1.05.2019

Skeptical.

I never had a cassoulet in France. It’s the garlic thing again. But I have always wanted to try to make it. And New Year’s Eve 2018 was the moment. Susan (Provence WineZine) and Towny were here for a week of visiting, relaxing, eating, and – bien sûr – wine tasting. What better time to have this culinary adventure?

I was skeptical that I could pull together a cassoulet without the traditional sausages, or the right beans. But John and Nicole Bojanowski, owners of Le Clos du Gravillas in Languedoc-Roussillon, assured me over coffee one day, at the University of Arizona (where their son is a freshman), that I could do it with locally-sourced ingredients, and without garlic. I got my duck confit at Top Knot Farms, and my pork sausages (seasoned only with salt and pepper) and pork belly from the Forbes Meat Company.

John and Nicole sent me the recipe they use; it is from Tour de Table en Languedoc-Roussillon. By combining it with a few other recipes (to adapt to what is available in Tucson), I came up with the following recipe. As I was making it, the skepticism returned. Half-made, the pot looked like dirty dishwater with chunks of meat in it. How on earth would it ever turn into a cassoulet?

But it did. And, by George, it was fabulous. We paired it with a bottle of John and Nicole’s Lo Vièlh Carignan. Naturally, that was the perfect pairing for this dish - head over to the Provence WineZine to read more about it.

Bonne année à tous! We got a dusting of snow this New Year's Day... rare for us, and quite beautiful in the desert setting!

~ David

Cassoulet

14 ounces dried cannellini beans
1 pound pork belly with the rind, in one piece
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 fresh pork sausages
homemade unsalted chicken stock **
bouquet garnis of thyme and bay leaves
4 confit of duck legs
rendered duck fat
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh bread crumbs


The day before serving, place dried beans in a bowl and cover with three inches of cool water. Cover the bowl and soak the beans overnight.

Next day, trim the rind – couenne, en français – off the pork belly in one or two pieces. If your pork belly was already trimmed, ask the butcher for an additional rind – about 2 inches by 9 inches. (In the American Southwest, this is the part that is deep fried to make chicharones.) You will need 3 1/2 ounces of pork rind; freeze any remaining for a future cassoulet. Cut trimmed pork belly into 2-inch chunks and set aside.

Drain the beans and place them in a large soup pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, skimming the foam as it surfaces. Drain.

Wipe out the soup pot, return the drained beans, and cover with chicken stock. If you don’t have enough stock to cover, use water to make up the difference. Add the bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Add the carrot, onion, and pork rind. Simmer for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon duck fat in a large skillet. Brown the sausages on all sides. Set aside. Using the same fat, brown the pork belly pieces. Set aside.

After the beans have been simmering for an hour, season with salt and pepper. Cut the browned sausages into 3-inch lengths and add to the pot along with the browned pork belly and the confit of duck legs. Add two generous tablespoons of duck fat. Add more stock as needed to keep it from getting too dry. Cook uncovered one hour longer. 


Preheat oven to 275°F. Transfer the mixture to a «cassole» or a Dutch oven, sprinkle generously with breadcrumbs, and bake uncovered for 90 minutes.

Serve hot at the table.

Serves 4-6.

** it is important to use unsalted stock when cooking the beans; salting the beans before or while they cook will make them tough. We made stock using a roast chicken carcass, onion, and carrot. You can also simply use water instead of stock.


Notes: 
- You definitely need well-made sausages. Don't use standard store-bought ones - they contain too much gristle. Find a butcher near you who makes them and get the simplest available.
- I used pork belly, but many recipes called for pork shoulder, too. I might use a bit of both next time.
- Some recipes had no duck at all. I liked the confit - it added to the texture and flavor.

- Per Nicole's recommendation, do not skimp on the duck fat - it sounds like it will make it heaver but it doesn't. This is one area where I wasn't skeptical!


43 comments:

  1. I love, love cassoulet and I think you did a great job adapting it to your needs and what is available here In the US. I once made the mistake by adding the salt to the beans before they were cooked and had to start all over. Thanks for this wonderful recipe.

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    1. Thanks, Gerlinde - I think my first bean experience was similar to yours. Lucky that when I was making this, I remembered to hold on the salt till the beans were ready!

