Cassoulet (/ˌkæsəˈleɪ/, alsoUK: /ˈkæsʊleɪ/, US: /ˌkæsʊˈleɪ/, French: [kasulɛ]; from Occitancaçolet[kasuˈlet] (listen) and cognates with Spanish: cazoleja or cazoleta and Catalan: estabousir) is a rich, slow-cooked casserole containing meat (typically pork sausages, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white beans (haricots blancs), originating in southern France. It is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the casserole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassoulet
Cassoulet is widely considered one of the pinnacles of French cuisine. It’s a mixture of beans and meat that’s is slowly baked over many hours until all the flavors blend together, the beans are creamy and melt in your mouth, and the top is nice and crusty. It’s hearty, fill your stomach, peasant food at it’s best. Its origins lie in the Languedoc region of France, with Castelnaudary, Toulouse and Carcassonne all claiming to be home to the original and one true recipe.
All versions start with white beans, sausage, and either duck or goose confit. The Toulouse version includes Mutton, the Carcassonne one partridge. However, I’m not going to get into the argument over which one is the “real” cassoulet. It’s a peasant dish, meaning you put whatever you have or whatever you like into it.
Let’s break down my recipe a little bit.
To start with, you need white beans. Traditionally these would be tarbais beans, which are about the same size as cannellini beans, but hold their shape a little better when cooked. At my last job we made a cassoulet with tarbais beans and they are delicious. However they also cost around $20/ lb, so I decided to spend my money on the meats and use a more readily available bean.
Traditionally the soaked beans are added to the pot with everything else and cook during a long, slow, bake. Since most of us don’t have fires going all day anymore I chose to par-cook the beans with some aromatics first to shorten the bake time.
Next up is the confit, widely considered the mark of a true cassoulet. Confit is a traditional method of preserving the meat of fatty birds like duck and goose. The legs are salted for a day or so, and then slowly roasted until all the fat renders out, and then as the fat cools and solidifies it seals the meat, hopefully preventing spoilage. Several of the recipes I looked at actually substituted fresh chicken legs for the duck, claiming that cooking it in a little duck fat gives the same flavor. The argument is that since duck confit is already cooked, the long slow baking just dries it out, while using fresh chicken keeps the meat juicier. I purchased ready made duck confit from my former employer’s new venture, Mise en Place Marketplace*. Since the pandemic started they have developed a multitude of meal kits featuring favorites from the New Scenic Cafe* menu for local pick up and delivery, as well as nationwide shipping on a variety of deli and bakery items, including confit. I also include instructions to make your own confit at the end of the recipe.
Next up we have the sausage. Again, I say this is peasant cuisine so use what you have or what you like. I did purchase traditional Toulouse sausages, as well as the pork skin, from Rancho Llano Seco*, and garlic sausage from D’Artagnan*. I’m not entirely certain, but it does seem like it’s common to include two types of sausage, one fresh (the Toulouse), and one ready to eat like the garlic sausage or some other cured sausage like saucicon sec.
We also include some fresh pork. I used shoulder (I think- I hadn’t labeled the scrap I pulled out of the freezer). When I used to make cassoulet at work we used Pork Belly.
I also made a puree of salt pork and garlic that was mixed in to the cooked beans. In retrospect I would probably do either this or the garlic sausage. In the end it wasn’t overwhelmingly garlic flavored, but I also don’t know that it really needed the extra pork and garlic.
I was a little unsure about the pork skin when cutting it and putting it in the pot- I wasn’t sure how something that leathery would cook down under everything else. I shouldn’t have worried. It wound up tender and chewable. Now I think the recipes I saw that used skin intended it to have a layer of fat still attached, which the skin I got didn’t really, so I was pleasantly surprised that it wound up as an enjoyable part of the dish. That said if you don’t eat skin I don’t think it will ruin the dish to skip it.
The use of tomato is probably frowned on by purists, but is pretty common, even in France.
And finally, the controversial breadcrumbs. Purists will likely be moving on to a different recipe about now when they see I’ve included them. The addition of breadcrumbs can probably be traced to American restaurants that wanted to have the traditional crust without an order needing to bake for hours, and so most Americans assume that’s normal. Now the home cook doesn’t necessarily have that challenge. According to Serious Eats the secret to having a nice crust without the breadcrumbs is that you need a high gelatin content in your stock- either from a good homemade stock that jells when cool, or by adding gelatin to your weak-ass store bought stock. (But then, they are also one of the sites advocating using chicken, so I think that probably cancels out the purity points.) Anyway, I decided that this time around I’d stick to the method I’m familiar with and use breadcrumbs, but I intend to come back to this in the near future and try it the other way- perhaps with chicken.
Either way, it is traditional to break up the crust several times during baking. Take a spoon and gently press it down into the liquid a little bit. If it seems to be drying out too much you can drizzle some extra bean-stock down the side of the pot- you’re trying to not drown the crust while you keep the beans underneath moist. In retrospect I probably should have added some stock half way through- it seemed to be bubbling nicely while baking, but is a little dry on the plate.
Edited 8/8/21: I made this again, with chicken and the gelatinized stock instead of the breadcrumbs. Both of them are tasty adjustments to the recipe, but I’m not sure either really work as well as advertised. Certainly fresh chicken is juicier than duck confit that has been recooked for several hours, but I wouldn’t say that it really took on the flavor of duck just by searing it in duck fat. As for the stock, I’m not sure I would say it really formed a “crust”. Maybe I put in too much, or maybe I just needed to bake for a few more hours. It’s tasty and the final dish has a good amount of saucy liquid left, so that’s a win.
