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.