One of my favorite traditional French classic dinners is Cassoulet in Occitan. A bubbling earthenware rotund casserole comes directly to the table filled with big white Tarbais beans, garlic sausage, duck confit, pork of some kind whether its belly or pigs feet and always with a crust, natural or crumbs. Nothing could be better on a chilly evening with a glass of red wine. Memories of this dish are from all over the southwest of France. In the magnificent medieval walled city of Carcassonne, I served my fellow travelers to this treat, if I recall the “cassole” was so clean it didn’t need washing.
I also have fond memories of having Chalossais Cassoulet many times at La Tupina in Bordeaux. This restaurant holds very special memories for me. Its Basque chef, Jean Pierre Xiradaki is not just the keeper of the flame of Southwest cooking – but he cooks on an open fireplace, which adds to the amazing aromas in the restaurant. The symbol of La Tupina is a cauldron.
So I am sure, by now you realize there are several different versions of this classic dish. Actually when the gastronomic encyclopedia, Larousse Gastronomique was first published in 1938, there were three recipes for traditional cassoulet called the Trinity. Castelnaudary with more fresh pork, Carcassonne added red partridge or mutton, and Toulouse with its own namesake sausage, duck confit and breast of pork. Each of these were different, shall we say localize. But there is also the debate of the shape of the earthenware pot; conical or cassole more flat bottom…each originally made for the open fire. The debates still rage as it is taken very seriously.
There is L’ Academie Universelle du Cassoulet in Carcassonne still doing red caped enthronements to its graduates; there is Route des Cassoulets allowing you to drive from restaurant to restaurant to check out the authentic bubbling results. And to the French credit you can still buy the marvelous handmade cassoles stamped with the Occitan symbol on each. Along the route stop and visit Potier de Bram to watch ceramiste, Guy Sanchez and perhaps hide one or two in your luggage.
To stir up this great classic you need more than just a recipe, some purists say at least three days of preparation. Heck, it would take more than three days just to get the proper ingredients. But I will come to your rescue, if you are not going to be traveling to Southwest France soon go to D’Artagnan’s website and order Ariane’s Cassoulet Kit!