Total: 4:30 plus soaking and resting time
(soak beans two days before you want to eat)
1 lb dry cannellini, great northern, or tarbais beans
1/2 large onion
2 whole cloves
1 ½ carrots, in 2-3 inch chunks
2 stalk celery in 2-3 inch chunks
4 oz pancetta, cut in ½ inch cubes
1 bay leaf
2-3 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs thyme
4 cloves garlic
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
8 cups chicken stock
¾ lb garlic sausage, cut in 1” pieces
5 oz salt pork, cut in ½ in pieces
4 cloves garlic.
2 Tablespoons duck fat
3-4 legs duck confit
7-8 pieces chicken thighs and drumsticks
10 oz boneless pork shoulder, cut in 2” chunks
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 lb fresh pork sausage
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil, if needed
½ large onion, diced
1 14oz can crushed tomatoes
6 oz pork skin, cut in 2” squares.
1 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
½ cup minced parsley
Reserved fat from browning meats.
3 packets unflavored gelatine. Disolve in the chicken stock before adding. Skip the breadcrumbs.
1 ¾ teaspoons ground nutmeg
½ lb thick cut bacon
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
8 cups water in place of chicken stock
1 ½ lb bone in pork stew meat
1 ½ lb bone in lamb stew meat
1 pinch ground cloves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 ¾ cup tomato puree
2 ¾ Tablespoons olive oil in place of meat fat on breadcrumbs. .
Pick over beans and remove any foreign objects. Cover with cold water by several inches and leave to soak overnight.
Drain beans and place in a large pot. Stud onion half with whole cloves and add to the pot. Add carrot, celery and pancetta. Place bay leaf, parsley, thyme, and 4 cloves of garlic in a square of cheese cloth and tie with string. Add boquet garni to pot. Add salt, pepper and chicken stock. Add garlic sausage, if using . Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until beans are just tender, 45 minutes to an hour.
Meanwhile heat duck fat in a heavy skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add duck confit or chicken legs, skin side down, and brown, about 8 minutes. (If using chicken, season with salt and pepper) Flip and cook 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from pot and reserve. Season pork shoulder. Add to pot and brown, 3-4 minutes per side. Add pork to reserved poultry legs. Add pork sausage to pot and brown, 3-4 minutes per side. Reserve.
Drain all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan, reserving extra for later. (If you don’t have 2 Tablespoons add some vegetable oil). Add diced onion and allow to cook without stirring for 2-3 minutes. Scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pot and cook until onion is softened, but not browned, 2-3 minutes longer. Add crushed tomato and simmer for 5 minutes or so.
When beans are tender remove from heat and use tongs to remove onion, carrot celery and boquet garni. If using salt pork, open cheese cloth and reserve the garlic cloves, discarding the rest.
Separate duck confit legs at the joint into drumsticks and thighs. You can leave the bones in, or remove them and break the meat up slightly.
If using, place salt pork, 4 cloves fresh garlic, and reserved cooked garlic into a food processor and puree until smooth.
Using a slotted spoon transfer beans, pancetta and garlic sausage to pan with tomato mixture. Reserve bean cooking liquid for later use. Stir in salt pork-garlic puree if using.
Line bottom of a casole, large casserole dish or dutch oven with pork skin, fat side down. Spoon ½ of bean mixture over it, place duck or chicken legs and pork shoulder over top, and cover with remaining beans. Nestle sausages into beans until they are almost covered. Add enough bean cooking liquid so liquid is even with top of beans. Refrigerate overnight.
Refrigerate extra bean cooking liquid for later.
Bring beans to room temperature for an hour or so before baking. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Mix breadcrumbs, minced parsley and 2 ¾ Tablespoons of reserved fat from browning meats.
Add additional bean stock to cassoulet if necessary to bring liquid level back to top of beans. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over beans and bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes or so, until top is nice and crusty. Using a spoon, gently break up the crust and push it down into the liquid, without disturbing the layers. Return to oven and continue to bake, breaking up crust every 30 minutes or so, for a total of about 3 hours. If mixture starts to seem too dry, drizzle additional bean cooking liquid down side of pan, so as not to drown the crust.
Serve hot and bubbling from the oven with a green salad, some crusty bread, and a glass of red wine.
Yield: 3-4 legs
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 4:30 hours
Total: 5 hours plus overnight curing
3-4 duck legs
3 ½ Tablespoons Kosher Salt
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic, crushed
7/8 teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon juniper berries
1-2 Tablespoons water
Pierce the skin of the duck legs in several places with a small knife and rub all over with salt. Place in a non-reactive bowl and place plastic wrap directly over legs. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat the oven to 250F. Spread thyme, garlic, peppercorns, juniper berries and a little water in the bottom of a pan just large enough to hold the legs in a single layer. Rinse excess salt off the legs and place them skin side down over aromatics. Cover with foil, weight down with a cast iron skillet or other heavy, oven proof object, and bake for about 2 hours, until fat has rendered out and legs are submerged. Remove weight and foil, flip legs skin side up, and bake, uncovered, for another 2 ½ hours or so, until very tender and bones separate easily from the meat.
Drain legs and strain fat for later use.
For storage longer than a day or two, refrigerate legs submerged in the fat.
*I receive no compensation for mentioning this product.