The cassoulet, above all French peasant dishes, has the most hotly debated method. From the meat to the type of bean used, no two regions appear able to agree. Without obligation to conform, my recipe for Toulouse Sausage Cassoulet foregoes modern French excess in favour of hearty flavour and rustic comfort.
What all recipes for cassoulet have in common is the inclusion of white beans. Butterbeans are, apparently, cause for concern in the world of French casseroles, but they do yield a creamy result and are easily tracked down. Though I’d suggest small haricot beans if at all possible.
Meat is where things get tricky. Ingredients like confit duck don’t come cheap in this day and age. And while French farm owners or workers likely had inexpensive access to such luxuries, they aren’t about to waddle their way into my kitchen (the ducks, I mean). Besides, it can be assumed that offcuts and scraps were almost certainly used way back when.
Though some may scoff, my recipe for Toulouse sausage cassoulet does away with duck altogether, instead concentrating on quality sausages and belly pork. The belly pork, though far from the grasp of tradition, provides a heap of much needed fat and richness to the casserole.
By concentrating on generous flavouring and quality over quantity, what you get is a cassoulet so satisfying that you scarcely notice the missing duck. Just make sure not to skimp on your sausage; garlicky and with a high meat content, please.
Toulouse Sausage Cassoulet
Serves 4 – 6
- 375g butterbeans or haricot beans, dried
- 1 onion, peeled
- 1 whole head of garlic
- small handful of fresh thyme
- 3-4 bay leaves
- 250g belly pork
- 50g butter
- 400g Toulouse sausages, or similar
- 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, mashed
- 150g breadcrumbs
- ½ tsp salt
- Soak the butterbeans overnight in water. Drain and transfer the beans to a large saucepan along with the onion, whole head of garlic, thyme, bay leaves and belly pork.
- Top the saucepan up until the ingredients are covered by 2-3cm of water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for around 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, fry your sausages in butter until golden brown on every side. Set aside to cool, before cutting into chunks. Keep the butter. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C(fan).
- Once the beans are tender discard the thyme and bay leaves. Drain the beans, saving the juices.
- Trim the fat from the belly pork and pan fry in the butter. Squeeze the cooked garlic into a large casserole dish and mash into a paste, along with the melted butter and softened onion.
- Add the beans to the casserole, followed by the sausage, belly pork, tomatoes and mashed cloves of garlic. Top up with enough cooking juices to cover the beans.
- Season the breadcrumbs with ½ tsp of salt and use half to top the cassoulet. After 1 hour the crust should be golden.
- Stir the crust back into the cassoulet and top with the remaining breadcrumbs. Bake for another hour, by which time your cassoulet should have a thick, golden crust.
Cost: Unless you avoid meat altogether cassoulet is never going to be the most frugal dish you’ve attempted, but it can be inexpensive relative to the comfort and satisfaction delivered
Indeed, despite the use of high quality sausages and belly pork this recipe for Toulouse sausage casserole can be made for around £6. And served with a side of roasted red onion salad it is more than enough for 6.