Regional Cooking Part 3: Cassoulet

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The Cassoulet has to be one of my all time favourite French dishes, and, as Winter approaches, the one that I start to crave the most. Its heartiness makes it the perfect remedy to chilly winds and bleak skies and the fact that it freezes so well means you can make a big batch to then have it ready on hand in smaller portions when a cold day calls for it.

The original birthplace of this bean stew is claimed to be the town of Castelnaudary in the south of France, however slight variations are equally famous in the nearby towns of Carcassonne and Toulouse. Regardless of where it originated, it’s agreed that how it came to be, like so many other now-quintessential French dishes, was peasant food, born from the need to make something out of whatever was leftover or cheap.

The Castelnaudry Cassoulet, which is the version I am most familiar with, calls for confit duck, Toulouse (pork) sausage, haricot blanc or lingot beans, which are slow cooked and finished off under the grill so that a tantalising crust forms on top, right before serving.

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Cassoulet

  • 1 kg Haricot beans or lingot beans
  • 300g Kaiserflesh (smoked pork belly), diced
  • 250 g boneless pork shoulder, diced
  • 2 brown onions, picked with 3 cloves each
  • 8 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 bunch of thyme
  • 6 cloves
  • 4 Toulouse sausages
  • 5 Confit duck legs
  • 1 tin crush tomato

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Method:

  1. Place the beans, chopped thyme, bay leaves, smoked pork belly, sliced garlic, cloves, onions and crushed tomato in a deep cooking pot. Cover with hot water and cook on medium heat until the bean becomes slightly soft.
  2. In the mean time, heat up a small frying pan with some olive oil. Season and Quickly seal the pork shoulder and sausages on all sides. Preheat the oven at 180 degrees.
  3. Pour the bean mix in a dip baking tray and place the duck legs, pork shoulder and sausages on top. Bake for 2 hours covered with foil and 1 ½ hours uncovered to crisp up the beans.
  4. Serve with a side of green salad and a Chateau Viranel “Saint-Chinian” available from http://www.airoldifinewines.com.au

Bon Appétit

Le Fermier

 

Steak Tartare

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Steak tartare is a dish of culinary legend as it was originally thought to have come about from the tenderised pieces of meat that Tartar horsemen would carry under their saddles. In actual fact this was to help heal their horses saddle sores and definitely not to consume (ew!). More accurately, the dish evolved from raw and cooked minced meats brought to Europe by eastern Europeans. At the end of the 19th century anything served with tartare sauce was known as “à la tartare” and somehow this really stuck with steak. The dish served most popularly as we know today with a raw egg on top, became fashionable in the 1950’s and is now a staple at most French cafés and bistros.

Some say this dish isn’t for the faint hearted, but I disagree! If you can put aside your judgments on raw meat and let your taste buds guide you, most people would be surprised at how tasty steak tartare actually is!

 

Classic steak tartare for 2:

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch chive
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 lemon juice
  • 50g cornichon
  • 50g capers
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ small bunch parsley
  • 5 drops Tabasco (optional)
  • 200 grass fed rump steak or eye fillet (you can ask your butcher to mince this for you fresh)
  • 2 free range egg yolk
  • 1 baguette

 

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Method:

  1. Finely chop the meat with a sharp knife or if you have a mincer, put it through that, or the easiest option is to ask your butcher to mince a quality piece of meat fresh for you.
  2. Finely chop the shallots, capers, cornichons, chive and parsley.
  3. Heat up a grill pan on a high heat.
  4. Cut little slices of the baguette, brush them with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. Grill them on both sides until golden and crunchy.
  5. In a mixing bowl add all the ingredients except the Tabasco, egg yolk and lemon juice. Mix well then add the lemon juice and Tabasco to taste, you want it to have a bit of a kick but not over power it.
  6. On a plate, using a pastry cutter form the mince into a round shape with a hole in the middle big enough to contain the yolk. Gently put the yolk in the middle and serve with the croutons.

With the steak Tartare I recommend a Chateau Mouthes Le Bihan “Vieillefont” available from www.airoldifinewines.com.au