BESEIGE my Heart

French soul food is one of my many love interests. This is not the sophisticated, upscale, exorbitantly priced fine-dining fare we often associate with the French. Rather, French soul food involves simple technique-driven cuisine created in the French countryside. To me, the cuisine represents the kind of food I wish my grandmother had taught me to make. Alas, my grandmother was neither French nor a good cook. Sad!

For those of you not in the know, France possesses two very important things in great quantity: cold weather and great cooks. As you may already be aware, I HATE cold weather; I do, however, LOVE French food. Today I’m crushing on cassoulet.

Because many of you poor food-lovers may be ignorant of this ridiculously mouth-watering delicacy, I feel obligated to let you in on the secret. Like many epic dishes, cassoulet springs from legendary beginnings. The dish was created in Southwestern France by starving townspeople under siege by a foreign army. These heroic folks gathered the last of their foodstuffs and slowly simmered all of it in a giant earthenware cauldron. Then, thumbing their noses at the would-be invaders, the townspeople supped like champs.

The way to succeed with this luscious casserole is to use the proper technique (sound familiar?). First, soak the beans: A 24-hour bath will do the trick. Next, rinse the beans thoroughly and add them to a cassolle or any large casserole or Dutch oven. Now add a nice chicken stock and bring to a simmer … a very slow simmer.

It’s now time to add a sachet of herbs and some type of cured pork to flavor the beans as they continue to slowly simmer. Because you are striving to develop flavor complexity in the final product, a mirepoix (rough-chopped vegetables) should be used as well. I also place this in a sachet, to be removed before serving. That way, I can have all the flavor of the vegetables without the mushy texture in the final product.

Allow the beans to simmer on very low heat for a couple of hours. In the final hour of cooking, you may begin to add your additional meats. I use duck confit, sausages and chunks of pork butt. To finish, top with breadcrumbs and gratinée.

Here’s a basic bean recipe to get your cassoulet on its way.
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Chef Bill’s Cassoulet Base
Ingredients:

  • 1 Package deli white beans, soaked overnight
  • 1/2 Deli mirepoix with garlic and herbs in a sachet
  • 1/2 Deli mirepoix cut in brunoise
  • 3 Oz. pancetta in one piece
  • 1/2-Cup chopped herbs
  • Chicken stock to cover by 2”
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Drain and rinse the beans. Place in a pot and cover with chicken stock, 2” over.
  2. Add the pancetta and sachet. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about two hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  3. Beans are finished when tender all the way through.
  4. Sauté the brunoise, stir into the beans along with salt and pepper and chopped herbs. Keep warm.

Until we cook again,
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Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Fernandina Beach, at [email protected] to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!

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