Cassoulet de Castelnaudary :  Special Spring Edition

Springtime for epicures.

For cassoulet purists, there are 3 primary varieties which all fight for the distinction of having invented the dish and each comprising their particular base proteins:
Castelnaudary, “The Father”; pork products (shank, belly, butt, shoulder, sausage, etc…) and goose or duck confit.
Carcasonne, “The Son”; pork and red-legged partridge.
Toulouse, “The Holy Spirit”; pork, lamb, mutton, duck confit, Toulouse and pork skin sausage.

According to Prosper Montagé, a Carcansonne native who drafted the first edition of the Larousse Gastronomique and most rival Chauriens, a legend suggests that the cassoulet started in Castelnoudary during the Hundred Years’ War as a means of feeding the troops who, well fed by an enormous ragoût called estofat, later beat the Brits. However, common beans  weren’t introduced to Europe from South America until the 16th century, so the story is probably a comforting tale to reclaim some sort of honor after the town was mostly burned to the ground during said war. Dried favas or other broad beans were likely used back then and the dish was called estouffet up until the 18th century when it acquired the cassoulet title. Any authentic version of either from the cassoulet trinity should contain pork skin lining the cassole which thickens the cooking liquid and prevents the beans from burning.

This variant, suitable for a rainy day, incorporates fundamental elements and springtime produce, namely cherriette radishes and mini suprema onions from Steve Turnage’s Northern Neck Fruit & Vegetables.  Tarbais beans were attentively cooked with water, tomato concassée and a pork hock from Craig Hagaman’s Berkshire pork until tender, the skin from the hock giving the bean liquid viscosity and richness.  Belly from said pig was dry cured, smoked and simmered while murçon sausages (a French equivalent of cotechino) made from the shoulder, blanched pork skin and juniper were cooked in white wine.  The shank was brined, simmered and picked from the bone.  Young carrots were glazed until tender in olive oil with a splash of sherry vinegar, as were the mini onions and radishes.  An olive oil soffrito of spring garlic, dried chili and lemon zest allowed fragrance, heat and freshness.  All was simmered together and sold to happy patrons for $10/lb.  Good batch.

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