Okay, let me first say that even French people from different regions of France argue about what constitutes a cassoulet, so it is unlikely that anyone from Toulouse will mark mine out as just like grandmere used to make. But my cassoulet has most of the requisite ingredients, it’s easy to make and it tastes delicious, so I don’t think they would moan (too much) either.
I begged my French colleagues Odile and Sophie to take me to somewhere which served cassoulet so that I could try a real one, and they took me to La Fontaine de Mars, a famous bistro in the heart of Paris (home of the famous Chateau de Tracy!). There I had a thick and tasty tomato and bean stew, filled with lumps of meat including confit duck (possibly my most favourite thing in the whole world), Toulouse sausage and pork belly. It’s a hearty dish, but I still enjoyed it in the summer heat, and was determined to make my own one day.
Well, a few weeks ago, whole ducks were on special offer in Waitrose, so I bought one and slow roasted it one night: simply rubbed with chinese five spice powder, salt and pepper, and roasted in a low heat oven for several hours until the meat is succulent and juicy, and the skin is crispy with the fat rendered down to nothing. We ate a breast each with roast potatoes and greens, although it would be equally delicious with noodles or rice and soy glazed vegetables.
Apart from beautifully tender and juicy meat under crispy skin, another benefit of slow roasting a whole duck is that when it cools, every last morsel of meat falls from the bone, so you have no waste at all. Perfect for mixing into a stir fry or a … cassoulet. So here is how I make my version of cassoulet. By the way, Andrew doesn’t eat meat on the bone, hence why all bones have been removed from this version – but you could leave the duck on the bone if you prefer.
Cassoulet – serves four generously
The cooked meat stripped from two duck legs, 4-6 cooked Toulouse sausages (Waitrose sell them in packs of 6), a packet of smoked lardons or chopped smoked streaky bacon, approx 200g haricot beans which have been soaked in water overnight, 2 onions, 2 carrots, a spoonful of lazy garlic, a tin of chopped tomatoes, a chicken stock cube, a squeeze of tomato puree, a bayleaf, a sprig of thyme, chopped parsley to serve
Fry the sliced onions, garlic, and chopped carrots in a little oil with the lardons until they are all lightly golden and soft. Then add the beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, stock cube, bayleaf, thyme and meat. Add some water until everything is just covered and cook over a low heat until the beans are tender (around 1.5 hours).
Some people top the cassoulet with breadcrumbs which have been fried with parsley and garlic, but I just top with some chopped parsley and serve with crusty bread. The cassoulet is even better if you eat it the day after you make it, re-heated.