Master Class #23 | 3:19 pm | 13 February 2005

We’ve been out of town for the past three weekends in a row. It’s been so nice to hang out at t home, and finally have a chance to get my cook on. Making up for lost time, this weekend was la marche du cassoulet.

(Lots more photos of the process here.)
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1

Cassoulet de Porc et de Mouton, pp. 339-405
Beans Baked with Pork Loin, Shoulder of Mutton or Lamb, and Sausage

JC gives a very useful warning:

The composition of a cassoulet is, in the typical French fashion, the subject of infinite dispute, so much so that if you have read or heard about cassoulet and never tasted it, you come to expect a kind of rare ambrosia rather than the nourishing country fare it actually is.

Cassoulet is the French for “feeds an army.” It takes a while, too. Friday night, I got the beans started, and roasted a pork loin (p. 380). Saturday morning, I roasted a duck (p. 274) , then ducked out (d’oh) to my new find, hole-in-the-wall Yasmin’s Halal Meat Market for a shoulder of mutton. That I browned, then stewed. Then came the home-made sausages… JC also warns that while this can be done in a day, it’s better if you can do a few days of “leisurely, on-and-off cooking.” Good idea! My brother made this a few weeks ago, in a ten-hour marathon — and he had bought the Polish sausage.

I’m finding it very difficult to find a lot of the more unusual (these days) cuts of meat. I lucked out finding Yasmin’s, but had a hard time with the salt pork, the duck (!) and never found pork skin or pork fat. Without the pork fat, I made the sausage with the lightest bacon I could find, and I wouldn’t do that again. If you can’t find plain fat, just buy a good sausage. Also, because American pork is so ridiculously lean now, the pork roast was way too dry in the final product, even though I had only roasted it to F160°.

All told, though, this was a wonderful, hearty stew that I’ll make again (with the changes noted above). It would be a great thing to make in mid-October and stash for the winter. Serve with a baguette, salad, and a nice wine — and a fireplace and a snowstorm if you can arrange it.

UPDATE: I had another bowl for dinner, and Oh Sweet Julia! It is a rare ambrosia! Wow. Also: prepare yourself for lots of fun, loud and bangy farting.

5 comments on “Master Class #23”

  1. Farrell

    Have you encountered the Romertopf clay cooker? It’s an oval roaster made of fired clay, and it has a remarkable effect on meat: no drying out.

    I moved from feeding the family or the seriously hungry to inviting people over for dinner once I started using the Romertopf.

    Hmm. Wonder what JC thought of such things.

  2. Miriam

    That’s good to know — I’ve seen/heard good things, but haven’t tried one yet. Do you soak them before use? Is it very fragile? I’m going to have to look into this!

    I used my new Doufeu for the mutton and the duck; those came out as moist as promised. The doufeu is a roaster with an indented lid; you put ice cubes there, creating condensation and convection inside the pot, basting your meat and making the heat more even. I love love love it, but want a small one, too, since the one I have is a monster.

  3. Miriam

    Also, I’m sure she’d have loved the Romertopf, and probably had one — she was a bit of a gadget nut. There is a picture of an evidently much-used doufeu in The French Chef Cookbook.

  4. Miriam

    Update from October’s Cassoulet: just use lamb from Whole Foods, they’ll saw the mutton bones for you, too. Nobody on this earth has pork fat for the sausage unless you call ahead, so get side pork and that will work just fine. Next time I make this, though, I’m just going to throw in a few Polishes.

  5. Miriam

    Oh, and I also used a pork shoulder — cheaper, and waaay tastier.

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