Cassoulet

Cassoulet

Cassoulet, that famous dish from the south of France. Not from the more familiar Provence, Marseille, Nimes part of the country, but more toward the Western portions of Southern France such as Carcassonne, Toulouse, and Narbonne. I am referring to the Languedoc area of France where once lived a peaceful religious order named the Cathars. The Cathars were all killed and they were ran out of their castles during the crusades of the 1200’s. All that remains are mountain top ruins, a few sad stories, and a delicious beany casserole dish.

Nobody knows when or where the Cassoulet tradition began, but the national bean dish of France is not considered fancy or “Haute” cuisine. No… it most certainly has more humble beginnings. Certainly, it existed prior to refrigeration, otherwise, I would have to say that it was born of bits of this and that which were becoming questionable in the ol’ ice box.

Of course, i wouldn’t bother with the long intro if it weren’t a dish worthy of a long and delicious pedigree. Jill and I were fortunate enough to travel to France and visit Carcassonne several years ago. At the time, I had heard of Cassoulet, but had never tried it. I found that in Carcassonne, it was available on every street corner and mobile stand as if it were fried twinkies at the state fair. Since I wanted to be sure to have the real thing, I asked around until someone recommended a respectable establishment with a good reputation for local, Carcassonne Cassoulet. I can’t recall the name of the small bistro we visited that evening, but the Cassoulet lived up to the hype.

It was rich, creamy, and extremely savory. Truly a dish deserving of it’s legendary status.

If you ever page through the French standard of cook books, “LaRousse Gastronomique”, you’ll learn that there are basically three types of regional Cassoulets in Southwest France, each is a slight variation on the other, but they all share some basic ingredients. There is tradition involved in making cassoulet as well. For example, it is well documented that you crack the cassoulet crust of a Carcassonne Cassoulet a specific number of times during the cooking of the Cassoulet and there are various other ‘cracking’ intervals dependent upon the region upon which the Cassoulet is being cooked.

Since I am hereby creating a new regional Cassoulet here in El Dorado County, I decree that while cooking a Cassoulet anywhere in El Dorado County, you shall crack the crust exactly 3 times during the cooking process if you wish to obtain optimal results (actually, just one time will do).

If you are to embark on this Cassoulet adventure, you should be in good health and free from any ailments which may prevent you from persevering through the lengthy process inherent in Cassoulet cookery. Cassoulet is typically at least a 3 day project. However, being that we live in America where fast food rules and convenience prevails, I have come up with a recipe which requires a mere two days to complete but still delivers authentic results.

Traditionally, Cassoulet is made in a cassole dish. The cassole dish is usually made of stoneware and it has a conical shape tapering from small at the bottom to large at the top, this way you have more surface area for the coveted crust on top of the cassoulet. A nice dutch oven will work well for our purposes.


Cassoulet

By Published:

  • Yield: 6 Servings

Cassoulet, that famous dish from the south of France. Not from the more familiar Provence, Marseille, Nimes part of the country, …

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Soak your beans overnight being sure that they are completely covered with water and allowing room for expansion. Additionally, put your pork butt and your shanks in a bowl, sprinkled with salt and pepper and allow to sit overnight. The next day... making sure your pork butt and shanks are dry, saute them in your dutch oven with olive oil until they have a slightly caramelized appearance. Remove the meat from the pot and drain on a paper towel. Add your carrots and onions and saute until translucent or about 10 minutes. Add the pancetta and cook until browned. Add the head of garlic, the tomatoes, the stock, and the bay leaf and thyme. Return the meat to the pot. Bring up to a simmer. Meanwhile, drain the beans add them to another pot with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Cook the beans for 5 minutes, then drain. Add the beans to your primary pot and continue simmering for 2.5 hours. Turn off heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375. Skim the mixture of fat if necessary and remove the bay leaf, thyme and the garlic. Squeeze out the garlic cloves and mash them up thoroughly. Add the garlic paste to the pot. Remove the meat from your duck confit legs and add it to the pot. Grill or fry your sausages and slice them into lengths of about 2” and add to the pot, mix it in. If the mixture is becoming too dry, add a little more stock. Bake, uncovered for 1.5 hours. Open the oven and stir the cassoulet as to mix back in the skin which had formed on the top. Add the bread crumbs to the top of the cassoulet and turn the oven down to 300. Bake for 45 minutes longer. When finished, let the cassoulet sit for about 30 minutes before serving.

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