Thursday, September 8, 2011


I've read through the Cassoulet recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking but have been intimidated by ingredients such as "goose". If anyone ever knows where to find this meat, you drop me a note :D There are other things (depending on the recipe) like "duck comfit" which is like a duck preserve (what!!?).

I do love the whole concept of Cassoulet though. If you read about the history of Cassoulet (this article is very enlightening: you will see that it allows for great variation. And I LOVE that!

If you go to this page (Food Network), you will see the recipe that I ... uhm ... DIDN'T follow.

What I have loved about Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child et. al. is that it teaches you TECHNIQUE . So you start being able to apply the basic techniques of braising or making stews to a wide variety of dishes.

Here are the thoughts that guided MY version of this recipe.
  • I looked at the recipe from the Food Network, and thought "hey, I could apply the technique for making bœuf bourguignon and just use these other ingredients.
  • Veal shanks? Veal = Red meat = Beef. There we go. I used a packet of stewing beef with bone since (a) it's cheaper and (b) the bones add great flavor.
  • I don't know how "white" beans can be "navy beans" (OK, he's got a link to explain it) but I just used white haricot beans which is what is used a lot in other recipes. The great thing about haricot beans is that it absorbes the flavors from the rest of the dish and provides fantastic protein without messing up the taste of the dish. (It's what "bake beans" are made of.)
  • 10 cups water? Well, that depends on the size of your dish. And I really can not cook something like this without red wine. I used my large Le Creuset (heirloom) pot and trust me, I filled this thing to the top. The water I added (unmeasured) was just enough to start covering all the ingredients and then I topped it up further with red wine.
  • I'm also thinking, where would I get "ham hocks" from? On second thought, Ham = Pig = Bacon. Voila, we're using fatty bacon.
  • The shop where I did my grocery shopping didn't have fancy sausages but it did have great Chorizo, so that went in.
  • And then, for a great twist, I added CHICKEN. Yep, chicken. 6 chicken thighs, and 2 drum sticks. Because I had some. Don't you just love these "peasant stews" that are made up from whatever you have available?
Coming back to bullet point one on Technique: I first browned the beef pieces. Put aside in a dish. Then I browned the chicken and moved them over to the same holding dish. Then came the bacon pieces (I used a whole packet, chopped in bits). When this was nicely done (but not crispy!!!) and removed, I added the vegetables. Yes, this I actually kept the same since onions, carrots and celery form the basis of good mirepoix. Do not brown them but wait until the onions start going glossy before continuing.

Keep the mirepoix in the pot (remember I'm using my Le Creuset casserole), layer the bacon over, then add the chicken. Try to keep them in one layer. Sprinkle with the "Essence" as indicated in the original Food Network recipe. I didn't want to make it too spicy for the kids, so used half the cayenne pepper. Hubby just added some Tabasco to the final dish and loved it.  (Note: I didn't have onion or garlic powder so left this out but the final spice mix was still great.) Then sprinkle with flour. Lift, turn and turn back the pieces of chicken so the some of this spice and flour covers the bacon and veg below. Now add the browned meat and sprinkle with Essence and flour. Stir through the meat pieces to cover them well.

NOTE on the beans. In the morning I placed the raw beans in a large pot, covered well with cold water (about 2 cm's above them). Do NOT add salt. Salt and acids (e.g. tomato, vinegar etc) can make the bean husks go hard so add any additional salt at the END of your dish's cooking time. Place this on a stove and heat the water until it starts boiling. Let it boil for 5 minutes. Then turn off the stove, remove the pot and let the beans soak for 1 hour. I just let it stand like this until I needed them (which was about 2 hours later). DRAIN THEM before using in the recipe.

Carrying on: Top the meat in the casserole with beans, add the water and red wine as I mentioned in my bullet above. Make sure it comes to a bubble on the stove top before moving to the oven.

I covered my casserole with a sheet of foil before placing the lid on top (helps keep evaporation down). Since the pot was filled so much, I placed the whole casserole inside a metal baking dish to catch any overflow (which it did).

Place in a 160 Celsius oven.

After one hour, add the sliced Chorizo, make sure they're nice and covered by the liquid. Push them into the dish with a spoon.

Cook the dish for another 1.5 hours and make sure the beans are cooked before doing the last step.

Remove the dish from the casserole into an open dish. (Glass, ceramic, etc). You must be able to spread the meat and beans nicely. Cover with the cheese/crumb/parsley mixture and grill for 10 minutes as per the original recipe.

The Verdict?
I managed to snatch this pic before it was gone:

The dinner guests loved it but more importantly, the kids loved it and so did Dad. He said he didn't know what to make of this dish. Every bite tasted like another dish but as a whole it's fantastic too (especially with his added Tobasco*grin*). We had it with crusty white bread (which got dipped into the sauces LOL) and Polenta.

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