Cassoulet seems to have originated in the southwest of France, between Provence and the Pyrenees Mountains, in the area known as the Languedoc. It was born almost certainly out of poverty, starvation, and a lack of resources, circa 1355, during the notorious Hundred Years War between the English and the French.
As with many regional cuisines, the dishes frequently reflect subtle local differences. The beautiful drive down the A61 from Toulouse, through Castelnaudary, and then Carcassonne and down to the coast reveals just this. Where one town might use goose confit, another uses partridge, and yet another lamb.
Likewise, we have also made a few amendments from time to time, such as a confit of chicken legs instead of duck, but the technique and historic authenticity of the dish is always honored.
On Day 1, prepare your confit of duck if you are making it yourself. Also soak the beans in cold water, leaving a good 3 inches of water above the level of the beans. Cover overnight.
On Day 2, start by cooking the beans and making a stock all in one go. Cook the beans in simmering water with a piece of the pork rind , the celery, carrot, quartered onion and bouquet garni. Simmer for 1 hour until the beans are just soft.
Meanwhile, heat the goose or duck fat in a large sauté pan and brown the pork, sausages, bacon. Remove to a plate. Sauté the onions in the same pan for 10 mins until soft. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Add the pork, sausages and bacon back to the pan, and add the tomato purée and a ladle of stock from the simmering beans. Cover and cook on low for an hour, taking care not to dry the pan out. Add a touch more stock if needed.
While the meat is cooking, drain the beans, and reserve the stock. Discard the vegetables, rind and bouquet garni. Season the stock to taste. This is the only opportunity to season the dish, so be critical and diligent in your efforts.
Pre-heat an oven to 350˚F.
Line the bottom of an oven-proof casserole with a sheet of rind, skin side down. Use any additional rind to line the sides of the casserole a little like a pie pastry.
Layer the dish up with a layer of beans, a layer of meats, a layer of beans, a layer of meats, and finally a layer of beans. Pour in the stock so it just comes up to the level of the last bean layer. Cover over with the breadcrumbs to form a crust. Place in the oven at 350˚F for 1 hour. After 1 hour, turn the oven down to 250˚F and cook for a further hour.
Once done, remove from the oven and serve with plenty of red wine.
Typically, a green salad of your choice, is the perfect accompaniment to balance a meal of Cassoulet, to be concluded with your favorite light fruit dessert.