Allow me to introduce to you the main implement of cassoulet cooking.
Voilà, la Cassole or the caçola, a casserole or earthenware terrine in the shape of an inverted cone with it’s tip cut off. Traditionally, it is glazed only on the inside and along the rim.
This interesting term, caçola
, is Occitan or òc, the indigenous language of the region in the SW of France still called the Languedoc, or more appropriately “Lengadòc”, meaning tongue of òc = the language of Occitania. Occitan is really living Latin – òc meaning ‘yes’, based on ‘hoc’ (this), just as ‘sì’ in Italian is based on ‘sic’ (thus). Julius Caesar himself mentioned that Occitan speakers could teach the Romans a thing or two about the proper use of Latin. The famous mediaeval troubadours waxed sweetly in Occitan, which was then the elegant European court and courtship language. Remember Louis Armstrong’s lyrics for his ‘Let’s call the whole thing off’? … you say eether and I say eyether … you like tomato and I like tomahto …? Way back when, Dante put that in a quaint Occitanian context: nam alii oc, alii si, alii vero dicunt oil … some say òc, others sì, yet others oïl (which became the modern ‘oui’ of the Royal French Court in the North) – all of it meaning yes. And all of this lengthy digression into linguistics, simply to illustrate that both the òc language and our caçolet
or cassoulet, have deep and cherished regional roots. We tend to regard France as a whole, well, Frenchy country. Yet the people of the Languedoc, with their Cathar history, their beloved Counts of Toulouse and their ancient kinship with Catalonia, have always regarded the North and the Bourbon fleur-de-lis with well justified suspicion.
However, in our day and age, the humble cassoulet appears to have unified the South with the North, since it’s now celebrated even in Paris itself! Believe it or not, there is actually a Universal Cassoulet Academy – and they have a Facebook page! The cassoulet is one of the traditional French dishes of the “Repas Gastronomique des Français”, which was inscribed in the UNESCO list of cultural and intangible heritage of humanity in 2011. Not so humble any more!!
In our kitchen on this second day of the Great Cassoulet Challenge the preparation proceed with the actual assembly of the dish.
First, we utilize yesterday’s reserved pig skin to line the very bottom of the cassole against charring of the lower layers of beans. Ladling in the reheated beans now, we create a nice bed for the gently browned, garlicky saucissons – basil and pine nuts and black pepper sausages. Followed by some more beans and the duck leg confit. Carefully filling all the nooks and crannies with beans, the cassole exudes deliciousness. It is ready to enter the oven cavern.
After an hour, we have our first break-the-crust event, which we repeat twice more, before calling it a day.