We had a family vacation in France back in 2007. One week was spent in Paris, the other week was spent in the Southwest Basque region of France (St. Jean de Luz and Pau). When we were in Pau, I ate cassoulet for the first time. I enjoyed it so much that I made a mental note to try that again when I returned home.
Despite my desire to eat cassoulet, I’ve only had it once after our vacation in France. Many times I’ve mentioned to Dominique and Liza, the co-owners of Dominique’s Kitchen, that I would like cassoulet. Finally my patience was rewarded.
Dominique’s Kitchen has an outdoor patio area that is protected from the elements. They use the area as extended seating for their restaurant as well as for special events. Entering this section for the champagne and appetizers, I was delighted to see Robert, on of the servers who had worked in the restaurant that previously occupied this space.
Chef Dominique invited me into his kitchen and I was able to preview our dinner. The butter was already plated, the Kouign Amann was in three large baking trays. Dominique lifted the cover to the enormous pot that contained the cassoulet. He said that it had been simmering since noon that day.
Potage Garbure was our first course. This is a French soup originating from the Basque area of France. I was delighted the soup was served steaming hot as I’m amazed at the number of times I am served soup that is lukewarm. The chicken broth was freshly made and it was accompanied with haricot vert (French green beans), carrots, potatoes and onions. What made this soup special for me was the small pieces of smoked duck with the skin on that really enhanced an otherwise ordinary soup.
The main course was cassoulet, a hearty stew enjoyed in France during the cold winter months. The legend of this dish origin dates back to the 14th-century siege of Castelnaudary during the Hundred Years’ War.
With the city surrounded, desperate citizen soldiers are said to have gathered their remaining provisions to create a communal dish robust enough to power their counterattack and send their invaders packing. Reinvigorated by this hearty last supper, the men rose to their feet and beat the invaders all the way back to the English Channel.
There are several different versions of cassoulet and Dominique prepared one that is typically found in the Pyrenees town of Toulouse. It was comprised of white beans and three different French sausages: Toulouse and Monbeliar and French garlic sausage. These sausages are pork based, contain garlic and various spices. Dominique’s also added smoked pork belly and duck confit which enhanced both the taste and the texture of the dish.
The final course, dessert, was Kouign Amann which is a Breton cake. When correctly made, it is a perfectly-caramelized mélange of butter, sugar, yeast and flour. While I’ve never attempted making this dessert, I’ve learned that it requires the best French salted butter you can find and a lot of skill and timing. As I bit into the dessert, I noticed that it was crisp on the outside and not as dense as it appeared to be. The taste of butter and sugar took over the experience; combined with an outstanding vanilla bean ice cream, it was an enjoyable finale.
I felt like I was at the home of co-owners Dominique and Liza Theval that evening. Holiday cards from customers adorned the walls, music played in the background, empty champagne classes were cheerfully refilled, smiles and laughs were prevalent. Most importantly, the food was prepared to exacting perfection. I look forward to Dominique’s next event.
- Dominique’s Kitchen