In an idle moment at the restaurant Rick Stein began wondering how the traditional cassoulet from Languedoc would taste made with fish using robust cheap varieties such as conger eel dogfish skate shark and monkfish ("not alas particularly cheap any more " he adds) with a good lashing of salt cod.
The fish would first be part-cooked in a fish ragout using the ingredients that go into a bouillabaisse garlic saffron tomatoes olive oil and such herbs as fennel bay perhaps a little thyme.
Stein uses freshly dried green haricots flageolets and includes some salt pork too.
"It turned out well " he reports. "It's a lot of work and so is not worth making except for a fair number of people although it reheats as well as the normal cassoulet does."
Two one-pound fillets of any firm fish
(Stein suggests conger eel dogfish monkfish)
8oz salt cod fillet
FOR THE BEANS
1lb flageolets (or haricots)
2 bay leaves
1 onion studded with 4 cloves
4 cloves of garlic
4oz salt pork (a boned pork chop covered in salt for 12 hours and washed under the cold tap before use).
FOR THE FISH RAGOUT
6fl oz olive oil
4oz roughly chopped onion
4 cloves of garlic
6oz tomato peeled deseeded and roughly chopped
1tsp tomato purée
a large pinch of saffron
4fl oz white wine
4fl oz fish stock
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
1tbs chopped fennel
A pinch of savoury
TO FINISH THE CASSOULET
½ pint bean cooking liquid
2oz fresh breadcrumbs
3tbs olive oil
ORDER OF WORK
1. Soak the salt cod for at least 36 hours
2. Soak the flageolets for 12 hours
3. Cook the flageolets
4. Make the ragout
5. Poach the salt cod
6. Cook the cassoulet
COOKING THE FLAGEOLETS
After soaking drain and run under the cold tap. Put them in a saucepan with the bay leaves studded onion garlic and salt pork. Cover with water bring to the boil and simmer till cooked about one hour.
Drain the beans reserving the cooking liquor. Cut the pork up and add it to the beans; discard the onion bay leaves and garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion garlic celery and leek. Sweat the vegetables in the oil then add the tomato tomato purée saffron wine fish stock bay leaf and thyme. Simmer for 5 minutes then add the fish cut into 1in chunks together with the fennel and the savoury.
Bring to the boil then simmer gently for a couple of minutes turning the fish over in the ragout. Season with salt and plenty of ground pepper. The cooking of the fish will be completed in the oven. Remove from the heat. Set your oven to 350ºF/180ºC gas mark 4.
Poach the salt cod in the bean cooking liquor.
ASSEMBLING THE CASSOULET
Using a deep dish place a layer of beans and pork on the bottom followed by some of the fish ragout and salt cod followed by more of the pork and beans and so on till all are used up.
Pour in the half pint of bean cooking liquid. Put the breadcrumbs on top and pour the olive oil over. Put the lid on and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.
Halfway through the cooking push the crust down into the beans with the back of the spoon so that it amalgamates with some of cooking juices and reforms into a very pleasant-tasting new crust. Cook for the last 10 minutes with the lid off.
Stein advises accompanying the dish with no more than a simple green salad and a bottle of chilled white Rioja one of the old-style Riojas with plenty of oak yellow and aromatic such as Viña Tondonia made by R Lopez de Heredia. "In fact I think six bottles of Viña Tondonia over a very long lunch would be an excellent idea " he laughs.