Pheasant Cassoulet

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

Appears in

The Feast of Christmas: Origins, Traditions and Recipes

The Feast of Christmas

By Paul Levy

Published 1992

  • About

Method

For using up any surplus created by the recipe above.

Cook the beans separately. The best are gigantic belles de Soisson. I bring 2 kg (about 4 lb) of these back from France whenever I see them (usually in a shop selling health foods), and beg my friends to do the same; but they remain rare. So begin by soaking dried white haricot beans, according to their freshness — anything from a few hours to overnight but no longer — and then discard the soaking water. Bring to the boil with a generous amount of water, boil hard for 10 mins, and discard that water (with it will go some of the beans’ flatulence-making properties). Cover with fresh water to 10 cm (4 in) above the beans, add a coarsely chopped onion or two, several peeled and smashed cloves of garlic, a chunk of unsliced bacon or petit sale, a sprig of thyme and some bay leaves. Simmer these, covered, until the beans are tender. I usually do this in an earthenware marmite (casserole) in a very slow oven. Add salt and pepper after the beans are cooked, as the bacon may have contributed enough salt.

For appearance’s sake, brown separately, in a minimum of oil or rendered poultry fat or dripping, the pheasant legs and at least one spicy sausage such as a Toulouse sausage per person. I also like to use the big fat Lyonnaise sausages, about one for every 4 diners. The pheasant (or any other game, for that matter) is replacing the confit of duck or goose (preserved in its own fat).

Now assemble the dish. Put the beans, with thyme and bay leaves removed, in a flat oven-to-table gratin dish with a fresh sliced onion and a coarsely chopped tomato or two. (The tomato is optional, and a source of controversy, but a little of it helps the flavour enormously.) Cut the now-cooked bacon into chunks and tuck them into the beans, along with the pheasant and sausages. Sprinkle with more thyme, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper.

Strew breadcrumbs over the top of the gratin dish and dot with some sort of fat. As you have been very good and hardly added any fat to the dish apart from the meat, you could restore some of the traditional unctuousness to this dish by using deliciously flavoured rendered-with-onion duck, goose or chicken fat for this purpose. Cook in a hot oven until bubbling and push the breadcrumb crust down once or twice to thicken the dish, adding another layer of breadcrumbs.

This recipe only needs a confit of duck or goose in place of the pheasant to be authentic. But the gamy flavours also result in a healthier as well as a more delicious dish. It freezes all too well; we usually find ourselves eating up leftover cassoulet in late spring.