A food safety question: French food in England made by an American editi
October 19, 2019 7:13 AM   Subscribe

I have a very minimal recipe for Cassoulet that requires letting pork "rest" for 6 hours after slow cooking it for 2 hours. Do I just leave it on the stove?! That seems insane.

I'm from the US so our food standards and safety and handling is different(ish).

I learned this recipe on a cooking course in France, prepared with all local ingredients in a rural restaurant. We prepared the ingredients, left it slow cooking on the stove and moved on to another location, got a brief overview of what happens next verbally explained in broken English, and then ate it at the restaurant later that night. It was amazing. I have little doubt that in that restaurant, they just leave the stew resting on the stove all day, then bake it and serve it. I was told it's even better reheated after many days.

I have a printed recipe, and I want to recreate it! It only says to let the ingredients rest for at least 6 hours, with no upper limit, after cooking it for 2 hours. It doesn't say "in the fridge" but it also doesn't say "on the stove" aaaaand I need guidance.

The cooked meat that will be resting is pork sausage, pork belly ribs, and lardons (basically fattier, uncured pancetta). I've lived in England for a year and am adjusting to some of the food handling differences (not refrigerating eggs, bread only lasts a day or two, etc). So I feel a bit out of my depth. Back home I'd refrigerate this stuff.

I tried this recipe before and I refrigerated it for the resting step, overnight and it came out... kinda yucky. I think the fridge messed up the process of all of the yummy fats and flavors soaking into the beans.

But I also don't wanna die of food poisoning.

Would you rest this on the stove for 6 hours or am I maniac for even thinking that?
posted by pazazygeek to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Once the cassoulet falls below around 140F, bacteria will start to grow. This is kind of inevitable. But how dangerous is it really? The rules say after two hours below 140 and above 40 degrees, it should be tossed. But this is only a general precaution meant to prevent any food poisoning. It doesn't mean anything left out more than that will make you sick.

You've essentially cooked all the bacteria out of the dish in the slow cooking process, so what remains will be things introduced by the environment. If it's covered, I'd be fine with it. I'd probably only wait 4 hours though. Who can keep their hands off a bon cassoulet
posted by dis_integration at 7:26 AM on October 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

it starts with room temp meat and it's covered the whole time? So it's probably spending an hour and a half at cooking temp (bubbles in the liquid, after coming up to temp) and then NEVER gets opened until AFTER the second cooking is done (ie after cook, rest, second cook)? I'd do it, as long as I was feeing good about the lid on the pot being tight on there and nobody coming along to peek.

I'd be working on the assumption that just about everything problematic got cooked out in the steamy interior of the pot, and that with no disturbance of the lid, six hours would not be enough time to introduce new stuff in there (also, in a heavy pot, a fair amount of that six hours will still be pretty hot.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:31 AM on October 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Do you have a food thermometer? I would try to compromise and leave it on the stove for 2 h and start checking the temperature then and put it in the fridge as soon as it drops below 140 °F.
posted by grouse at 9:01 AM on October 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is a good example of where the USDA is almost laughably conservative, from the perspective of some other perspectives. Obviously people have been eating this for a long time and been fine. Obviously it violates the idiot-proof ‘danger zone’ rules. I’m not sure what else to say other than I’d happily cook it as directed, and I think traditional recipes are generally pretty safe, if for no other reason than ones that sometimes make people sick are much less likely to be handed down for generations.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:33 AM on October 19, 2019 [16 favorites]

Keep in food regulations encompass things from rural French dishes to McDonalds. A million dishes getting served like this a day? Yeah someone will probably get sick daily. At home with basic sanitation precautions your risk isn’t zero but you’ll be fine.
posted by geoff. at 9:41 AM on October 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If I did do it I'd look at using a slow cooker for those off the heat times to make sure the food stayed above safe temps or put it in an oven on low. Recipes like that come from days when ovens went all day everyday to heat the house so food left sitting in a pot on top of the stove did not get to room temperature, they were just pushed to the back of the stove off the direct heat or in a professional kitchen where it's sitting on a stove that is actively being used for other things & producing heat.

If you do decide to go that route make sure you use fatty cuts of meats as they would have done originally & not modern trimmed cuts as a lot of the "safety" would come from the layer of fat sitting on top of the food preventing bacteria entering the dish. See Rillettes.

I say this as someone that has had food poisoning, it's not fun, life is too short to spend 2 days pooping & throwing up just to prove a point about the USDA. I'd not do it & I came from a country where bread wasn't full of preservatives & only lasted 2 days & eggs weren't washed so you don't have to put them in the fridge. BTW those things aren't due to less strict rules but differences in how the products are treated/produced.
posted by wwax at 9:54 AM on October 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm with the group that seals the cooking vessel closed during the high-temp period. For an even better seal, you can cover the vessel with aluminum foil, add the lid, and then wrap the foil down on the sides of the vessel, particularly if you can fold it over a lip on the edge, or whatnot. You'll be exterminating everything inside with the heat, after which it can stay clean as long as it's sealed.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:53 AM on October 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I used to do this all the time. I can't even say why I stopped doing it, maybe it was because I got a presssure cooker. I learnt to cook from my grandmother and her old books, and they were from a time before fridges. There are some recipes where you seal the pot with dough and slow cook it in the oven before letting it rest. That way, the lid is really sealed.
posted by mumimor at 2:50 PM on October 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Many cassoulet recipes call for an overnight rest in the fridge between the day you cook the beans/add meat, and the day you bake it. No reason you can't do the 6 hour rest while refrigerating if you prefer. Just expect a longer finish cooking time.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:55 PM on October 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

aiui, one of the reasons US food prep rules are so strict is that US slaughtering &c rules are so lax. meat from a US slaughterhouse is more likely to have stuff in it that’s just waiting to grow so you need to be way more careful with prep. but EU meat is far less likely to have bacterial contamination (oh noes! regulation!) so these traditional food prep practices are far less likely to get you sick.
posted by russm at 7:17 PM on October 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: These answers have been so helpful. My last cassoulet came out awful, it didnt poison us but it was so unpleasant as to be a bit sickening. Right now round 2 is on the stove and it already smells much better. I realize now from the smell that last time my biggest mistake was browning regular pork sausages in garlic because I couldn't find Toulouse sausage. Never again! Toulouse sausage is clearly critical for the flavor profile. :)

Guidance on what actually happens at what temp, what to be frightened of and what's just a smidge riskier has made all the difference. I particularly could not understand what or how a stew like this was rested in a traditional, old school French kitchen, and now I feel a bit clearer. Unfortunately I couldn't get duck confit at the butcher or the market so I'll have to refrigerate overnight anyway, but feel a lot more confident that this will be a much better cassoulet this time.

Thank you, foodies and chefs of mefi!
posted by pazazygeek at 7:28 AM on October 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

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