In my last post, Clarence, I believe I vowed that I live in France but I never eat French food. Well, I’ve been in the south of France for 3 months now and I can now say that my stomach is totally French. I eat an entire baguette every other day. I eat more “patisserie” et “viennoiseries” than I did in all of the 3 years that I worked above 5 bakeries at NYC’s Chelsea Market. I’ve eaten tons of different cheeses (hope do to do a little blog on that soon), and I drink wine every other day. My stomach is un “ballon de foot”.
My French cousin took a look at my recent facebook photos and exclaimed in delight over a “texto” that I’d finally “taken weight”. Dit Quoi?!!!! – I need a salad…and not a french salad because they always like to add sausage or ham!
The above photo is one of my latest favorite things – it is, in my opinion, the most typical of french dishes – The Cassoulet. Cassoulet is a slow-cooked stew of duck-confit (duck fried in its own fat), white beans and vegetables like tomato and onion. It’s cooked in its own little deep earthenware pot called a cassoule, and a proper one will be served up still bubbling from the oven and with a caramelized crust on the top. It is both savory and sweet, and the beans emit a sort of creaminess that mixes with the dripping fat from the duck. It’s often served with sausage in addition to (or instead of) duck confit, and like many stews – it has peasant origins. Cassoulets in the olden days were often made over and over in the same pot and each new batch started by “deglazing” the pot from the last one – so, in fact, some cassoulets came from starters that were years or generations old (how french is that!).
It’s heavy, it’s hard to make, and it requires a huge hunk of bread to sop up all of the juices left still clinging to the sides of the pan. It is very – FRENCH. And it is my friend Bi’s favorite dish when she goes to Balthazar in NYC on Sundays although I hear the one at Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles is the best in NYC. (I love you Anthony Bourdain! Marry ME! I’m just kidding…you’re too tall…no MARRy ME! Tu est bienvenue chez moi, quand tu veux Anthony🙂 Grand bissous!)
I got to try this french gem while visiting a little medieval city called Carcassone about an hour from me by by train. The Southwest of France claims to be the home of Cassoulet, and
Carcassone is the home to a large fortress/castle – a former stronghold of a large family built to ward off the feuding lords in nearby Aragorn, Spain. It is, in fact, a huge tourist trap. But the castle was so well restored it did sometimes help me to imagine life back in the medieval times in France, and every single restaurant there and in the lower city offered it’s own version of cassoulet for about 10 or 12 euro (for LUNCH!).
If I’m being at all honest, though, I did try cassoulet before that. I got a microwavable version of it from the grocery store. Ahhhh…if you didn’t know this is the little devilish secret I’ve recently learned – the French are Kings of Processed food. Seriously. They mainly drink long-conservation milk (milk that can sit on a shelf for months before being opened). They have several varieties of long-conservation cheese like “Vache Blue” (Blue Cow). And they even have bread that will stay soft for weeks before getting moldy. They’ve even figured out how to make processed, packaged versions of their best meals – the most popular being Reflets de France.
The microwavable version of Cassoulet that I tried was absolutely horrible – mushy and tasteless. But I’m told that buying it in cans or glass jars is far tastier.
But if you can’t get to Les Halles or you just can’t afford a jet to Carcassone – try this recipe at – www.amateurgourmet.com. Or simply do what I did for a broke-down version-
- Sautee 4-5 large, fatty sausages in a heavy bottomed pan, remove them and set aside
- In the leftover sausage fat, add 1 to 2 chopped onions, sautee for 5-10 minutes and then add 2 cloves of chopped garlic and sautee for 5 more minutes
- Add 2 cans of diced tomatos (or fresh) and a tablespoon of tomato paste. (add whatever herbs you like, king here is “Herbes de Provence” – a mixture of Thyme, Basil and Oregeno. Simmer for 5 more minutes
- Optional – add about 1 teaspon of Cinammon and 2-3 tbs of butter (just go with it, I swear)
- Add a can or 2 of white beans along with some of the can juice. Return the sausages to the pot and simmer for as long as you can hold out your hunger (at least 20 minutes).
- Add salt and pepper to taste
- If your pan is oven proof, cover the cassoulet with breadcrumbs or parmesan cheese and stick the whole darned thing in your oven for about 10 minutes; move your rack to the uppermost point so that the pan will sit as close as possible to the ceiling of your oven. (this way the heat from the ceiling will brown the top without burning your pan the way a broiler will).
- Eat with a hunk of bread! (or rice if you’re secretly asian like me:)
A Bien-tot Clarence, I’m off to the gym for “abdos et fessiers”!