassoulet. Cover the pork ragout and beans and refrigerate overnight to develop the flavors.
5. THE NEXT DAY, steam the duck confit for 10 minutes to soften. As soon as the meat is cool enough to handle, pull it off the bones in large chunks.
6. Remove the ragout and beans from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Pick out the ham hock or pigs knuckles, pancetta, garlic head and herb bouquet. Cut the meat from the ham hock or pigs knuckles into bite-size pieces, discarding bones and fatty parts. Cut the pancetta into bite-size pieces discarding extraneous fat. Set all the meats aside. Press on the garlic to extract the pulp and set aside. Discard the garlic skins and herb bouquet.
7. In a food processor or electric blender, puree the pork fat or salt pork with the cooked and raw garlic and one cup of water. Add this garlic- puree to the ragout and beans simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat. Fold reserved meats into the ragout and beans.
8. Preheat the oven to 325 F. To assemble the cassoulet, remove the roll of pork skin from the ragout. Untie, cut the skin into 2-inch pieces, and use to line your Cassole fat side down. (The skin side sticks.) Using a large slotted spoon or skimmer, add one half of the beans and pork shoulder. Scatter the duck confit on top of the pork and beans. Cover with the remaining beans, and pork ragout. Taste the ragout cooking liquid and adjust the seasoning; there will probably be no need for salt. Pour just enough of the ragout liquid over the beans to cover them. Be sure there is at least one inch of growing space between the beans and the rim of the dish. Drizzle with the 2 tablespoons reserved fat in step 4. Place the cassole in the oven and let cook for 1 1/2 hours.
9. Prick the sausages and brown them under a hot broiler or in a skillet. Drain; cut larger sausages into 3- or 4-inch pieces.
10. Reduce the oven heat to 275 F. Gently stir up the skin that has formed on the beans. Place the sausages on top of the beans. Dust the bread crumbs on top of the beans and sausage. Bake the cassoulet for 1 more hour. The top crust should become a beautiful golden brown; if it isn’t, turn on the broiler and carefully toast the top layer of beans, about 2 minutes. Transfer the cassoulet from the oven to a cloth lined surface and let it rest 20 minutes. Drizzle with the walnut oil just before serving.
NOTES TO THE COOK
1. Fresh pork rind is essential to enrich and flavor the beans. If only salted rind is available, do not include in the first day’s marinade.
2. The acid of tomato in the ragout keeps the beans from cooking too quickly, so that they can absorb more flavors.
3. If you have a Hearth Kit, a chamber much like a beehive oven that fits right into your oven, use it for this cassoulet. Place the prepared cassoulet in the chamber, heat to 350 degrees F for l hour. Reduce the heat to 250 and cook as directed above. A Hearth Kit is made of ceramic materials and has great conductive properties.
Please Note: You can also use your new Cassole for many things…..Large salad bowl, large fruit bowl, punch bowl, or use it to bake any stew type of recipe in the oven. Essentially follow “Crock Pot” instructions and bake on a low heat (250 to 300 degrees). What a great piece for entertaining! Enjoy!