Food: Cassoulets go beyond borders, but not without beans

Is it a casserole or a cassoulet? By definition, it’s not a cassoulet if it doesn’t have beans. And the most devout cassoulet lovers even insist on the right kind of beans — typically Tarbais, large, white beans common in Tarbes, Toulouse, Carcassone and other towns in the southern Languedoc region of France where the cassoulet originated. Tiny, light green-colored, kidney-shaped Flageolet beans are worthy alternatives.

Michael Lachowicz, chef and owner of Restaurant Michael in Winnetka, imports cans of flageolet beans from Southern France. “I’m a purist,” he says. “I use exactly what you would see in a cassoulet in Toulouse.”

A traditional cassoulet consists of a base layer of beans that have been cooked in tomato purée and beef broth. Duck confit or lamb meat, carrots and other vegetables can be blended in. The cassoulet is then covered with a thick layer of breadcrumbs and baked for a few minutes.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia attached to this dish,” Lachowicz explained. “Cassoulets are indigenous to Southern France and they are driven by ingredients of the region.”

The baked cassoulet is usually crowned with iconic meats of the region, like garlicky pork sausage.

At Bistro Bordeaux in Evanston, Executive Chef Michael Gottlieb makes sausages and duck confit from scratch, daily.

“This stuff is so good; it falls apart and I’m not even doing anything,” he said, pulling the meat from the bone of a duck leg that soaked on the stove in a kettle of duck fat.

Gottlieb adds a special treat to the top of his cassoulet: he lays a shank of crispy pork belly, braised that morning, alongside a sliced Toulouse pork sausage. The sausage is spread across the top of a blanket of breadcrumbs made from brioche and blended with duck cracklings that have been ground to a powder-like consistency.

“The duck needs to be there,” Dominique Tougne emphasized. Tougne, the former executive chef at Bistro 110 in Chicago, now operates his own French restaurant, Chez Moi, in Chicago.

At Chex Moi, Tougne remains steadfast to the original cassoulet design, but as he explained, “there is not just one cassoulet recipe.”

More and more chefs are putting their personal spins on cassoulet. “There are so many possible variations — duck, lobster, vegetarian,” said Nadia Tilkian, Executive Chef at Waterleaf at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Her cassoulet reflects her Mediterranean heritage. Her father is originally from Lebanon. She cooks white beans slowly with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, herbs, bay leaf and white wine. But she also includes eggplant and zucchini. “It is similar to the dishes I grew up eating,” she said. “It just takes me back to my childhood.”

 

Cassoulet (serves 4-6)

Braised Flageolet Beans

1 pound raw flageolet beans soaked in beef broth, covered overnight

1/2 pound slab bacon, medium diced

1 whole head of garlic, split

1 large carrot, peeled

2 stalks celery

1 medium sized onion, peeled

5 bay leaves

1 sachet of 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, 1 bunch thyme, 1 sprig rosemary

2 cups tomato purée

1 gallon of beef broth

Render bacon until browned, 8-10 minutes.

Add carrot, onion, celery, whole garlic.

Add soaked beans.

Add bay and sachet.

Simmer until beans are tender.

Strain, and reserve cooking liquid but discard vegetables.

 

Braised Crispy Pork Belly

2 pounds raw pork belly (plenty of leftovers for breakfast in the morning)

1 pound salt

1/2 pound sugar

2 tablespoons coriander, toasted

2 tablespoons black peppercorn, toasted

2 tablespoons, star anise, toasted

1 tablespoon fennel seed, toasted

1 tablespoon allspice, toasted

2 quarts beef broth

Thyme, to taste

Rosemary, to taste

Coarsely grind all spices with spice grinder.

Mix salt, sugar and spices.

Pack pork belly with cure mixture.

Wrap in plastic, tightly.

Set in refrigerator for 12-24 hours.

The next day, rinse off cure, and pat dry.

Bring beef stock, a small bunch of thyme and one sprig of rosemary to a boil.

Place pork belly into baking dish, and add hot stock.

Cover and bake for three hours at 350 degrees.

Remove. Let cool slightly, and wrap tight in plastic wrap and weight down with a brick or other heavy object.

 

Duck Confit

4-6 duck legs

3 cups cure (same as pork belly)

2 quarts rendered duck fat (ideal) or canola oil

Liberally season duck legs on both sides.

Cure duck for 12-24 hours.

Rinse off and pat dry.

Melt duck fat and cover the duck legs with the fat.

Cover with foil or lid.

Slowly cook for 12 hours at 200 degrees.

Remove and let cool for 45 minutes or until it is cool enough to handle.

Remove bones and skin from duck legs.

Pull the duck, but do not shred.

 

Toulouse Pork Sausage

2 pounds of fresh pork shoulder, cut into one-inch cubes

1/2 pound of pork back fat, cut into one-inch cubes

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

4 allspice berries, ground

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup Cognac

4 bay leaves, crumbled

Grind meat and fat on large die setting into a bowl sitting in bowl of ice.

Purée all ingredients in blender until smooth.

Mix pork and seasonings in batches of two or three.

Let sit overnight (6-8 hours) to help flavors marry.

Stuff into pork casings, being careful not to over stuff or break the casings.

Make links about 4-5 inches.

Poach in salted water until internal temp is 150 degrees.

Remove from water and chill in refrigerator.

 

Assemble in individual cassoulet dishes:

3 cups brioche breadcrumbs

2 cups whole plum tomatoes, roughly cut, juice saved

1 cup small carrots/blanched and shocked

A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked off

Per each individual casserole dish, heat five ounces of beans in three ounces of the bean cooking liquid with tomato and juice.

Per each casserole dish, add three ounces of shredded duck, a pinch of fresh thyme and 5-8 small carrots.

Sear Toulouse sausage on all sides and roast in 350 degree oven until hot.

In the same pan as the sausage, sear a half-inch piece of pork belly until crispy on both sides.

Place beans in a casserole dish. Make sure that the beans aren’t too dry.

Top with brioche bread crumbs.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for five minutes or until bread is nicely toasted.

Slice sausage, arrange in dish and top with the crispy pork belly.

— Executive Chef Michael Gottlieb

0 Comments

Do you have the scariest house on the block? Or the cutest kid in costume? Share your Halloween photos with us! Click here to submit them.


Modal