Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Taute Cuisine 5: It's not Casserole, it's Cassoulet

While it is rightfully illegal to subject a child to physical abuse, and immoral to subject them to verbal abuse, there is a more minor form of abuse that is commonly forced upon our children that goes without even a good, old-fashioned rap on the knuckles with a ruler. I am talking, of course, about culture abuse.

This is sadly, a wide-spread phenomenon in which innocent toddlers are rigorouly subjected to some of the most inane and irritating blights of American culture. Consider Barney. Baby Einstein. Bratz. And possibly, the worst of all, Beanie Weenies.

In France, when the most obscure and seemingly inedible parts of the pig or cow are prepared and served it is called charcuterie and regarded as a culinary art. In America, they is heavily processed, salted and called hot dogs. Mix those with beans in a sugary, bland tomato base with a lump of lard afloat in the center, and you have, yes, Beanie Weenies.

The worst punishment for "lunch ladies" serving this dish would be for them to have to eat it themselves. Unfortunately, my child is supposed to eat this instead. And, given that two of her favorite foods are beans and sausage, I must act quickly to defend her unsuspecting taste buds.

When I think of beans and charcuterie in the same pot, my taste buds dance in happy memory of the cassoulet at Bistro 110 in Chicago. This is an amazing dish that features a few, plump white beans, fresh thyme, and a boatload of sausage, duck confit and duck fat. It’s a tasty bit of heaven well-worth raising my cholesterol a few points. It is not, however, Taute Cuisine. Unless your nanny and your personal chef don’t mind cleaning duck fat off the Italian tile floor.

Happily, there are versions of cassoulet far more affordable and far less artery-clogging for the rest of us, toddlers included. My bastardization, uh, version, of one follows. Julia Child, please forgive me …

Acorn Squash and Chicken Sausage Cassoulet
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book co-authored with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

It is important to note that a cassoulet is NOT a casserole. A casserole is mainly an American dish that is cooked in a French pan. A cassoulet is a French dish usually cooked in a Dutch oven. Makes perfect sense, right?

Actually, the French have taken things much further. The ingredients of a cassoulet are mandated, yes mandated to be 70 percent duck and pork, which can be sausage, but cannot be chicken, ever, and 30 percent of vegetables and other ingredients that must include primarily white beans. It must also have seven layers of browned bread crumb topping. Unlike American casserole, it never, ever, includes cream of something soup or crushed cornflake topping. Okay, the last part was my mandate. But I am sure the French would agree.

Go figure. We can’t even get soda banned from schools, and the French have exact rules for the content of a casserole — sorry — cassoulet. By now, you have noted that not only does my recipe contain chicken (sausage), it also contains lentils in addition to white beans. Mon Dieu! Qu’elle faux pas!

Look, it's healthy, it tastes good, and if you have a French family over and serve this, just don’t call it cassoulet. Just for fun, call it Beanie Weenies.

This page now links to more recipes at "Crazy Hip Blog Mamas."


Anonymous said...

Funny that your post comes up first for me when I google "casserole versus cassoulet." I have an advance preview of a book called Make It Fast, Cook It Slow by Stephanie O'Dea. It's proven a handy little cookbook for my slow cooker, but I was taken aback by one sentence in the description of her recipe for "Lima Bean Casserole Cassoulet" on page 128.

"I 'Googled' casserole versus cassoulet and didn't get a very good answer, which is why this recipe is named twice."

Aw, come on! I know the difference! One is a baked item and one is a stew! For Pete's sake, there is even a Cassoulet Society that decides exactly what is and isn't cassoulet.

I'm just glad that when I googled the same thing, I found clarity, not more confusion. Good for you.

Bertrand said...

Not important, but it's not :
"Mon Dieu! Qu’elle faux pas!"
But :
"Mon Dieu! Quel faux pas!"

Nice article ;)
Just to confirm : In french a "casserole" is juste a pan, a tool used to cook, not a meal as far as I know. Not in my part of France at least.

Just so you know, here is a french website we use a lot : http://www.marmiton.org/recettes/recherche.aspx?pq=cassoulet&nq=