Cassoulet

If you have ever had the opportunity to have a real cassoulet – resplendent in duck fat and confit – it is a meal you will not soon forget. In theory, it’s a white bean stew, but calling it a mere stew is like calling Botticelli’s Birth of Venus just a nice picture. It’s a bit more elevated… just a bit…

A classic cassoulet is duck or goose confit with sausages, different meats, and white beans, slow-cooked with a topping of bread crumbs that soak up the cooking fat and liquid until they achieve the perfect crunchy crust.

Tonight’s dinner was not one of those – although it was pretty good for being on this side of the Atlantic. I used chicken thighs and Spanish chorizo sausages, white beans and a mixture of others, French herbs, grape tomatoes, lots of red wine…

I first braised the bone-in chicken thighs with the onions, sausage, tomatoes, and red wine. When the chicken was thoroughly cooked, I pulled it from the bones, mixed it back in with the sausage mixture and added the beans, more red wine, and then the bread crumbs mixed with butter, garlic, more French herbs, and some grated pecorino, just because. It went into a 350°F oven for about an hour.

About as far from tradition as one could get, but… it was a damned fine meal!

Cassoulet

If you want to try your hand at a traditional cassoulet – and have all the time in the world – here is Julia Child’s recipe.

Julia Child’s Cassoulet

Grocery List

  • 2 pounds (5 cups) dry white beans, such as Great Northern
  • 1 pound fat-and-lean salt pork (rind optional)
  • 1 large herb bouquet made up of
    • 8 parsley sprigs
    • 4 garlic cloves
    • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
    • 2 imported bay leaves, all tied in washed cheesecloth
  • 4 pounds bone-in lamb shoulder, sawed into stewing chunks
  • Rendered goose fat, or cooking oil
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 4 or 5 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 imported bay leaves
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 cups beef stock or bouillon, or more if needed
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 5 pounds preserved goose, cut in pieces, plus cracklings
  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds sausage, such as kielbasa or chorizo, or sausage meat formed into cakes
  • 3 tablespoons rendered goose fat or melted butter; more if needed
  • 2 cups moderately pressed-down fresh white crumbs from crustless French bread
  • 1/2 cup moderately pressed-down minced fresh parsley

For the beans

  • 2 pounds (5 cups) dry white beans, such as Great Northern
  • 1 pound fat-and-lean salt pork (rind optional)
  • 1 large herb bouquet made up of
    • 8 parsley sprigs
    • 4 garlic cloves
    • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
    • 2 imported bay leaves, all tied in washed cheesecloth
  • Salt, to taste

For the cassoulet

  • 4 pounds bone-in lamb shoulder, sawed into stewing chunks
  • Rendered goose fat, or cooking oil
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 4 or 5 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 imported bay leaves
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 cups beef stock or bouillon, or more if needed
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 5 pounds preserved goose, cut in pieces, plus cracklings
  • 11/2 to 2 pounds sausage, such as kielbasa or chorizo, or sausage meat formed into cakes
  • 3 tablespoons rendered goose fat or melted butter; more if needed
  • 2 cups moderately pressed-down fresh white crumbs from crustless nonsweet French or Italian bread
  • 1/2 cup moderately pressed-down minced fresh parsley

Instructions

The Beans (~ 1 hour)

  • Make the beans: Pick over the beans to remove any debris, wash and drain them, and place in a large pot.
  • Add 4 1/2 quarts water, cover and bring to a boil.
  • Boil uncovered for exactly 2 minutes.
  • Cover and let sit for exactly 1 hour

The Pork (~ 15 min)

  • Meanwhile, if you are using the salt pork, remove the rind and cut pork into slices 1/2 inch thick.
  • Simmer rind and pork in 3 quarts water for 15 minutes to remove excess salt.
  • Rinse in cold water, drain and set aside.

After Beans have sat for 1 hour…(~ 1 & 1/2 hours)

  • When the beans have finished soaking, bring them to a simmer, adding
    • the optional pork and rind,
    • the onion and
    • herb bouquet, and
    • 1 tablespoon salt if you have not used salt pork, 1/2 tablespoon if you have.
  • Simmer slowly, partially covered until the beans are just tender, about 1 & 1/2 hours, adding boiling water if needed to keep beans covered at all times, and
  • salt to taste near the end of the cooking.

(May be done up to 3 days in advance; refrigerate. Bring just to a simmer before proceeding with the cassoulet.)

The Lamb (~ 1 & 1/2 hours)

  • Dry lamb pieces.
  • Film casserole with fat or oil, heat to very hot, but not smoking, and brown lamb pieces, a few at a time, removing the browned pieces to a dish.
  • Pour out excess fat and brown the onions lightly.
  • Return lamb to casserole, and
    • add garlic,
    • tomato paste,
    • herbs,
    • wine and
    • enough stock just to cover lamb.
  • Salt lightly,
  • cover and simmer slowly until lamb is tender, about 1 & 1/2 hours.
  • Correct seasoning.
  • When cool, remove and discard bones from lamb.

(May be cooked up to 3 days in advance; when cold, cover and refrigerate lamb in its cooking liquid. Discard congealed surface fat before using.)

To Assemble the Cassoulet

  • Remove bones from preserved goose and, if you wish, the skin.
  • Cut goose into serving chunks the same size as the lamb pieces.
  • If using salt pork, cut it into thin slices.
  • If using sausage, cut in half lengthwise, then into chunks, and brown lightly in a frying pan with goose fat or oil.
  • If using sausage meat, form into cakes about 11/2 inches across, and brown in fat or oil.
  • Using a slotted spoon, remove beans from their liquid, but reserve liquid.
  • Arrange a third of the beans in the bottom of a 6-quart casserole.
  • Cover with a layer of lamb, goose, sausage, a handful of goose cracklings and, if using it, half the salt pork.
  • Repeat with a layer of beans, then meat.
  • End with a layer of beans, coming to within about 1/4 inch of the rim of the casserole.
  • Ladle the lamb cooking liquid plus as much bean cooking liquid as needed just to cover the beans.
  • Spread breadcrumbs and parsley over the top.

(Recipe may be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance, but if the beans and lamb have not been freshly cooked, bring them to a simmer for several minutes before assembling cassoulet, to prevent any chance of spoilage. When cool, cover and refrigerate.)

Cooking the cassoulet

  • If you have assembled and refrigerated the cassoulet in advance, place the covered casserole in a 325-degree oven for an hour or more until its contents are bubbling and the center of the cassoulet reaches 212 degrees when tested with an instant-read thermometer, then proceed as directed below. Heating the cassoulet on the stove to this point may cause the beans on the bottom to scorch.)
  • Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Bring casserole to a simmer on top of the stove, then set it in the oven.
  • Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until breadcrumb topping has crusted and browned lightly.
  • Break the crust into the beans with the back of a spoon and return casserole to the oven.
  • Lower temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking 15 minutes or more until a second crust has formed.
  • Break it into the beans, and if the cooking liquid seems too thick or the beans dry, add a spoonful or so of the bean-cooking liquid.
  • When the crust forms again, the cassoulet is ready to serve.

Just a bit more involved than my little dinner, tonight, but I can pretty much guarantee after eating it you’d think you were in Provence…

 

 

 

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