Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cassoulet Today

I figured one of my early postings should actually be about cassoulet, being that this blog references it, it'd be nice if people knew what it was and how to pronounce it.

Just say: kass-oo-lay. There! You've mastered it!

Now, take a look at the poster below which will give you an idea of what cassoulet looks like....

Were you imagining something small, dainty and chic? Non, dainty it is not! Baked and served in an earthenware dish are white haricot beans, sausage, duck or goose confit, slow baked to result in a rustic, stick-to-your-ribs meal that is so addicting, you'll never forget it...(unless you had the misfortune of ordering it in Paris). Add a glass of red wine (Cabardès and St.Emilion are my faves and so reasonably priced) and a loaf of crusty bread and you have the real deal. What real French people eat in South West France. Don't forget the cheese course, of course! (Couldn't resist!)

The beauty of France is that each region has its own specialties that cannot be replicated as well elsewhere, at least goes my experience with cassoulet consumption. It is apparently a heated controversy whether cassoulet comes from the village Castelnaudary or the city of Toulouse, and if that ever gets decided then it will be argued as to which one is best. I'll take 'em both, merci!

The very first time I went to France to visit my relatives, my husband couldn't go. Their "Welcome to France" meal was cassoulet. I had never heard of it before, but I was suddenly obsessed. So when I got back all my husband heard about was cassoulet. Ok, and a few million other things. But I had to convince him there was at least one dish he'd like in France. (He is not a quiche-kinda-guy, as he puts it.)

So when I finally got him to move to France four years later, the first thing he ordered in a bistro was cassoulet. But, it was a really hot day. I tried to tell him that this was really a meal best consumed during winter, or even spring or fall, but not in a hot-stuffy resto with no air circulation in the middle of summer. And not outside of my aunt's kitchen! No matter, he'd been hearing about this cassoulet far too long to ignore that is was on the menu. But after that first bite, he was hooked! Thankfully this little bistro served a good cassoulet. Many places do not as I found out later, hence busting the myth that all French food is perfect all the time.

You can be sure that very few places make their own cassoulet because it is such a long process. You can spend literally two days preparing it from scratch, or just go to the supermarché and buy it in cans. There are good ones and bad ones, we were told. We bought the first can we saw at the neighborhood EcoMarché during our first grocery-buying-trip-as-real-French-residents. I had been so excited to get it home and into the little earthenware single-serving bowls I found in the flat, get them into the oven and then in our bellies. But when I opened the can, it was like looking into a large can of beenie-weenies. Beurk! Ok, thought I, maybe this is what it looks like before it thickens in the oven. Surely there isn't bad tasting cassoulet here in the south of France! It is Cassoulet Country! After an hour in our tiny toaster-ish oven, it never did thicken. I realized I chose a bad one.

After many home-heated cassoulets my favorite brands, so far, are Spanghero and La Belle Chaurienne. I buy the Cassoulet de Canard (duck) and then an extra can of the confit de canard (duck confit) to add to it for extra duck-y goodness. Call me a quack, but it's how I was taught and no fighting over duck legs now. I bake it for awhile and then break the forming crust on top with a big spoon. It continues to bake and reform crust, which I break over and over with much patience knowing my efforts will all pay off.

And so that brings me to the name of the blog. Cassoulet Café. It makes sense to me. It is something I love, from a region I love, even if I would never order it in a café. I don't know, it just sounds cool. Even when it's hot...

Speaking of hot, did I ever tell ya that time that we got refused entry on a boat restaurant renowned for it's cassoulet, because we were *gasp* wearing shorts?


Hi! I'm Adele... said...

Good Morning!

My husband and I are not yet decided where we want to live. I would like to be an hour or so away from Paris. We are registered with a few French real estate websites -- we have to sell an 80 acre horse farm first, and that included aver 40 horses. We are just in the preliminary stages now. I am going to go read your blog right now! I hope you have a wonderful day!


Hi! I'm Adele... said...

What a wonderful post! I, too, have heard quite a bit about the fames French cassoulet - I have every French cookbook Julia Childs ever wrote! Do you speak fluent French? We are going to learn as a family, and I am going to use the Rosetta Stone program. Any suggestions? My children are 9 and 5 - I thought if we start now,we could be fairly fluent by the time we move.

A Bientôt!


La Belette Rouge said...

Bonjour Cassoulet,
Even canned cassoulet is sounding good to me. Looking forward to reading about your France adventures!

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Hi Adele! When people ask me if I speak fluent French, I always say NO. But when I've done so in front of French friends, they disagree and say "Siiiii, tu parles bien!" I imagine that I speak like a two year old (me want cookie, me go in italy yesterday) you get the point. ;)
But, still my French friends disagree and say that I speak well. Which means, that either they have such a complex about their English they want to flatter me about my French so as not to have to speak my language, or they are just super nice friends! When I type French, i tend to make lots of mistakes because you can see mistakes more than hear them. I took French in school and also my uncle married a native francaise, so I have had lots of opportunities to develop an 'ear' for it. But when we moved there, I realized I knew nothing of everyday French, and I learned a immersion is the best. I've heard Rosetta Stone is good, but can't vouch for it. I know Pimsleur helped my husband a lot, though I don't like it 100%.
Your children should start ASAP because kids are like sponges. My daughter was 4 1/2 when we moved there and within a week she was mimicking the pattern of French, and then she took off with her comprehension and speaking ability.

Hi! I'm Adele... said...

I hope you don't mind questions, because I will be full of them! What made you decide to leave France, and do you miss it?


Cris in Oregon said...

HI.. Nice blog. Thanks for visiting mine & leaving a comment.

geo said...

Bon jour, everyone. I'm down to my last can of La Belle Chaurienne cassoulet that I brought back from Toulouse. Does anyone know of a US source? There is no mention on their website. Thanks. George...