Though James Bond is clearly a lover of French food, there are lacunae in his gastronomic experiences. One such gap is cassoulet, the famous pork, bean and duck (or goose) stew of south-west France, which is never mentioned in Ian Fleming’s novels. The closest Bond has come to it is a tin of Heinz pork and beans in Dr No (1958). However, in Christopher Wood’s novelisation of the film of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Bond discovers tins of cassoulet in a cupboard in a mountain hut in Chamonix. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a chance to sample any of them, as he is ambushed by some men who want to kill him.
As is usually the case for traditional dishes, there are many variations of cassoulet, and the version below is something of an amalgam of several of them. I’ve used garlic sausage, which tends to be specified in older recipes, but these days Toulouse sausage is more typical. The older recipes also call for lamb or mutton, but I have to say that on none of the very many occasions I’ve had cassoulet, including in the old town of Carcassonne, where the dish is a speciality and restaurants offering the dish line the old streets, has it ever included mutton. I’ve cut the sausage and pork belly into bite-size pieces, as befitting the tins that Bond encounters. As for the beans, traditionally haricot beans are used, but the haricot beans in the UK tend to be smaller than those sold in jars in France and don’t thicken the sauce as well. Cannellini beans, however, make a good substitute.
- 400g (c 2 slices) pork belly, excess fat trimmed and cut into small pieces
- 200g garlic sausage, cut into small pieces
- 400g duck confit
- 800g (undrained weight) cannellini beans, drained
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp herbes de Provence or 1 tsp each of, say, marjoram, thyme, rosemary and parsley
- Pinch of black pepper
- 200ml vegetable or chicken stock
Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan-assisted, 375F). Fry the onion in a little vegetable oil until it has softened. (If cooking dry beans, the onion should be cooked with them, but it may not soften enough if using tinned beans and is placed straight in the oven.)
In a large oven pot, casserole or, better still, a cassole, the traditional cassoulet vessel, place the onion, herbs, pepper, meat and beans. Stir gently to mix the ingredients together, and pour in the stock until the liquid is about half-way up the pot.
Cover the pot with a lid and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook for about 1½ hours. After about 1 hour, remove the lid (I sometimes spoon out 1 or 2 ladles of the stock at this point if it looks like there is a bit too much liquid) to allow a crust to form on the top.
At the end of the cooking time, remove the pot from the oven and serve with a crusty baguette.
3 thoughts on “Cassoulet”
It is thought that the origins of Cassoulet may be in Jewish Shabbat stews, like Cholent or Adafina. which might explain the lamb. After the Spanish expelled the Jews in 1492, many converted to Catholicism. In order to avoid persecution from the Spanish Inquisition, pork, ham and bacon were added to traditional Jewish recipes to demonstrate that they were good Catholics.
The original Mediterranean/European bean, was the broad bean, which is likely to have been the Cassoulet bean before the Spanish brought white ones back from the Americas. The Jews were the first people to domesticate broad beans around 10,000 years ago. In Spain the word for bean is alubia, but this is interchangeable with the word judía. Apparently the Moors attached peoples or places to food origins/names and the Jews have become synonymous with beans, with no racist implication.
Thanks for your comment. You’re right that dishes like cassoulet have a long history – people have been eating pork and bean stews for as long as pigs and beans have been domesticated.
I came across your blog today after hearing the Food Programme, which started well and then they completely drifted off course. No criticism of you though – I love the idea of compiling James Bond’s Food.