As far as I can tell, everyone in the south west of France is making cassoulet right about now, and I’m no exception. With our friends from California and our son from Portland, we made another expedition to visit the champion de saucisson to see what he recommended for a local version of cassoulet. The result was a real surprise, and one of the best cassoulets I’ve ever eaten.
For one amazing thing, it contained no confit. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cassoulet without confit, either confit of duck, pork, or both. But in this case I asked Monsieur Soulier for the makings for a cassoulet for 5 people, and he cut me a pile of fresh pork belly, several rolls of creamy pork skin, a length of fresh garlic sausage, and two fat duck breasts.
We’d intended to make the cassoulet with fresh haricots coco but they’d disappeared from the markets as suddenly as they’d arrived. Thus we ended up using several jars of Spanish white beans, already cooked. Contrary to all our expectations, these beans didn’t fall apart even after being cooked all day, and were quite satisfactory.
Another big surprise came from following Madame Soulier’s recommendation to use tomato purée instead of stock as the liquid. The slight tanginess of the tomato worked marvelously with the melting textures of the pork belly, and offset the goose fat used to brown the meat and the richness of the duck. We added a huge handful of chopped garlic to complement the garlic sausage, and a pile of thyme leaves. For the breadcrumb topping I used my freezer stash of a mixture of at least 7 different kinds of bread, then we popped the dish in the oven about 8:00 in the morning, went about our day, and twelve hours later sat down to an exceptionally delicious dinner.
Our friends left us to return to California this morning, and although I tried to convince them to take some cassoulet leftovers on the plane, they were afraid that the Air France flight crew wouldn’t be able to resist confiscating it for their own use, so we’ll be eating it again tonight. Only eleven hours until dinner!