Cassoulet is a classic French stew of duck, beans, sausage and herbs, which has various permutations depending on where you are. Here Sylvie Bigar shares one of her favourite versions.
Cassoulet Confessions is an enthralling memoir by award-winning food and travel writer Sylvie Bigar which begins with a simple journalistic assignment and leads to a search for identity.
Set amidst the stunning countryside of southern France, this honest and poignant memoir beautifully conveys both a hunger for authentic food and that universal hunger for home.
Sylvie travels across the Atlantic from her home in New York to the origin of cassoulet – the Occitanie region of southern France. There she immerses herself in all things cassoulet: the quintessential historic meat and bean stew.
From her first spoonful, she is transported back to her dramatic childhood in Geneva, Switzerland, and finds herself journeying through an unexpected rabbit hole of memories. Not only does she discover the deeper meanings of her ancestral French cuisine, but she is ultimately transformed by having to face her unse„ling, complex family history. Sylvie’s simple but poetic prose immerses us in her story: we smell the simmering aromas of French kitchens, empathise with her family dilemmas, and experience her internal struggle to understand and ultimately accept herself.
Sylvie Bigar’s three-day cassoulet
- 1 kg dried lingot or other large white beans
- 1 pig trotter
- 300 g fresh pork rind cut into strips
- 1 ham bone
- 1 fresh ham hock
- 1 bouquet garni tie together 1 celery stalk, 4 thyme sprigs, 4 parsley sprigs, 3 bay leaves
- 10 cloves
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt
- 1 tablespoon duck fat
- 250 g fresh pork belly cut into cubes
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 garlic bulbs cloves peeled and crushed
- 450 g fresh garlic pork sausage cut into 7 cm long pieces
- 4 confit duck legs
- Sort through the beans to remove any broken ones.
- Rinse the beans thoroughly and soak overnight in cold water.
- In a large stock pot, combine the pig trotter, pork rind, ham bone and hock, bouquet garni, cloves, and salt. Cover with water (about 3 litres). Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for two hours.
- Let the stock cool, then remove the meats and discard the ham bone. Remove the bouquet garni and wring it out into the stock pot. Pour the stock through a sieve into a storage container. Refrigerate stock and meats separately overnight.
- Drain the beans and rinse under cold water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the beans in boiling water for seven minutes, and then drain.
- Debone the trotter and ham hock. Cut the meat into chunks.
- In a large pot, bring the stock and the beans to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes over a low heat. Drain the beans, reserving the stock and place the beans in a bowl.
- Meanwhile, melt the duck fat in a large pan. Add the pork belly cubes and brown on all sides. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the same pan, sauté the onion and garlic over a medium–low heat until translucent. Stir constantly to avoid burning. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, add to the beans and stir until they are well coated.
- In the same pan, brown the sausage pieces, then remove and set aside. Sear the duck confit to melt its fat. Debone the duck legs when cool enough to handle.
- Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F).
- To assemble the cassoulet, spread half the beans at the bottom of a cassole or large Dutch oven. Then layer the sausage pieces, the duck confit and the pork meats, and cover with the rest of the beans and then with the stock. Bake uncovered for about two hours. Check regularly to break the crust, making sure it doesn’t look dry; add stock or water as necessary. Bubbles should appear around the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cassole rest until cool, then refrigerate overnight, keeping remaining stock if any.
- About three hours before serving, take the cassole out of the refrigerator and bring to room temperature (this should take about 45 minutes).
- Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F).
- Add about 250ml stock or water to the cassole and bake for two hours, breaking the crust regularly. Make sure the stew remains moist by adding stock or water as needed.
- Remove from the oven and serve family style in the centre of the table.
Recipe extracted from:
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