QUICK Cassoulet

This exceptional and wonderful dish must be the ultimate one-pot meal to serve at any dinner party. It’s legendary but hardly anyone cooks it in this country because of its aura of mystique and dogma. In fact, there are as many cassoulet recipes as there are cooks, so as long as the basics are there – white beans, pork, good sausage, tomato and a nice crusty breadcrumb topping – you can be flexible about the rest. Don’t worry, for example, that preserved goose is supposed to be a must. You can buy jars of it in good shops if you want to, but it’s not at all essential as it’s actually hard to spot when you’re eating the finished dish.

This recipe is masses easier and quicker than the full-blown real thing, yet it tastes very close to it. You can serve it unashamedly – and wait for compliments.

Start this recipe the day before. In fact it’s even better cooked a day earlier and reheated.

½ kilo (1 lb) haricot beans
1½ kilo (3 lb) chicken
225g (8oz) pork belly
10 cloves garlic
large bouquet garni (2 bay- leaves, thyme, parsley, 2 cloves, tied in a piece of muslin)
1 onion, chopped
1 thick slice from a leg of mutton or lamb
5 good pork sausages
goose (best), duck or chicken fat
4 large tomatoes, peeled, sliced
a squeeze of tomato purée
2 tsps. ketchup
3 teacups dry breadcrumbs
heaped tbl. chopped parsley

a large earthenware casserole dish with lid, any shape

Soak the beans overnight in lots of tepid water. (Make sure the beans are under a year old – beans older than that are unusable.)

Next day, drain and rinse the beans in fresh water, put into a large saucepan with the pork, four of the garlic cloves (whole) and the chopped onion. Bring to the boil, then simmer slowly for about 1¼ -1½ hours or until the beans are just tender. Top up with boiling water as needed to keep the beans covered. Drain and put into your casserole dish, reserving the cooking liquor.

Cut the chicken into eight pieces and brown quickly in the goose fat. Transfer to the casserole dish. Brown the slice of lamb in the same pan, cut it into four pieces and add to the casserole. Keep the pan for later use.

Slice the six remaining garlic cloves and add them to the casserole with the bouquet garni, a little salt, a good grinding of black pepper, the tomatoes, purée and ketchup, and pour on enough of the bean liquor to cover.

Cook very slowly, covered, for at least three hours, or until the meat is tender.

After about an hour, brown the sausages in the same fat, then add them to the casserole. Deglaze the pan with a little of the bean liquor and add it to the casserole.

When the meat is tender, take out the pork and sausages, slice them thickly and put back. You may discard the pork skin, but it’s traditional to leave it in. Taste and correct the seasoning. Add enough bean liquor to bring the level to just below the surface.

Mix the breadcrumbs with chopped parsley and scatter over the surface. Melt a little more of the goose fat and dribble over the crumbs. Cook uncovered at gas 5, 190°C for an hour. Push the crumbs under the surface a time or two, but leave them to form a final crust for the last 15 minutes or so.

Once cooked, the cassoulet can sit in a low oven, uncovered, until you are ready. If reheating, top up with water as necessary. Serve no accompaniment, but it is traditional to serve a celeriac salad beforehand.

Traditional ceriac salad

1 large root of celeriac, scrubbed and peeled
mayonnaise (or smatana)

Grate the celeriac (a food processor does the best job) and mix in a fairly generous amount of mayonnaise, smatana or a mixture of the two.

From Mary Whiting, Entertaining Single-Handed, London, Diatribal Press, 2000, pp 77-8

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