Friday, February 22, 2013

A Very English Cassoulet

Cassoulet is essentially a Languedoc dish – and very French. But it can vary a lot depending upon where it is made. In Castelnaudary it is made differently from Toulouse. It is different once more in Carcassonne. In London it is different yet again – in a very English way. But it is really no more than a tasty meat and bean stew, and thus may be interpreted in any country and in any way.
Beans, tomato, onions, garlic, a garlic sausage and meat, and in what quantity, is up to the cook (British) to decide upon. It is a great winter dish.
For the beans I use dried runner beans from the small London garden – until they run out (but saving some for seed).
For the meat I use pheasant breasts, cut from the bird and frozen when that game is plentiful in the market, and cheap. Before using it in the cassoulet it is best to pare off the skin and feel through the meat to find and discard any shot. Duck and mutton are popular meats.
I like to use a pig’s trotter to enhance the liquid content. For this you can either add a trotter to the cassoulet and discard or eat it when cooked or, as I do, get the butcher to axe through a couple of large trotters and cook the pieces for at least an hour in the pressure cooker, using plain or herbal-flavoured water. I then strain off the liquid and, when cool, ease the meat from the bones to make a rustic terrine (not enjoyed by Margreet). The liquid, or part of it, goes into the cassoulet, instead of adding a trotter.
For a follow-up dish, using Brussels sprouts, go to the end of the suggestions below.


You will need:
Meat – pheasant, duck, mutton or other
An optional garlic sausage
Beans - of your choice
Pepper and salt
Chopped tomatoes – from a can
English beer to wash out that can
A fresh tomato or two, if around
A dash of vinegar
A pig’s trotter for the dish, or for stock (and meat)
A branch of rosemary or another herb of your choice

Soak dried beans overnight, and then boil them for ten minutes. Strain them.
In a casserole brown chopped onion and garlic in oil.
Add no more than a heaped teaspoon of plain flour, stirring it in.
Apply pepper and salt.
Add the beans.
Add the contents of a can of chopped tomatoes, washing out the tin with English beer. Add the tomatoey beer.
Put in a couple of cut-up fresh tomatoes - only if there are any at hand.
Place the pheasant breasts, duck or mutton, and trotter (if using one for the dish), just under the surface.
Add some trotter stock to cover adequately. Any over might be needed during cooking, or added to another dish, or soup.
Tip in a dash of vinegar.
Garlick sausage may be added if desired.
Place a branch of Rosemary on top, or stir in another herb of your choice.
Now let the cassoulet cook long and at a low heat – either on top of the stove or in the oven. Give it at least an hour or an hour and a half - more if using mutton.
If the dish needs more liquid, add some trotter stock, if too liquid, leave off the lid.
When cooked, discard the rosemary.
Serve the cassoulet in its cooking pot at the table, ladling out the meat and beans, then adding the juices.
Should there be any cassoulet left in the pot (in winter), cut up the meat into small pieces, add plenty of small, trimmed Brussels sprouts, then more of the trotter liquid (which will have cooled to jelly) to just cover them.
Cook this follow-up dish on top of the stove for about 20 minutes, or much longer and more slowly if you want the sprouts to absorb the cassoulet liquid.

If all the above sounds difficult or confusing, tip a can of beans and a can of chopped tomatoes into a casserole. Add some chicken breast meat. Squeeze in some garlic. Add pepper and salt and cook until the chicken is done.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Scallops in White Sauce

It is our custom on New Year’s Eve to picnic in bed, watching on television Babette’s Feast and Dinner for One, and enjoying some of our favourite food and wine. The menu varies a bit, but usually starts with avocado pear with a salmon egg filling, scallops, and shepherds pie – the last two being served in individual pots from the oven, with the scallops coming out first.
The scallop dish is really the traditional one of the shellfish cooked in a white sauce in its shell. But in individual pots with the scallops already cut up, it is easy to make and eat, and just as nice – if not so pretty.


You will need:
One or two scallops per person – depending on their size, the size of the pot, and appetites.
White sauce made with butter, flour, ½ chicken stock cube, a little grated Cheddar cheese, a little Dijon mustard, milk, pepper and salt.

Make a white sauce in a saucepan, using a good lump of butter (melt it), twice its volume of plain flour (stir), adding the above ingredients, then pouring in about ½ pint of cold milk and whisking the lot as it heats through. Add more milk as necessary to get the consistency required.
Slice the scallops with their coral and place in the pots. Cover with the sauce. Sprinkle a little paprika over the tops if you feel that they need decoration.
The pots of scallops may be fashioned well beforehand, even frozen, as can the shepherd’s pies if you choose to serve them after the scallops.
As soon as the scallop sauce bubbles in the pots, they are ready – and they are delicious. (And by the time you have enjoyed them at your leisure, the shepherd’s pies will be ready.) For us it is always a very Happy New Year.