This is the recipe I'm working on 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).
Start at least 6½ hours before serving. There are places where you can stop and restart,
but it's best to keep to the schedule.
6:30 hours before serving: Soak the beans in lukewarm water for 2 hours. The
purpose is not to soften the beans, but just the skin. Some claim that longer soaking
will provoke fermentation.
Fry the whole meat in some of the fat until brown. Let it cool.
4:40 hours before serving: 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 yet, since it tends to harden
4:10 hours before serving: Add the salt and stir. Check the beans, which should
still need further cooking.
3:40 hours before serving: Check the beans, which might be cooked. When they
are, remove from the pot and continue cooking the meat.
Steam the couennes for an hour, then cut into small strips.
2:20 hours before serving: Add the whole sausage, tomatoes with juice and tomato
paste. Check the salt and boil on low heat for another hour.
1:20 hours before serving: Drain the pot, keeping the broth for later, and
separate beans and meat. 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 here.
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