Cassoulet is a dish that typlifies French home and bistro cooking and has somewhat of a legendary status among gourmands. As for most French cooking, it is a regional dish originally from the South West that has become popular all over the country and is standard bistro fare, or even bought canned. It is comfort food to Francophiles and Beth’s Parisian friend Caroline would have her father ship cans of cassoulet to the United States while she lived here.
It is a dish of stewed haricot beans with the addition of confit d’oie (preserved salted cooked goose) native to the Languedoc and Pyrenees cuisine, and an area that uses a lot of goose as well as duck, in their recipes.
The casserole is so common that it has a baking dish of the same name, cassole d’Issel. The shape is so classic it is one of the slow cooker crock shapes-the oval, but you can make the dish in either round or oval and have it be authentic. It is said if you want to sample cassoulet, you have to have one that has been prepared in a locally manufactured red clay ‘cassole’. The original Issel pottery closed before WW2. The best alternative is from the ‘Potterie Not’ company, as the last survivor of what was a major local industry for the area from around the 19th century.
What is remarkable is that the slow cooker crock is an excellent substitute for the original ceramic dish, both in shape and crockery material.
Cassoulet is considered a born-again dish, so it comes under nouvelle cuisinère bourgeiose, the new home cooking. But it has never left the bistro menu.
This recipe, a poor man’s cassoulet, is adapted from Mark Bittman, cookbook author and food columnist for the New York Times, who has so many cookbooks out now he must have adapted almost every recipe there ever was (and does a good job of it as well). It is simplified a lot from the original, which takes umpteen steps to prepare, but definitely and remarkably delicious just the same. The secret? Beans from scratch.
Definitely use the parsley at the end as it adds a slightly bitter taste that counterpoints the meats. Excellent autumn food. Serve with a simple salad vinaigrette and gutsy dry red wine.
Slow Cooker: Large Round or oval
Machine Setting and Cook Time: High Heat: 5 to 6 hours
- 1/2 pound small white beans, such as pea or navy, or flageolet vertes
- 4 sweet Italian sausages (about 3/4 pound)
- 2 fresh duck legs
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 cups cored and chopped fresh tomatoes, or (1 14 1/2-ounce) can chopped plum tomatoes, with their juice
- 3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 pound slab bacon or salt pork, in 1 piece
- 1-pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes, tossed in a bit of flour
- Chicken or vegetable stock, or water, or a mixture, as needed to cover
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 1/4 cups plain fresh bread crumbs tossed with 2 tablespoons olive oil, optional
- Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Place beans in a colander and rinse under running water; check and pick over for small stones. Place in a 5-or 6-quart cooker (there must be plenty of room for them to bubble without spilling over) and cover with cold water; soak 6 to 12 hours on the counter. Drain and leave in the crock.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, brown the sausage and duck legs. Add the garlic, onion, carrots, tomatoes and their juice, thyme, and bay leaf to the beans in the crock. Nestle in the slab bacon and sprinkle with the pork shoulder cubes. Lay the sausages and duck legs on top and push into the beans a bit. Add stock or water to cover by 2 inches. Cover and cook on HIGH for 5 to 6 hours, until the beans and meats are tender.
When done, season with salt and pepper to taste. If you like, remove cassoulet from slow cooker, and place in a wide deep casserole; cover with the bread crumbs and bake at 400º until bread crumbs are browned, about 15 minutes. We just toast the crumbs quickly in a skillet and sprinkle each portion with crumbs and parsley.
You should have a garlicky and slightly smoky mélange of creamy beans and tender meats, both deeply infused with flavor. Serve hot.
On Cooking Duck: If you are at all intimidated by the idea of cooking duck, don’t be. Duck legs have all the wonderful things that chicken does not: it’s dark, moist, plump, and full of meaty flavor. Duck has a bad reputation for being fatty, but you can trim the fat away and it will cook just like chicken. Of course the duck fat is legendary for its wonderful flavor, which will permeate the cassoulet. It is unfortunate that many places only sell duck whole, since the breasts and legs are really suited to different preparations. If you have a good relationship with your butcher, ask him to cut up a duck (or two) and sell you just the legs. If not, go ahead and buy a whole duck: it’s like a culinary treasure trove. Set aside the breasts for another use (check out my duck breast and fresh blueberry salad), render the fat and store it in the fridge for roasting potatoes, and use the bones and giblets for amazing duck stock. Adapted from Desert Candy.
Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Entertaining, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2007, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.