This is the recipe I have been working on for nearly 10 years for
cooking cassoulet, a baked bean
dish from the south-west of France. See the discussion for some of the background, in particular the difficulty of finding
typical ingredients. This recipe makes do with ingredients that you can (sometimes) find in
provincial Victoria, Australia.
These ingredients are sufficient for a casserole of 3 litres, which happens to be what I use.
dried white beans
meat, preferably lamb and pork, in single pieces
fat, preferably duck, otherwise lamb or pork (lard)
salt (see discussion at bottom)
(optional) couennes (pork skin)
There's a lot of choice in the meat. In previous versions of this recipe, for step 2 I
stipulated 200 g lamb, from leg, and 125 g pork, from forequarter. But many recipes use
duck, notably confit de canard,
as well. I haven't seen any asking for beef. The sausage in step 6 is also variable, and
at a pinch could be omitted or replaced by cold-smoked ham (but not Australian hot-smoked
ham in slices). The reason for specifying it separately is simply that it needs less
cooking. In principle the total weight of meat and sausage should be about 450 g.
The beans should be “fresh” (i.e. from the last harvest). Madame Saint-Ange
and Bocuse are both in agreement that old beans detract greatly from the quality of the
dish. They will split, and the interior will remain granular.
Traditional recipes state that you should cook the beans for up to three hours. In my
experience this would lead to their complete disintegration; they should be cooked but firm.
Depending on the beans, this can happen after as little as one hour. It's important to keep
an eye on them and remove them when they're cooked.
I've had difficulty with too much liquid being left over at the end. I've reduced the
quantity of water in this version of the recipe, but it may require even less. Possibly the
water from the tinned tomatoes should be added at the beginning (step 3).
Over the years I've discovered that my timing wasn't optimal. I used to have a 6½ hour schedule, but this proved to be inaccurate. I started
working on this version in February 2006.
There are four steps in the cooking: soften the beans and prepare the meat, cook the
individual ingredients, arrange the cassoulet, and cook it. Between each step there can be
an arbitrarily long gap.
These steps can proceed in parallel. They should start at least 5 hours before
Soak the beans: either overnight in cold water, or put them into boiling water,
bring back to the boil for a minute or so, then turn off the flame and leave to
soak for an hour, maybe two. Drain.
Fry the whole meat in some of the fat until brown. Let it cool.
Steam the couennes for an hour, then cut into small strips.
This step should start at least 3 hours before serving, preferably earlier.
Bring the water to the boil and add beans, meat and 80 g duck fat. Bring back to
the boil and simmer at the lowest possible heat for 30 minutes. The water should
be sufficient to just cover the beans. Top up if the level drops below the level
of the beans. Don't add any salt (or any salty meat) yet, since it tends to
harden the beans.
After 30 minutes, add the salt, the whole sausage, tomatoes with juice and tomato
paste and stir. Check the beans, which should still need further cooking.
After another 30 minutes, check the beans. They should be cooked but not
disintegrating. When they're done, turn off the heat. Drain the pot, keeping the
broth for later, and separate beans and meat. I've found that I tend to have too
much liquid, so I reduce it by about ⅓.
This step should start at least 1:20 hours before serving.
Crush the garlic into the broth and mix. Cut meat into roughly 5 mm slices (Bocuse
recommends 3 mm). The meat will be soft and fibrous, so there's a lot of leeway
1 hour before serving: Bake in the oven until the surface is browned. This
usually requires some help from the grill; the breadcrumbs soak in the broth and don't
brown easily. I've recently had success with baking in a temperature-controlled toaster
oven. In my newest oven I've tried fan-forced with additional top element at round