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.