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    2. I take the opposite route and add salt from the very beginning (and I even rehydrate beans in salted water): they cook much better (after reading McGee and Serious eats): more flavoursome and the skin does not break.
      there is an interesting variations on serious eats, where they use chicken and it does make sense
      david: did YOU like it? cannot understand from yr post. ciao
      stefano

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    3. I will have to try that way of doing beans again... my first ones were terrible. I really loved this cassoulet Stefano... not a thing I would change!

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  2. This cassoulet was fabulous and I can affirm that David was not slaving over the stove for days on end...just one day and even that may be an exaggeration (although he is a much more efficient cook than most of us!). We loved the wine, too! It is available in Maine, for those in my neck of the woods. Enjoy!

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    1. This actually too very little time, Susan - most of my time in the kitchen was spent fretting that it wasn't going to work. Once it really came down to it, the active time is less than 30 minutes!

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  3. Dear David, what a beautiful final dish - I love that you were able to adapt the traditional French recipe to your liking/preferences and availability of ingredients! The best! I would have loved to have had a taste!
    Hope you and Mark had a terrific start to the new year - the pic with the dusting of snow is wonderful!
    Thank you also for the calender with the amazing photographs that you so kindly sent our way! We love them! Dankeschön!
    Liebe Gruesse auch an Mark!
    Andrea

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    1. Have you ever had it, Andrea - it is so good, and so comforting! The dusting of snow is about all I ever want to see! Happy new year to you all - glad you can enjoy a little of the U.S. Southwest during the year!

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  4. Oh David - one of my very favourite company dishes and one I first made as a very young bride for a business lunch ! The only complaints laughingly seemed to relate to bodily functions ! Methinks this is one of the easiest and tastiest meals to prepare and, at least our country supermarkets, I have a choice of at least half-dozen differing pork sausages available . . .what a great dish to set and forget on the stove !

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    1. Luckily, we had no issues with any bodily functions! :) Maybe the duck fat helps! It is definitely going to be one of my go-to recipes now. But I have to say, our supermarket sausages probably aren't half as good as yours!

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  5. Beautiful way to introduce new year and new creations on your blog ! Thank you David !

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    1. It did make for a nice start to 2019! Wishing you both the best!

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  6. My hat is off to you- being able to turn what looks like 'dirty dish water' into something delicious! I first made Cassoulet while studying at the Le Cordon Bleu school in 2012 but have rarely cooked it since. One of my favorite dishes is duck confit by itself- slow cooking the duck thighs in duck fat is so tasty! Happy New Year to you!

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    1. Duck confit is pure heaven. The end. But it’s not too bad in cassoulet, either!

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  7. Bravo David! I remember diving into my first cassoulet with the same skepticism and fear of cooking failure. I now make it with local ingredients and forego the duck confit, just using duck hindquarters. It's pure comfort food and not particularly photogenic, but really tasty. I'm sure it tasted amazing and the wine pairing sounds divine.

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    1. Ron, you now know why there are so few photos here! I couldn’t photograph piles of raw meat, and the end result is also tricky. I did my best! But the flavor is just fantastic!

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  8. Not surprised you pulled this together so beautifully. I've always loved cassoulet and definitely don't have it enough. Duck confit too. I need more of these things in my life. :-)

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    1. How did I love so long without this? Have you ever done it for a post, Valentina? And to think there are some recipes without the confit!!!

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    2. I have a vegetarian cassoulet, and one with chicken and sausage on my site. Both delicious, but not very authentic. Well, the chicken & sausage is more so than the vegetarian. (Of course!) :-)

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  9. This looks and sounds like a dreamy dish, David! I'm glad you all had good company to ring in the new year and it's always exciting to have snow fall where it's not a normal event! We keep hoping to have a few flurries here after the Central Texas "blizzard" last year :)

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    1. I have to say, Marcelle, I would have been really happy if it had been sunny and warm!

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  10. Happy new year, David! I have never had cassoulet, but with three of my favorite things, beans, pork belly and sausages, how could I not? I would LOVE this dish, I'm sure of it! What a great comfort food when it's cold (as it is now in LA). I have a pork belly on the counter as I write this, but it's scheduled to become a porchetta! ;)

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    1. I bought extra pork belly, Christina, and just finished my pancetta yesterday!

