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This is the recipe I have been working on since about 1995 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.

This version dates from 22 November 2018; I have also kept a previous version from November 2006.

Ingredients

These ingredients are sufficient for my cassole, which holds 3.7 litres:


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quantity       ingredient       step
750 g       dried white beans       1
660 g       meat, preferably lamb, duck and pork, in single pieces       2
150 g       fat, preferably duck, otherwise lamb or pork (lard)       2
50 g       (optional) couennes (pork skin)       3
800 g       tinned tomatoes       4
50 g       tomato paste       4
      water to barely cover beans       4
200 g       double-smoked sausage       5
45-60 g       salt (see discussion at bottom)       5
25 g       garlic       7
about 50 g       bread crumbs       10

There's a lot of choice in the meat. Lamb and duck, including confit de canard, are the most popular, though pork is also acceptable. The sausage in step 4 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.

In the past I've had difficulty with too much liquid being left over at the end, but this recipe now works for me. Err on the side of too little liquid.

Preparation

There are four steps in the cooking: soften the beans and prepare the meat (steps 1 to 3), cook the individual ingredients (steps 4 to 6), arrange the cassoulet (steps 7 to 10), and cook it. Between each step there can be an arbitrarily long gap. Plan to start boiling the beans at leave 4 hours before serving, preferably more.

  1. Soak the beans in water overnight, or cover with boiling water and soak for 2 hours. Rinse the beans.

  2. Fry the whole meat in some of the fat until brown. Let it cool.

  3. If used, steam the couennes for an hour, then cut into small strips.

  4. Heat the oven to 130°. Bring the water to the boil and add beans, tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, meat and 80 g duck fat. Bring back to the boil and simmer in the oven 40 minutes. The water should be sufficient to just cover the beans. Don't add any salt (or any salty meat) yet, since it tends to harden the beans.

  5. After 40 minutes, add the salt and the whole sausage and stir. Check the beans, which should still need further cooking.

  6. After another 30 minutes, check the beans. They could be cooked, but they might need more. They should not be disintegrating. If they need more cooking, remove the sausage, which might otherwise burst. When the beans are done, turn off the heat. Drain the pot, keeping the broth for later, and separate beans and meat.

  7. Crush the garlic into the broth and mix.

  8. 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 here.


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  9. Place a layer of beans (about a quarter of the total) at the bottom of a casserole, cover with sausage slices, followed by another quarter of beans, the meat and couennes, another layer of beans and the duck, and a final layer of beans:


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  10. Pour in the reserved broth to cover the beans, cover the top with breadcrumbs, then pour the remaining duck fat over the top:


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  11. 1 hour before serving: Bake in the fan-forced oven at 180° with heat from above and below until the surface is browned. This may require some help from the grill; the breadcrumbs soak in the broth and don't brown easily.


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How much salt?

The amount of salt needed depends on the meat. If there's no salt in the meat and sausage, 55 g seems right. With salted sausage and ham, 40 g is safer.


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