Cassoulet


When the weather is cold and blustery, this traditional French bean casserole hits the spot.

By Familytime

 

A traditional French cassoulet is very good indeed. Served piping hot, it has the ability to warm the soul as it fills the stomach. It is French country cooking at its very best – and that is saying a lot!

Traditional Cassoulet
The French make cassoulet with white haricot, or dried white kidney beans, and say that for authenticity, this simmered bean casserole should be 70 percent beans and 30 percent meat.

Famous and beloved in the southwest of France, when made the old-fashioned way, the dish takes two or three days and includes pork or lamb sausage, goose confit, and lots of garlic as well as assorted vegetables.

When a French home cook makes cassoulet for the family, he or she cooks it in a heavy casserole (often earthenware), probably reserved just for this dish and very possibly handed down from mother to daughter. She begins the cooking several days before she plans to serve the cassoulet and tends to it for a short time every few hours. Like many long-cooking dishes, cassoulet is not difficult, but it requires regular, if minimal, attention.

More Modern Cassoulet
Contemporary French cooks as well as their counterparts in America, take logical shortcuts when making cassoulets today. Rarely does anyone have the patience or the hours at home to work on a single dish for a couple of days.

Today’s versions may include beans other than white kidney or great northern beans – although this is still the most commonly used type. It’s advisable to begin with dried beans and soak them, rather than starting with canned beans. The latter get too mushy in a long-cooking casserole but a lot of recipes call for them. Let’s face it: they are easy to use!

Few modern cassoulets contain goose or duck confit – meat preserved in goose or duck fat. While confit is delicious, most of us avoid eating it, do not have the patience to make it, or do not know where to buy it. Instead, the fatty flavor may be provided by a few strips of bacon; olive oil takes up the slack for the rest of any needed fat.

Recipes for cassoulet are apt to call for marinated chicken or everyday pork sausage. There may be less garlic than in original recipes, or it may show up only in the sausage. The expected vegetables – onion, carrots, and celery – are usually present and may be enhanced with fresh or dried herbs such as thyme, marjoram, and parsley, favorites of the French.

Many traditional cassoulets also include tomatoes, which add moisture to the final dish.

All There Is To It!
If you have made baked beans – a New England staple and a favorite in other regions of the country – you can make cassoulet. This is not a difficult dish and while we no longer expect anyone to set aside a few days to make it, most recipes still require several hours of cooking.

Cassoulet is a perfect dish for a slow cooker. Add the ingredients and push the “on” button. Come back in a few hours and enjoy a warm, satisfying meal. On the other hand, we have a recipe for a cassoulet that takes only minutes!

Some of our recipes call for canned beans and turkey sausage. Others rely on pork chops or chicken breasts and legs. All call for garlic. All are delicious.

If you like the easier versions, you may be tempted to try your hand at a more traditional cassoulet. After all, this is what cooking is all about: experimentation, exploration, and tasty outcomes! Search your French cookbooks or turn to Julia Child for inspiration and join the legions of French country cooks who count cassoulet among their favorites.