Monday, 12 September 2016

Slow Cooker Cassoulet with Belly Pork

As summer comes to an end and we become firmly entrenched in autumn, the time of light meals and salads also finishes. We're back into hearty meals territory, and for this reason i've dusted off the slow cooker.  You can also cook this in the oven with a casserole dish, if you don't have a slow cooker. 

The fact that we're in the post-summer months, you may be having to tighten the purse strings a bit as well, so this should sort you out! 

Cassoulet is cheap, simple to make and hearty. I've gone through my reciept from Aldi and all the main ingredients come to £6 or less. For this recipe, i'm using the cheapest cut of meat you can buy - belly pork. It's pretty fatty and chewy, so most people tend to avoid it. However you can easily trim the fat, and slow cooking belly pork makes it wonderfully tender. 

As always, you don't have to use belly pork. Another recommendation would be boned, skinless chicken thigh and some bacon lardons, or cubed beef/lamb. As for the vegetables, you can bulk out a cassoulet however you like, use whatever quantity of tomatoes, onions or beans you prefer - what i've used here is merely a guideline.

You will need the following ingredients:

1kg Belly Pork Slices
2 Cans of Chopped Tomatoes
1 Can of Mixed Beans
1 Yellow or White Onion
6 Cloves of Garlic or Garlic Paste
Olive Oil
Chicken Stock Cube

Utensils Needed:

Large Non-Stick Frying Pan
Wooden Chopping Board
Chef's Knife
Wooden Spoon
Slow Cooker or Oven-Proof Casserole Dish

Unless you're using the oven to make this, with a casserole dish, there's no need to pre-heat anything. If you are however using the oven, pre-heat it to Gas Mark 2 (300° Fahrenheit / 150° Celsius). 

First, take the belly pork slices, trim the extraneous fat from the outside. You can either render this for lard, or discard it. Dice the pork into large chunks. 

Add to the frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil, a heaped spoon of garlic paste, or three cloves of chopped/sliced garlic, and a dusting of thyme. 

Brown for around 15 minutes on a high heat, and you should end up with something that looks like this:

Once it's browned off, put the pork into the slow cooker.

Next, slice the onion thinly as you can and add to the frying pan with a touch of olive oil, the remainder of the garlic cloves, or another heaped spoon of garlic paste, plus thyme and a good grind of salt. 

Sauté for at least 10 minutes on a medium heat, until they're soft & translucent. Try not to caramelise them too much, you don't want burnt edges!

While the onions are sauteeing, take the stock cube, put it in a small bowl and add just enough boiling water to cover it. Break it up with a fork and stir until it's a very concentrated broth. 

Add to the sautéed onions and turn the heat up to start it simmering. Keep stirring throughout. 

At this stage add your cans of tomatoes, and the beans. Make sure you drain and rinse the beans before adding them to the pan. Bring to a simmer for around 5 minutes, stirring regularly. 

Turn off the heat and then add the tomatoes, beans & onions to the slow cooker. Stir through so the pork isn't sitting at the bottom, and turn the slow cooker on. It'll be ready to eat in about an hour, but the rule of slow cooking in general is the longer you cook it, the better it'll taste. I typically do mine for at least 6 hours on the 'high' setting, then turn down to 'low' for another hour.

By which point, the pork is deliciously tender and will fall apart if a spoon even approaches it. Ideal serving suggestion? A spoon! :D

Seriously though, you can serve with whatever you fancy, but often just a nice slice of farmhouse bread and butter is enough, as the cassoulet is pretty filling. 


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