french cassoulet

French Cassoulet and The Holiday Season

The living room feels empty, a funny idea since it is like that for eleven months out of the year. The tree is now gone, and with it left the holiday season. I love the holidays but I realized this year that I follow no traditions. Wait, let’s try that again, I don’t follow many traditions. Alright, try again. I follow just a few traditions for the holidays. The tree is my favorite one. I love taking the dusty box out of the basement and the multiple boxes of ornaments, I know what you are thinking “No real tree?” no, not here. tree ornamentsIn Colombia, where I grew up, the tree was a plastic apparatus kept in an attic, or if you were rich then a new one came every year carrying all the new decorations, like in fashion. But that is not the kind of tree I love. I love our tree, the one filled with memories of generations past, of places we have been lucky to visit, and of dear friends who have contributed with ornaments that tell who we were at the time and who we have become. 2015-01-11 13.15.15Talking of traditions, to my shame I must admit, I don’t carry with me any from my home country, not even food related traditions. It is sad, I know. I lost them somewhere along the way, I guess it happened when I wasn’t paying attention. I am hoping to find them in the near future and share them with you.
So, I found myself without traditions to follow and a dinner to cook for Christmas Eve. I decided it was time to brave myself and make a French Cassoulet. About a year ago, I glanced at the recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French cooking book and skipped the pages in a panic, all three of them. The lengthy list of ingredients, the multiple steps for separate meals within the meal were more than I could handle. Don’t get me wrong, I love Julia Child, in fact I use her recipes a lot, with my adaptations. However, the format is different from most recipe books and it can be intimidating.
french cassoulet ingredientsAfter making the dish once, I realized it didn’t need to be complicated and I could cut the ingredient list by half and still have a delicious dish. Based on the recipe and the final dish, I understood that the most important elements of the dish are the beans, dried Great Northern, and how they are cooked, and the liquid used to cook the lamb which later flavors the beans.
Last week, I had guest coming over for dinner and tried my shorten version of the dish. Instead of a two day process, the dish came together in one afternoon. I also reduced the fat content, I have no issues with eating large amounts of pork belly and duck confit; however, I skipped them for a lighter version of the dish. white beans for cassouletThe trick with soaking the beans, as Miss Julia explains, is to drop them in boiling water and boil them for five minutes, then turn off the heat and let them rest in the water for one hour. Then, turn the heat back on and add the spices, herbs, salt and the pork belly, if using it, allow them to simmer with the lid halfway on, until tender.
lamb for cassouletThe lamb is cooked in white wine, stock (beef or chicken depending on preference, I used chicken), tomato paste, herbs, onions and garlic, until tender. The original recipe asked for lamb chunks plus bones for added flavor, I substituted for lamb shanks (one for two people).

At some restaurants the dish also contains duck legs which have been confit prior. A more easy to find substitute is chicken thighs roasted skin on; or if following the recipe then roasted pork loin is the meat of choice, either one works great and it is arrange at the end in the casserole dish together with cut piece of cooked sausage.
This adaptation contains beans, pork belly, lamb and sausage.

French Cassoulet Recipe – serves 4-6
Adapted from: Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
1 ½ cups of dried white beans – great northern
4 cups of water, boiling
2oz of pork belly (optional)
½ medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried thyme
2 cloves
A handful of fresh parsley
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Drop the washed beans in the boiling water and cook for two minutes. Turn off the heat and let the beans soak with the lid on for one hour. Turn the heat back on and add the rest of the ingredients above, simmer with the lid halfway on until tender, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
2 lamb shanks
½ medium onion, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 garlic clove, minced
1 cup of dry white wine
1 ½ cups of stock, chicken or beef – your preference
¼ cup of water
1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Olive oil
Have an oven proof casserole dish ready. Turn oven to 325 on convection roast setting.
Season the lamb with salt and pepper, add oil to a large pot over medium heat and brown the lamb on all sides, remove the meat and place it in the casserole dish. Add onions and sauté for about 5 minute, add more oil if needed. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and liquid and bring to a boil. Pour liquid over the lamb, cover dish with plastic wrap and then foil. Cook in the oven until the lamb is tender, about 1 ½ hours.
Other ingredients: (optional)
2 sausages, French are more traditional, I prefer the flavor of Italian sausage
2 chicken thighs, roasted skin on at 375F on convection roast for 25-30 minutes
Bread crumbs
Chopped parsley
Cook the sausage on a small sauté pan by adding 1 tsp of oil and ¼ cup of chicken stock. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Uncover and allow the sausage to brown in the oil. Cut in half.
Skin the chicken thighs and set aside.
Assembling the dish:
Drain the beans and reserve the liquid, discard bay leaf, parsley steams, smashed garlic and the two cloves.
Pour the lamb cooking liquid over the beans, bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let beans rest for 10 minutes.
Pull apart the lamb meat from the bone and break it in smaller portions.
Using the same casserole dish, or individual serving dishes, ladle the beans holding back the liquid. Arrange the meats around the beans and continue layering beans and meats. Pour the liquid over to cover the beans and meats, sprinkle with bread crumbs and chopped parsley.
Place the dish in middle rack and bake for one hour, checking half way through to brake the crust and mixing it into the dish. Let the crust form again.

*If the cassoulet gets to thick, add a bit of bean cooking liquid or chicken stock to thin it.

*If you are going to make the cassoulet in individual serving, cut the baking time in half.

Serve hot, as the dish thickens as it cools down, with crusty bread and a glass of champagne or a dry white wine.french cassoulet

what’s on your mind?

4 thoughts on “French Cassoulet and The Holiday Season”

  1. Oh dear Paula, love the way you write. Were you talking about us as guests coming????? Hi Hi Hi .

    J’ai hate de faire cette recette et d’essayer le “truc” pour les feves blanches.
    Encore mille fois mercis.

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