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  11. Mmmm what a delicious rich dish! I can just imagine how good this is! I would love to add garlic!!

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    1. Thanks, Marcellina - most people would add garlic, although I cannot, and - from what I now know - it isn't necessary to enjoy the flavors of this dish!

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  12. Wow, one more reason to eat local--custom foods! Perfect. And another dish for my "to cook" list!

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    1. I think you will love this dish, Inger - it is actually quite simple and so addictive!

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  13. I've pulled off a root veggie cassoulet once. I figured cassoulet is the ultimate peasant food so that means a hundred-thousand cooks are responsible for a hundred-thousand versions. I think there is plenty of room for a hundred-thousand-and-one garlic-free cassoulet. GREG

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    1. I will have to look into the veggie cassoulets - I wonderful what gives them their texture and silkiness. Thanks fro making room for the 1001!

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  14. I actually had a vegetarian cassoulet in France one, it was pretty good but it did have a load of garlic in it so no good for you. But I am sure your non garlic version was lovely.

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    1. Emma - do you have any idea what creates the thick, unctuous stew in a vegetarian version? (Of course I will go look online, but just curious...)

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    2. I’ve never attempted to make it at home so I have no idea. I too would have to google it!

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    3. Well, I pretty much found that vegetarian cassoulet is just another way of saying a really good white bean soup! The thickening seems to come from the beans themselves, and some recipe purée some of the beans to thicken it even more.

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  15. Great job of adapting your recipe and what a great way to start the new year. The first time I had cassoulet was in Carcassonne, France and it was delicious.

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    1. From what I hear, Karen, You had your cassoulet in one of the best places! We definitely need to explore that area more!

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  16. I haven't made cassoulet in years. Mainly because it's a bit of a production, and IMO it really does need duck confit -- which I don't usually have on hand (and when I do, frankly I think there are better uses for it). Anyway, this is a wonderful version of such a classic -- thanks. And Happy New Year!

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    1. John - now that I have a great source of duck confit, I don't worry about using a bit in the cassoulet! And you are so right - it really makes a difference! Happy New Year to you and Mrs. KR, as well!

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  17. This brings back so many memories of when we did the boat trip along Canal du Midi 5 years ago. Cassoulet at a lock-side restaurant called Le Baron d ‘Ar at the Ognon lock. Oh my goodness! I was in French heaven and didn't want to leave it. I've never attempted a cassoulet at home, but at least I know I can head here for your recipe. Thanks so much!

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    1. I thought I would google Le Baron d'Ar and what should I find? The top search result was your post! Were we not in contact at that time? I don't remember that post at all - and now need to check all three of the Canal Posts. I was glad ot see breadcrumbs on your cassoulet there - that is one of the "bones of contention" - crumbs or no crumbs. The other is the use of tomatoes... I did use the crumbs but not the tomatoes.

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  18. David, I love how you adapted the recipe to fit your locally available ingredients as well as your (and my) garlic allergy. Since I do have a wonderful sausage maker nearby, I really must make this soon. The perfect winter dish!

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    1. It is the perfect winter dish, Jean, and now that it has been de-garlicked fro us, it's a breeze! (And my friends, who are cassoulet aficionados, loved it and said none of the dreaded G was needed!

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  19. Wonderful! As I think I mentioned elsewhere, cassoulet is one of my very favorite things to eat, even if it's not Italian. I developed a love for it while living in Paris. (Not actually its home turf, but close enough!)

    I might get pilloried by my French friends for saying this, but I think of cassoulet as almost as more a technique than a specific recipe (a bit like paella) so I bet you can make a delicious dish from all sorts of meats, although in my book, a proper cassoulet really needs the duck confit and a good sausage (Julia Child, by the way, you may remember, calls for kielbasa... !)

    It's finally turned really cold here. It is supposed to start snowing this afternoon. Cassoulet weather!

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    1. Frank - I really agree with you, and put it up there with bouillabaisse, pesto, and a good bolognese. Maybe there are specific rules, but the ones you obey are your Nonna's!

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