From Too Many Chefs -

November 10, 2006
Cassoulet in a Can

canobeans.jpgToday I sat down for the first time in a couple of months to balance our accounts. And sadly, I was somewhat embarrassed to see the number of checks that were made out in the last few months to Domino's pizza. Before you jump all over me about how disgusting a habit they are (yes, we are no longer university students) let me point out the following:

a) The first trimester of pregnancy is VERY tiring.

b) Domino's delivers.

c) They know where we live.

d) The only other place I know that delivers to our neighborhood (and we called them a lot too) is a local Indian restaurant, Delhi Darbar.*

So, no, Domino's is not healthy and no, it's not the greatest pizza in the world. But sometimes you just have to ignore the rules for a little to keep your sanity. We are slowly getting back to normal. Another way I coped with the whole "I'm too tired to cook and too nauseous to face the kitchen" dilemma was to resort a few times to frozen or tinned meals. Yes, the boy had his first frozen dinner, a hachis parmentier, or cottage pie. He loved it. Ground beef in tomato sauce and a mashed potato topping: who can blame him? And I tried something I've always meant to give a whirl, a can of cassoulet.

When I first moved to France, I worked for nearly a year as a live-out nanny and I have to say that the food my "average" families ate was a revelation to me. I had an image of French families gorging on foie gras and camembert and and didn't realise that in reality, like the rest of the Western world, French parents have busy work days and rely heavily on prepared foods. One family I worked for had a separate full freezer in addition to the fridge/freezer and ordered enough to fill it from the local frozen food store, Picard, every two weeks. (Even the fact that there exists a very successful chain of stores devoted to nothing but frozen food had me amazed!) So while the French DO eat wonderful cheeses regularly and foie gras and oysters on special occasions, they also have their share of tins of sauce bordelaise and freezers of fish filets. And tins of cassoulet.

cassouletunbaked.jpgFor the uninitiated, a cassoulet is (according to the Food Lover's Companion): A classic dish from France's Languedoc region consisting of white beans and various meats (such as sausages, pork and preserved duck or goose). The combination varies according to regional preference. A cassoulet is covered and cooked very slowly to harmonize the flavors.

I have made it from scratch myself a few times, but it's a very long process, thanks to the beans, which need to be soaked overnight, then boiled for a period of time just short of an eternity and THEN baked with the rest of the ingredients. This is why I usually order it in restaurants instead of making it myself.

It's fatty, filling and rich, the ultimate comfort food on a cold winter's night.

And in France, it also comes in a can.

As you can see in the photo, I was so curious to see my dish that I opened the can before I remembered to take a photo. I have to admit it looked pretty unappetising. But so do most canned items, so I wasn't too worried. I poured it in a small casserole dish and checked the directions: heat until bubbling in a hot oven. Obviously, I couldn't just follow the directions. I decided to add the finishing touch that I like to see on a cassoulet: a garlicky crust of breadcrumbs. I tossed a slice of fresh bread in the small canister for my hand blender and added a small handful of parsley leaves and a clove of garlic and zapped it. I spread the resulting soft crumbs over the top of the casserole and baked it in the oven until the whole was hot and bubbly and crispy golden brown on top, about 25 minutes.

And the result? Well, it was a bit saltier than usual. But it was definitely edible and definitely almost no work. Including rinsing off the hand blender the total preparation time (minus baking time) was about 45 seconds, maybe a minute. And it WAS garlicky, satisfying and filling. Preserved duck is one of the traditional ingredients in a cassoulet and it's one that lends itself very well to being thrown in a can with a lot of beans; the texture of the meat is pretty much the same as it would be if I bought a confit de canard at the store and used it in a home-made cassoulet. If anything, it was just a touch more tender and juicy, absolutely toothsome and delicious. So I think I would consider making it again on a cold night when I was in need of comfort food. The Boy, for some reason, refused to try it. But I don't hold it against him. He likes broccoli and peas and all kinds of healthy stuff: I'm sure his love of unhealthy stuff will come eventually and in the meantime I don't need to press them on him. Plus it means more for me...

* Delhi Darbar
17 r Jouffroy d'Abbans 75017 PARIS
01 44 40 00 24

Very nice people who remember you after one order and inundate you with free cans of cola when you order for delivery.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at November 10, 2006 12:28 AM

Ok, so I'm over the shock of the canned I'm on to this: the first trimester??

Posted by David on November 11, 2006 at 6:51 AM

David, did you miss this one?

A bun in the oven

; )

Yep, the chaos is going to double in our home next year!

Posted by Meg in Paris on November 11, 2006 at 12:06 PM

I hope the pregnancy is going well! And that can of cassoulet actually looks great.
As for Dominos...they have some pretty extreme political leanings that keep me FAR away, but at the same time, when I have had it, I think its kinda tasty.

Posted by Rachael on November 11, 2006 at 2:16 PM

Where can I find a can of that cassoulet? I was in the South of France not long ago and fell in love with it!

Posted by Barbara on October 18, 2007 at 1:26 PM