Cassoulet for a Cold Winter’s Day

If you’re looking for a delicious, unique cold weather dish, this slow-cooked casserole which includes a variety of delicious meats and white beans has long been considered the height of French home cooking. It’s a rustically charming meal that requires time and planning. The hardest part about making a cassoulet when you’re not in southwest France is shopping for the ingredients. You may find that you need to order some things ahead like the duck fat and confit as well as the garlic sausage. It will help to find a good butcher as a source for salt pork and fresh, bone-in pork and lamb stew meat. The beans, though, aren’t hard to find at all. Great northern/cannellini beans work just fine in this dish. In the end, you will find all your effort is worth it as you are rewarded with the luxurious mix of fragrant beans around rich chunks of sausages, duck confit, roasted pork and lamb all under a crisp salt pork crust that will leave a favorable and lasting impression on you and your dining companions. 

A Brief History  

Named for the casserole, the earthenware pot in which it is traditionally cooked, cassoulet evolved over the centuries in the countryside of southwest France, changing with the ingredients on hand and the cooks stirring the pot.

Three major towns of the region – Castelnaudary, Carcassonne and Toulouse – all strongly maintain that their town created what they consider to be the only true cassoulet. It is a feud that has been going on at least since the middle of the 19th century, and probably longer. 

If you would like to make your own version of this classic dish, follow the instructions below. 


1 pound dried great northern beans

2 1/2 quarts unsalted chicken broth 

3 ounces salt pork

2 duck confit legs

8 ounces fresh French garlic sausage

4 ounces boneless pork shoulder or belly

4 ounces fresh pork skin (optional)

3 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed

Freshly ground black pepper


DAY 1:

Soak the beans. Place 1 pound dried great northern beans in a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover the beans by 2 to 3 inches. Soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight.

DAY 2:

Boil the beans for 5 minutes. Drain the beans. Place the beans in a large pot, and add enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to a rapid boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 5 minutes. Drain again.

Cook the beans. Bring 2 1/2 quarts unsalted chicken stock or broth to a boil over medium-high heat in the same pot. Add the beans, bring back to a boil and skim off any scum. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook uncovered until the beans are just tender but still whole and unbroken – 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

Cut the meats. Dice 3 ounces salt pork. Halve 2 duck confit legs between the joint so that you have 2 drumsticks and 2 thighs. Cut 8 ounces garlic sausage into 2-inch pieces. Cut 4 ounces boneless pork shoulder or belly into 2-inch chunks. Cut 4 ounces fresh pork skin into 2-inch squares, if using.

Make salt pork and garlic paste. Place the salt pork and 3 garlic cloves in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process it into a sticky paste – about 15 seconds. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sear the duck and pork. Place the duck skin-side down in a large frying pan over medium-low heat and cook until golden-brown – 5 to 10 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Add the sausage to the pan and cook until browned – about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the plate. Add the pork belly or shoulder and cook until browned on a few sides – about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to the plate. Refrigerate the meats until ready to use.

Cool the beans. When the beans are ready, remove from the heat and let cool – about 1 hour.

Season the beans. Add the garlic-pork paste, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt to the beans and stir gently, breaking up the paste until evenly distributed.

Drain the beans. Pour the bean mixture through a strainer over a large bowl.

Use a casserole, 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed, oven safe pot. Line the bottom of the vessel with the cut pork skin, if using.

Assemble the cassoulet. Layer half of the beans on top of the pork skin. Place the duck confit and pork shoulder or belly on the beans. Layer the remaining beans over the duck and pork. Top with the sausages, nestling them into the beans.

Top with cooking liquid. Pour enough of the bean cooking liquid into the cassoulet to barely cover the beans. Sprinkle freshly ground black pepper. Move on to the next step and bake for 3 hours, or the cassoulet can be covered and refrigerated overnight. Refrigerate the remaining bean cooking liquid.

Bake the cassoulet for 3 hours. Heat the oven to 325ºF. Bake the cassoulet uncovered for 3 hours. While it is cooking, a brown crust will appear on top. Pierce the crust and moisten the surface by spooning the cooking liquid over it; make sure not to disturb the layers below. Allow the crust to re-form 2 or 3 times. Let the cassoulet cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

DAY 3:

Bake the cassoulet for 1 1/2 hours. Heat the oven to 325ºF. Uncover the cassoulet and bake for 1 1/2 hours, breaking the crust with a spoon and moistening the surface at least twice. If the beans look dry, add spoonfuls of extra bean-cooking liquid or chicken broth. Serve immediately without stirring. 

Enjoy the fruits of your labor! 


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