Joel Robuchon’s Cassoulet: Heaven In a Clay Pot

16 Jan

The latest Men’s Journal, on which Mel Gibson’s crazy face stares at you with an ace of spades, includes a recipe for Joel Robuchon’s delicious Cassoulet.  When you have reached your winter limit for comfort foods such as meat loaf and shepherd’s pie, turn to cassoulet, the classic french stew.

Like any man, tackling a great carnivorous tradition – think of the feuding between Texas and Carolina barbeque devotees – the would-be cassoulet maker has to first pick sides in an ancient regional argument.

There’s no disputing that a cassoulet is cooked in a traditional cooking vessel, a cassole, or that beans, meat, and vegetables are its base.  The controversy centers around which meats should join the beans and the vegetables.

Three French cities each claim to make the only authentic cassoulet, and according to the great french chef Prosper Montagne, the three styles are th holy trinity of southwestern french cuisine: Castelnaudary’s ham, loin, sausage, fresh bacon, and goose confit is the Father; the Son is Carcassonne’s mutton and partridge version; and the Holy Ghost is the mutton, bacon and pork belly cassoulet that hails from Toulouse.  While this is all very nice, you want to master one the right way – not one of the three right ways.  So you will be relieved to know that there is a fourth and superior front in the cassoulet battle.

In his indispensable new tome The Complete Robuchon, chef Joel Robuchon throws his weight behind a best-of-all-worlds cassoulet, blending lamb shoulder, lamb neck, pork sausage, pork belly, and duck confit.  Because of all these can be found in good gourmet shops, you’ve done half the work by the time you finish shopping.  After that just follow the straightforward recipe (below) and prepare for the ensuing gastronomic coma.

The Celestial Vessel

Deep and thick enough to distribute heat evenly, an authentic French cassole is a conical ceramic pot glazed inside, similar to this one from Emile Henry ($115; emilehenryusa.com).

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs dry white beans, tarbals or lingot
  • 1 carrot
  • 4 onions (2 stuck with 1 clove each, 2 sliced into 1/8 inch rounds)
  • 10 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 lb pork rind
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 1/2 lb garlic sausage
  • 3/4 lb saucisses de toulouse
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/2 lb lean pork belly
  • 1.5 lb duck confit, with fat
  • 1.5 lb boneless lamb shoulder, chopped into 2 inch chunks
  • 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1.25 cups of dry bread crumbs
  • 1 bunch parsley leaves, minced

The Procedure

  1. Put the beans in a large pot with carrot, 2 onions stuck with cloves, 6 garlic cloves, pork rind, and bouquet garni.  Cover with cold water and turn heat on high, lowering before water bubbles.  Simmer for one hour.  Add garlic sausage and saucisses; simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Put pork belly in a large pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and cook for 5 minutes.  Remove pork to a colander, rinse with cold water, drain.
  3. In another pot, melt 4 tbsp fat from confit.  When hot, brown lamb chunks over high heat.  Remove to plate.  Cook sliced onions in same pot for 3 minutes over low heat; stir.  Add tomatoes, 4 garlic cloves, and 10 tbsp bean cooking liquid.  Let bubble for 10 minutes.
  4. Fish bouquet garni, onions, pork rind, and sausages from the bean-cooking pot.  Discard the garni and leave the rest on a plate.  Drain the beans, saving liquid, then add the beans to the pot with the tomatoes and onions.
  5. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Slice sausage and saucisses into 1/2 inch rounds.  Line a large terrine with the pork rind and fill with alternating layers of meat, saucisses, garlic, sausage, and bean-onion-tomato mix.  Finish with a layer of beans, top with 2 tbsp of confit fat (spread evenly over the surface). The liquid in the terrine should barely cover the top layer; if it doesn’t, add cooking liquid.  Bake for 3 hours.
  6. Mix bread crumbs with parsley.  When cassoulet has baked for 3 hours, sprinkle with parsleyed crumbs and put back in the oven for an hour to brown.  Serves 10.
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