Pheasant Cassoulet

Cassoulet is one of the French classics. Not much more than a glorified stew, you might compare it to bouillabaisse, boeuf bourguignon, or Lancashire hot-pot, if you want a British equivalent. But, as with all these dishes, what makes a classic is the place they have in gastronomic history, and their connections with certain regions of their home country. For cassoulet, this is the south of France. The lore and tradition that comes along with cassoulet is what you might expect as well. You read stories about shops in the south of France being closed for short periods of the day, putting signs on their doors: “closed on account of the cassoulet”, so that they could pop over to the local bakers to cook the breadcrumb topping. The ingredients are all local fare, using confit’d meat, garlic sausages, or beans grown locally. And there seem to be about as many ways to make cassoulet as there are people who make it.

At its core, cassoulet is a pairing of meat and beans, with a breadcrumb topping. But quite what that meat is, and the variety of beans, seems to be key to the recipe. Flageolet beans or Haricot beans were varieties grown locally, and it is noted in Elizabeth David’s French Provincal Cooking that “butter beans will not do”. A Toulouse cassoulet would use pork and sausages, the Languedoc variety pork, confit’d goose or duck, or, leaving the south of France, an Alsace version with mutton and potatoes. But for me, this one-pot stew was made with whatever you had locally or whatever meat you had preserved. So as long as you go with meat, beans and breadcrumbs, I should think you can call the dish a cassoulet.

I decided to make this version of the cassoulet not because I have strong feelings about different varieties of cassoulet, but because I had a couple of pheasants in the freezer. A friend gave me these pheasants from a shoot, so they had a wonderful gamey flavour, even if I couldn’t hang them in our flat for long enough (Mrs. Oxfood would not have been pleased). I love to stew game birds- often when roasted they dry out easily, and are very fiddly to eat with a knife and fork. But when stewed, the flavour releases across the whole stew, the meat softens, and falls right off the carcass. You don’t have to pluck the bird either- skinning it is much much quicker- so if you are prepping the bird yourself, there is a further incentive. Pheasant is wonderful at this time of year, and a hot meaty stew is just what you want with the current cold weather.

Pheasant Cassoulet

Pheasant Cassoulet

This recipe is adapted from one in Elizabeth David’s French Provincal Cooking. I used two pheasants here, which made a lot of cassoulet, but you can decrease the quantities if you want, to make a smaller amount.

2 pheasants
2 tins flageolet beans, rinsed
1 bulb garlic
2 packs Toulouse sausages
1 pack streaky bacon, chopped
1 bouquet garni
2 onions, each stuck with 4 cloves
breadcrumbs from about 4 slices of bread

1. Make the stew. Brown the pheasants, sausages, and bacon. Stick everything apart from the breadcrumbs in a large stewing pot. Cover with water, then allow to stew for several hours until the stew reaches a thick(ish) consistency. Keep adding a little more water if you need to.
2. Finish off the cassoulet. Pick the meat off the pheasants, remove the onion, garlic, and the bouquet garni (you might want to transfer to a smaller casserole dish at this point). Cover the stew with breadcrumbs, then return to the oven for 30 minutes until the breadcrumbs are brown.

The breadcrumb topping


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Food and Wine Pairings IV: Regionality « oxfood
  2. Trackback: Pulled Pork with Prunes and Polenta Toasts « oxfood
  3. Trackback: Fifteen Minute Meals « oxfood

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