18 April 2014

Cassoulet à la Dany Chouet

                                                                            A beautiful end of March at Malcournet

It was Monday, the last day in March, when Dany Chouet (the 'midwife of modern Australian cuisine') and Trish Hobbs recruited their dear friend Appley Hoare, Australian friends Jim and Ann who were staying nearby and ourselves to help burn the garden rubbish at the bottom meadow of their gorgeous garden at Malcournet. The bribe? Dany's famous cassoulet, one of the favourite dishes served back in the day at Trish and Dany's much loved restaurant, Cleopatra, up in the Blue Mountains of Australia.

As Dany wrote in her award-winning book, So French

In the South West, the Cassoulet, symbolic dish of Occitanie, has achieved national mythical status, and has as many recipes as communes.  It is a complete meal, does not need anything before and very little after, except maybe a small glass of Armagnac.  The cassoulet, one of my favourite meals to cook, gathers together all the ingredients I love.  The haricot beans, such a wonderful dry vegetable, give the creaminess, and act as a liason between the meats and soak up all the flavours, laced with tomato.  The roasted pork stays moist and becomes tastier, the confit is in its’ best surroundings.  And I rolled up my two star ingredients, garlic and parsley, into the pork skin. 
My cassoulet is far from being ‘Catholique’ as we say in French (or according to the rules) and is not made in the traditional way, but as Prosper Montagné (famous Occitan chef, author of the Larousse Gastronomique) said:  ‘only badly informed people say there is only one way to make cassoulet’.
It's a very hearty dish, and Dany and Trish reckoned that March (unusually mild this spring in France) might mark the end of cassoulet-eating season. It's also not something one does at the spur of the moment, so just to document the process we asked the girls to take some pics. So here is how Dany's three step recipe goes (omitting the essential pre-step of ordering the proper cuts of pork from one's friendly local butcher).

Step 1. The Marinade

½ head of garlic, peeled
1 bunch flat-leafed parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small neck of pork (scotch fillet)
1 kg lean pork belly
800g pork skins, without fat
1.5 litres dry white wine
black peppercorns
1 large bouquet garni (fresh thyme, parsley stalks, bay leaf)

The day before:  Finely chop half a head of garlic and parsley and mix well together.

Remove excess fat from pork neck and tidy the meat by trimming.  Pierce holes along the meat and insert salt, pepper and the garlic and parsley mixture deep into the meat.  Tie up with string like a roast.  Leave the skin on the pork belly, remove bones but reserve them for use later.
Arrange the pork skins flat on the board, season normally with salt and freshly ground pepper then spread thickly with the garlic and parsley mixture.  

Roll up like a thick sausage and tie with string at 1.5 cm intervals.

Place the three cuts of meat in a large container.  Cover with 1.5 litres of white wine, sprinkle over one tablespoon of whole black peppercorns and immerse the bouquet garni.  Cover and place in the refrigerator.  Before going to bed at night, turn the meats around in the marinade.

Step 2: preparing the dish: 

1 kg white Great Northern or cannellini  beans
1 whole brown onion, studded with 2 cloves
1 bay leaf
250g smoked pork speck, diced
60g duck fat
3 medium carrots, diced into 1 cm cubes
3-4 large onions, diced small
4 large very ripe tomatoes peeled deseeded and chopped (or 800g tinned Italian peeled tomatoes)
½ head garlic, peeled
1.5 litres chicken or pork or duck stock.
The bones reserved from the pork belly.

On the day, or one day ahead of serving:  Place the beans in a large pot, cover generously with cold water, add the studded onion and the bay leaf.  Bring to the boil and cook for about 30 minutes.
Strain the beans into a colander and refresh in cold water. Discard the onion and the bay leaf and leave the beans to drain.

Take the meat from the marinade and strain.  Heat oven to 200 degrees C and roast the neck only, basting often with a little of the marinade.  Cook for about one hour and 15 minutes, then remove and set aside.  Collect the roasting juices and set aside for use later.
At the same time in a large thick-based pot, fry the smoked speck with duck fat until golden, then add diced carrots and onions.
Sauté gently for about 15 minutes without browning.  Add the tomato flesh, reduce to a nice, thick consistency.  Season with freshly ground black pepper only.
Add the drained beans, mix together with the sauce, pour in the remaining strained marinade, and bring gently to the boil.
Bury the pork belly and skin roll into the beans, as well as the bouquet garni and the reserved pork bones.  Chop the garlic and add to the beans.  Bring the level of liquid up with the chicken stock, until it rests about 2 cm above the beans.

Do not stir the mixture any more.  Let it simmer, covered, for at least one and a half hours, maybe more, checking the meats with a skewer to see if they are done.
Remove the meats from the pot as soon as they are cooked.  Set aside with the roast pork neck and let cool.  If they are to be used the day after, let them cool and keep well covered and sealed in the refrigerator.  Pour beans out of the pot into a bowl and stir to equalise the flavours.  Discard the bouquet garni and the pork bones.

Step 3, serving the cassoulet: 

6 thick pork sausages, Toulouse type, cut in half
12 confit duck legs 
about 1 cup breadcrumbs
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 bunch flat leaved parsley, chopped

Heat the oven to 200C. Half fill a large earthenware oven dish with the beans, thickly slice the roast pork and the pork belly, slice the skin roll thinly, grill the pork sausages on one side only, remove the duck legs from their fat.

Arrange in alternating slices, embedding into the beans the duck legs, pork neck slices, belly slices, skin slices and sausages (place grilled side on top).  

Bury all meats halfway into the beans and pour the roast pork jus all over.

Mix together the breadcrumbs, one large crushed clove of garlic and chopped parsley and sprinkle generously all over the top.  

Drizzle a little liquid duck fat on top of the breadcrumbs to crisp them.

 Bake in the oven for  30-40 minutes, until golden brown on top, very hot, and sizzling around the edges. Serves 8-12 people.  (Can be re-heated the next day). 

While all this lovely bean and meat alchemy was happening in Malcournet's kitchen, the bonfire down at the bottom of the meadow had nearly burned out.

Time for a glass of rosé after all our labours, and piping hot cassoulet in the garden. The heady aroma of beans, duck and pork made our mouths water. 

It didn't all fit in one clay pot, so there was a mama and a baby cassoulet. 

The  delicate harmony of the flavours in the cassoulet was absolutely delicious!

It was one of those perfect spring days. Music was provided by a nightingale warbling in a nearby tree, and as we wended our way home just before the sun went down, we all hoped that the spring bonfire cassoulet becomes an annual event. Thank you, Dany and Trish! Their book So French is packed with similar delicious recipes (and great stories!); pick up a copy on Amazon—it's now available on Kindle, too.


  1. Wow, now that is some cassoulet! Love this. Thank you kindly for sharing.

  2. Well, I just sold your book--to Australian friends here in Barcelona who were enraptured at the recommendation and also with this blog! They have long been aware of Dany's fame (they are from Sidney). Biz, Becky from BCN

  3. Lush! Reverse seasons of course here in New South Wales' Northern Rivers - will indulge with Bangalow pork in a couple of months! Let me know when next are in Oz again and come and visit!