October 08, 2007

Cassoulet #3- All about a bean

The Hill Girls did a little retail therapy yesterday and found a few old books in a brocante yesterday.
  • A copy of Dante’s ENFER to send to Dario in Panzano,
  • An illustrated mid-century city guide forwarded by Jean Cocteau to "Paris- tel qu’on l’aime" that Stephanie will take back to Alaska,
  • A 1940’s cookbook for the French Kitchen.

This is what it said On Cooking Dried Beans:

Soak the beans for 12 hours in fresh water.

Strain the beans, discard the water and cover by double with eau de la source (spring water) or tap water with a pinch of bicarbonate soda added.

Add one whole, peeled onion with a clove stuck into it.

Add a bouquet garni (bay, thyme and parsley) and salt to taste.

Bring to a boil and then simmer gently cooking for 2- 2 ½ hours.

Taste one bean to see if it is tender.

I guess what struck me was that Time thing again. Let the beans cook, 2 hours, slowly. Kitchen Godfather Harold McGee tells us that time is the way to diminish gas problems, cooking beans slowly rather than changing the water. Buy the Book and read his wise words on legumes in chapter 9.

After the brocante shop, my visiting family and I hit the rainy day market in Nerac:

the first citrouille for 'alloween ,

a meaty guinea hen for roasting with armagnac sauce,

the meaty makings for the cassoulet (see next post!) and of course,

the famous le fast food carefully prepared by Jehann at the Ferme de Boue at Ste. Maure.

By now, I have three types of beans, the home-grown Tarbais, a kilo of the popular fresh plump Coco and un livre (a pound) of fresh Michelet, a common smaller oblong white bean. After a little shucking and gossip in the kitchen, I had 600 grams of coco and 270 grams of Michelet.

In the interest of economy of time and space (smaller pots), cover the fresh beans with double their measure of water, in this case, the bowl they were sitting in. Add just the simplest aromatic elements to the water (straight from my slightly filtered tap), a slice of ventrech demi-sel or half cured, lightly salted fresh bacon, a whole onion, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, one bay leaf and a shake of quatre épice* (in lieu of the proverbial clove stuck in the onion- my own Gascon touch) and salt (about a teaspoon) & pepper. Simmer gently. Uncovered or not. Yummy smells fill the galley.


les Cocos

In 30 minutes the Coco were perfectly cooked, tender to the teeth but still firm, they are thin-skinned and creamy like bean puree held together by pride and a very thin shell. They taste nutty and sweet.


In 30 minutes, the Michelet were less interesting- both in texture and taste; their thicker skins separated from the firm meat that was more mealy than creamy. Without bothering further, I 86ed them from the Cassoulet Project and slipped them in a freezer bag and popped them in the new orange SMEG’s darling little freezer. They’ll make a nice addition to soup, a puree or something else later this fall.


After boiling the dried Tarbais about 5 minutes, I let them soak for an hour. The quick soak method HMcG recommends (heat and water rehydrating the bean skin and cell structure more efficiently) I then repeated the cooking process- onion, bay, 4-épice,salt & pepper. The Tarbais cooked for one hour and are still very firm. They were dried on the vine, perhaps over sun-dried and under-watered in the hot summer potager. However, they are large and meaty nearly twice the Coco size, flatter but with a thin that all but disappears in the mouth. Both beans are cooked to tender but will undergo another transformation lovingly described by Lucy de Lyon in her complimentary cassoulet dialogs.

So just as I did with the Coco, I turned off the heat and let them rest in their own juices. And then left the galley for a day of painting walls and other projects around ‘Camp Camont’. This is a rest day…for the beans.

Coco in the Pods


Joanna said...

I've been loving all these cassoulet posts - I had no idea that that was the shape of a cassoulet pot (I've always used a marmite, I now see hopelessly narrow at the top). And as for your brocante books - wonderful

Thanks for sharing


L Vanel said...

Excellent description, thank you, Kate. Now I know a kilo of cocos will yield approximately 600 grams - I love your shake of quatre epices. I will try that, and also go back and review McGee's thoughts on beans as well. Very good suggestion. Our little ragout produced no ill effects, but it is always good to know why!