Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tinkering With a French Classic

Cassoulet is one of my favorite dishes, especially this time of the year. It's the quintessential French "peasant entree." Leftovers from larger meals -- usually pork shoulder and duck legs -- are combined with white beans, chopped tomato and garlic in a large crock, which is covered with bread crumbs and baked.

Cassoulet originates from the southwest region of France, where three cities claim to be the sites where the dish was first prepared. Does it contain lamb sausage or not? Should it contain mutton or even partridge? It seems that every restauranteur or family in this part of France has a strong opinion on such questions.

As much as I like the food at La Chaumiere in D.C.'s Georgetown, I was disappointed by the cassoulet that I ate there a month or so ago. The beans were overcooked and they got skimpy on the meat. On the other hand, the cassoulet that I had last week at Bistrot d'Oc in downtown was superb.

Cassoulet is a labor-intensive meal to prepare. There's a lot of cooking, cutting, dicing and assembling. This recipe for cassoulet from Food & Wine magazine looks good, but I doubt that I will ever go to the trouble of trying to cook this at home.

If you'd like to make cassoulet at home, you're better off relying on this recipe that Adam Roberts adapted and posted on his blog, The Amateur Gourmet.

If you really want to simplify the recipe, then try this one from the N.Y. Times' Mark Bittman, although even he calls it a "heresy" compared to the original restaurant version of cassoulet.

I even found this recipe for chicken cassoulet. Knowledge of its existence would probably cause convulsions at a Cordon Bleu cooking school. Using an Italian cheese in a French entree? Incroyable!

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