Around the world in 80 dishes No.19: France

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Le Fameux Cassoulet, by Pascal Aussignac

Ingredients to serve 10-12

600g dried tarbais or lingot beans, soaked overnight in cold water

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

200g air-dried ham, eg, Bayonne, chopped

200g pork fat (couenne) or unsmoked fatty bacon, chopped

1 ham bone, chopped into 3-4 chunks

1 litre duck or chicken stock, or water

Cloves from 1 head of garlic, about 10, crushed

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped or crushed in a mouli

5 Toulouse sausages, halved

5 confit duck legs, halved

A little extra virgin olive oil or some duck fat, to serve


Each town in the south-west of France will claim theirs is the original, ultimate cassoulet recipe. As I don't want to stir up this hornets' nest, I give you my mother's personal favourite, which does not have a crust of breadcrumbs.

One thing to bear in mind is always cook a large cassoulet at least a day ahead; it enhances the flavour and then you can reheat it as required. A true Gascon would choose the thin-skinned Tarbais beans. They are bigger than haricots, and retain their shape when stewed for a long time.

Drain the soaked beans and place in a large saucepan covered with water, bring to the boil, then simmer for about 5 minutes and drain.

In a large, ovenproof saucepan (like a Le Creuset), sauté the chopped vegetables with the chopped ham and pork fat for about 10 minutes until softened. There is no need to add any oil or duck fat as the pork fat will render down.

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas 2.

Add the beans, ham bone pieces, stock (or water) and garlic to the vegetables and ham. Season lightly and bring to a gentle boil. Tip the crushed tomatoes on top, cover and place in the preheated oven for 1 hour.

Uncover after the hour and add the sausages and duck pieces, recover and return the cassoulet to the oven for another 30-60 minutes, or until the beans are tender. The dish should still be quite "juicy". Remove the ham bones, pull off any tender meat and add to the cassoulet.

Ideally, cool the cassoulet and store in the fridge for at least a day. Then reheat gently until hot and bubbling and mix in some olive oil or duck fat to enrich. If you really do like a crusty top, heat the cassoulet under a hot grill for a few minutes.

From Cuisinier Gascon by Pascal Aussignac (Absolute Press £25)