THE FRENCH BEAN POT
Cassoulet, like other hearty dishes that come to mind, is peasant fare. It is a specialty of the Languedoc, the southwestern region of France between Spain and Provence. Three towns—Toulouse, Castelnaudary, and Carcassonne—claim to make le vrai cassoulet (the true cassoulet). The battle over authenticity can grow very heated, indeed, and to the combatants the distinctions are vast. For our purposes, suffice it to say that cassoulet is a dish of white beans and meats, long simmered together, as rich and fragrant a pot of baked beans as you’re ever likely to eat.
To get a taste of the real thing, we suggest some pork, a little lamb, garlic sausages, and, in place of the traditional preserved goose, a duck. Our version is slightly streamlined, but nevertheless authentic. Cassoulet is neither quick nor inexpensive to prepare, but it need not intimidate. The various cooking steps can be spread over 3 or 4 days. Serve it as the centerpiece of an important buffet (it always impresses), or offer it to a group of close, foodloving friends as a hearty midwinter lunch to be followed by a nap. (A story is told of a sign in the door of a shop: “Closed on account of a cassoulet.”)
Serve a dry wine—a full-bodied red, white, or even a rosé. Afterward, you’ll want to serve a good digestif, such as an armagnac from the neighboring region of Gascony, or a fiery calvados, and after that, of course, the nap.
Cooking Methodbraising, roasting, sauteeing
Total Timea day or more
Make Ahead RecipeYes
One Pot MealYes
OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Family Get-together
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationpeanut free, soy free
Five Ingredients or LessYes
Taste and Texturecreamy, garlicky, juicy, meaty, rich, salty, savory, umami
Type of Dishcasserole
- ½ pound fresh pork rind
- 2 pounds dried white beans (Great Northern, or try half Great Northern, half dried flageolets), soaked overnight
- 1 duckling (4½ to 5 pounds)
- Neck and giblets from a 4 1/2 to 5 pound duckling
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 pound (more or less) lamb bones
- 2¼ pounds lamb stew meat, in 1-inch cubes
- 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, in 1-inch cubes
- 1½ tablespoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil, if needed
- 1/3 cup rendered bacon fat
- 2 cups chopped yellow onions
- 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 cups dry white vermouth
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 5 cups Beef Stock or canned beef broth
- 9 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 5 bay leaves
- 1½ pounds fresh garlic sausage or kielbasa
- 1 pound salt pork
- 4 cups unseasoned dry bread crumbs
- 1 cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
Score the fat side of the pork rind, cover it with cold water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, cover with cold water again, and repeat the process, this time simmering for 30 minutes. Reserve the pork rind and its second cooking water separately.
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Drain the beans and place them in an 8-quart ovenproof pot with a lid. Cover them with water by at least 3 inches and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook briskly, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the beans stand in the cooking liquid.
Cut the wing tips off the duck and set them aside, along with the neck, heart, and gizzard. (Save the liver for another use.) Pull all the fat out of the duck, and season the cavity with salt and pepper. Put the duck in a small roasting pan. Put the lamb bones in a second small pan and roast, along with the duck, in the oven for 45 minutes. Drain the accumulated fat frequently. Remove from the oven after the cooking time; the duck should still be slightly underdone; the lamb bones should be well browned; reserve the lamb bones. Drain the juices from the duck cavity into a large bowl and reserve. Cool, cover, and refrigerate the duck.
In a heavy skillet, brown the cubed lamb in olive oil in batches over medium heat, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Do not crowd the pan. Remove the browned lamb to a large bowl and reserve.
Without cleaning the skillet, sauté the pork cubes and the reserved duck giblets, neck, and wing tips in the same fashion, seasoning with salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon of the thyme, and the allspice. You may need to add a tablespoon or two of olive oil if the skillet is particularly dry at this point. Place the browned pork in the same bowl with the lamb. Drain and reserve the meat juices; cover and refrigerate the meat. Add the giblets and wing tips to the beans.
Do not clean the skillet. Melt the rendered bacon fat in the skillet over low heat and sauté the onions and carrots, stirring, until tender, about 20 minutes. Add to the pot with the beans.
Add the vermouth, along with the duck, lamb, and pork juices, to the skillet. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat slightly and cook briskly, stirring, until the vermouth is slightly reduced and all browned cooking particles remaining in the skillet have dissolved. Pour the vermouth onto the beans.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
. Stir in the tomato paste, the pork rind cooking liquid, beef stock, remaining thyme, the bay leaves, and the reserved lamb bones. Chop 6 of the garlic cloves and add to the beans. Add additional water if necessary; the liquid should just cover the beans. Put the pork rind, fat side down, on top of the beans, and cover the pot.
. Bake on the center rack of the oven until the beans are tender, 2 to 2½ hours. Remove and cool to room temperature, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
. The next day, prick the garlic sausage all over with a fork and simmer in a pan of water for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve.
. Put the salt pork in a pan of cold water, bring to a boil, and cook for 10 minutes. Drain, cover with cold water, and repeat, reserving the salt pork in its cooking water.
. Remove the pot of beans from the refrigerator. Discard the lamb bones, bay leaves, duck neck, and wing tips, and, if you can find them, the heart and gizzard.
. Drain the salt pork; cut off the rind and discard it. Chop the salt pork into cubes and place them in a food processor. Puree to a paste, dropping the 3 remaining garlic cloves through the feed tube while the motor is running. Stir the paste into the beans.
. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
. Skin the duck, pull all the meat from the bones, and cut it into chunks. Stir the duck into the beans along with the lamb and pork cubes. Skin the garlic sausage and cut into rounds; stir into the beans.
. Before baking the cassoulet, check the beans. If they are too dry (it is preferable that they be too moist), stir in a cup or two of warm water. Smooth the top of the beans, mix the bread crumbs with the parsley, and sprinkle half the mixture over the beans.
. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir the top crust into the beans, sprinkle on the remaining bread crumb mixture, and bake until a crust has formed and browned well, another 45 minutes. Serve immediately.
1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 2007 Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins