Authentic Cassoles – Pots for Cooking Cassoulet

October 7, 2009

For serious food lovers, a simple, but authentic, dish of humble origins can surpass the most elaborate and dazzling display of culinary prowess.

Consider the Cassoulet, a peasant dish whose main ingredient is beans; white beans flavored with sausage, pork rind, potted fowl and perfumed with garlic and a sprig of fresh thyme. Its gastronomic appeal has endured throughout the centuries garnering a sort of cult status among the culinary cognoscenti.

According to legend, cassoulet was invented during the Hundred Year War (1377 to 1453) when the fortress town of Castelnaudary in Southwestern France was besieged by the British and the locals were reduced to near starvation. Out of this hunger and desperation, Cassoulet was born from the meager dried beans, sausage and preserved poultry supplies on hand.

Cassoulet was named for the cassole, the primitive earthenware pot in which the cassoulet is cooked. The two are inextricably linked, as its distinctive shape, slanted narrow at the base and wide at its mouth maximizes the beans’ exposure to the oven’s heat, forming the true cassoulet’s signature “crust.” As per tradition, the pot is glazed on the inside and around the lip, but raw on the outside. Rustic and simple, the “vrai” cassole is as sturdy and hearty as the white beans that give cassoulet its soul. When tapped, the true cassoles produce a distinctive sound, like glassware.

For decades, American chefs have trekked to France to smuggle back the rare lingot beans, but the final missing ingredient has been the ‘veritable” cassole. One renowned chef even convinced a potter in Minnesota to recreate a stoneware version, but in the search for authenticity, nothing can replace the clay dug from the Issel earth where the cassoulet was born.

There, along the fabled Route du Cassoulet, in the village of Mas-Saintes Puelles, outside of Castelnaudary, is the artisanal pottery workshop of the Not Brothers – the only place on earth where true cassoles are hand-spun from local clay as they have been for centuries.

Unlike most terra cotta pots, these extra thick cassoles are fired at extremely high temperatures to insure that they are rock hard, built to withstand the high temperatures that cassoulet requires. With age (and use), these cassoles will darken and acquire a rich patina.

Authentic Poterie Not Freres cassoles are now available. They are produced in limited quantities and can be ordered in three sizes from:
Savoir Vivre Utensils, P.O. Box 63685, Philadelphia PA 19147
Phone: 215-218-0152. Fax: 215-218-0153
or on-line at http://www.SavoirVivreUtensils.com

For serving four persons: approx. 10 ½” dia. $66 + Shipping
For serving six persons: approx. 11 ¾” dia. $75 + Shipping
For serving eight persons: approx. 13” dia. $84 + Shipping

(Cassoulet is too much work and too good to only make two portions but it actually gets better when re-heated for a second or even a third day’s meal.)

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