Cocos de Paimpol à la Bretonne

À la Bretonne can mean garnished either with white beans, cauliflower and artichokes if served with meat, or with celery, leeks, mushrooms and onions, if served with fish.

The coco de Paimpol (not to be confused with cocoa beans) is a variety of white bean native to South America, which was apparently only introduced to France in the 1920s when a sailor in the French navy brought seeds home. Given it only has a 100 year history in France it’s developed quite a cult following and has been awarded AOP status, meaning that it can only be sold as “coco de Paimpol” if it’s actually grown around the village of Paimpol. It is considered a semi-dry bean, meaning that it is harvested before the pods are dry, so it’s generally only available in the late summer, and since the beans haven’t dried it has to either be eaten or frozen within a few days of harvest.

Needless to say, I didn’t find actual coco de Paimpol beans here in the USA, especially at the wrong time of year. I did look to see if I could find some frozen ones, but no such luck. Even for Europeans it didn’t look like they are readily available out of season. I did, however, have a bag of Spanish Fabas beans in my freezer that I bought several months ago when I needed to get to a minimum order amount for shipping on something. If I’m interpreting the bag correctly these are also “fresh” beans, harvested before the pods dried. They’re probably larger than the coco beans, but I thought they worked pretty well, although having never had true cocos de Paimpol I can’t really compare texture and flavor.

Since these are a late summer delicacy, it makes sense that they are cooked with other late summer vegetables, namely fresh tomato and green peppers. Most of the recipes I used as my source material said “this is the recipe we found on the bag of beans”. After my last several posts being hearty, filling meals it was nice to have something a little lighter as spring is finally arriving here in Northern Minnesota.

Almost all the recipes I found for this were actually in French. Luckily automatic translation software has come a long ways in the last few years, so my browser plugin easily translates them to understandable English (other than calling the beans “coconut”). Most of the recipes called for “pot-au-feu” as the liquid. When I looked that up I was initially kind of confused because pot-au-feu is a stewed beef dish, kind of the French boiled dinner. On looking a little closer, however, we find that the broth used to cook the meat is usually served separately as a consommé, and is also often used as stock for other dishes. Since I wasn’t really feeling like making a whole separate meal to have one ingredient for this dish I just used beef broth. (Apparently in France you can buy “pot-au-feu” flavored bouillon cubes.)

I think that this dish is most often served as a side with roast lamb or other meats, often with cauliflower and artichokes as well. However it’s hearty enough to be a meal on its own, and with a couple easy substitutions can even be made vegetarian or vegan.

One of the recipes I looked at claimed that by cooking the beans at a vigorous boil you actually prevent them from bursting. I haven’t done any side by side tests to prove or disprove this counterintuitive theory, but I did keep the pot at more of a boil than a simmer and my beans are all intact. I’ll have to test a lower boil next time and see if it actually makes a difference.

I’m pretty sure that this recipe wasn’t the source for the Polish fasolka po Bretonsku that I wrote about last week. I mean I guess they both have beans in tomato sauce, so it’s possible, but that’s where the similarities end in my eyes. It’s still possible that there is another Breton bean recipe that is more similar that migrated to Poland, but for now I stand by my theory that someone was trying to be fancy by giving their beans a French sounding name.

Cocos de Paimpol à la Bretonne

Serves: 4
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Total: 1:20, plus shelling if using fresh beans.

550 g shelled cocos de Paimpol

5-6 g butter
1 large onion, sliced

650 ml beef broth
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2-3 small shallots, peeled 
650 g tomato, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3 bay leaves
Black pepper, to taste

Salt, to taste


650 ml vegetable stock, in place of beef broth
½ Tablespoon dry rosemary
1 teaspoon dry thyme
2 sprigs fresh thme
½ Tablespoon dry oregano
½ Tablespoon dry basil
Extra virgin olive oil, in place of butter

Rinse and drain cocos de Paimpol. 

Melt butter in a heavy pot, and brown onions. Add stock, whole garlic and shallots, tomatoes, green pepper bay leaves and plenty of black pepper. Bring to a boil. Add beans and return to a boil. Reduce heat to a low boil and cook uncovered for 40-60 minutes until beans are tender but not crushed. Add salt to taste. 

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