Ican’t remember the first time I had cassoulet, the storied southern French casserole of beans, duck (or goose), seemingly every form of pork known to man and (in some fiercely debated cases) lamb, but I did know it wouldn’t be my last.

I remember the first time I made it: It was during a cold, wet early winter on a New Hampshire lake, and I had too much time on my hands, i.e., the three days the recipe I had at the time (now lost to time) insisted it took to make an authentic cassoulet. The first day was reserved for cooking the beans, with clove-studded onions, carrots, bouquet garni and some fumbling around with salt pork that had to be poached and drained before being first added to the pot and later discarded.

Day Two was reserved for processing the various meats — fresh and smoked, pork sausages, pork belly, chunks of lamb shoulder and, of course, duck confit, all ultimately stewed in wine and stock, with vegetables (onions and lots of garlic, carrots and tomatoes) that would be strained out, pureed and returned to the pot and combined with Day One’s beans to rest overnight in the refrigerator.

Day Three was spent bringing the cassoulet (named for the traditional, slightly conical earthenware casserole pot, le cassole, it was baked in) to room temperature, baking it in a low oven for a couple of hours, topping with a layer of bread crumbs and drizzling with more duck fat, placing in a hot oven to brown and crust over, the crust being “broken” with a spoon and returning to the hot oven to crust again — up to seven times, depending on the authority you consult — before being pronounced “Done!”

Was it worth it? You bet. But I wasn’t about to do it again any time soon. It was way too much effort for a dish of ostensibly humble peasant origins, and I had to content myself with sporadic restaurant sightings that only served to remind me how great it could be.

The recipe presented here is by no means authentic in that it is a shameless attempt to shortcut the process while preserving the flavors of what some pithy food writer once called “the best pork-and-beans you ever had.”

The beans cook while the meats are prepared in a shorthand version. This “cassoulette” (so as not to defame the original) would ideally be prepared over two days, as the overnight refrigerator rest does meld the flavors, and the final cooking in a low oven includes merely a single breaking of the crust.

It’s worth noting that most recipes for authentic cassoulet, of necessity, serve 16 to 20 people, while this diminutive version serves 4 to 6. Plus, with an early start and ingredients in hand, you could condense the process to a day, as I did more than once, serving it to expectant but unsuspecting friends who unanimously pronounced it completely satisfying.


Serves 4 to 6

  • 1¼ pound dried white beans (tarbais or cannellinis), soaked overnight
  • 2 onions, peeled, cut in half, one half reserved, the remainder cut into a large dice
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 bouquet garni (each containing 1 bay leaf, ¼ teaspoon thyme, 5 sprigs parsley and 10 black peppercorns)
  • 2 carrots, peeled, cut into rough ½- to ¾-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • ½ pound lamb shoulder, cut into a 1-inch dice
  • ½ pound pork, cut into a 1-inch dice
  • 1 piece duck confit (about 5 or 6 ounces)
  • ½ cup rendered duck fat
  • 1 quart rich chicken stock
  • 1½ pound garlicky pork sausage (in one piece)
  • ¾ cup panko or toasted breadcrumbs
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Soak beans overnight in cold water. To cook: In a pot large enough to fit, add the beans and their soaking water, one half of an onion (in one piece, studded with the cloves), 1 bouquet garni, ½ of the carrots and 3 smashed cloves of garlic. Add additional water to cover by about 1½ inch. Bring to a medium boil for 15 to 20 minutes, skimming off any foam. Lower heat to a simmer, add 1 tablespoon salt. Cook until the beans are not quite done, which could take from 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the beans and their condition. Add more hot water as necessary to maintain level.

2. While beans cook, in another large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 3 tablespoons duck fat over medium high. Brown the lamb cubes in individual batches, salt to taste and add duck fat if necessary. When browned, remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

3. In the same pan, saute the diced onion until barely colored. Add remaining garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add 1 teaspoon thyme and carrots; cook for another minute. Add tomato paste and sauté, stirring to incorporate for about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of the chicken stock and the remaining bouquet garni. Bring to a low boil. Add the browned meats and their juices, the whole piece of garlic sausage and the confit. Add enough stock to just cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for at least 1 hour, and up to 1½ hours.

4. When the beans are not quite done, remove and discard the clove-studded onion and bouquet garni. When the meats are done, take off heat, remove bouquet garni and discard. Remove confit and garlic sausage from the pot and reserve to a bowl to cool. With a slotted spoon, add beans and their cooking vegetables to the pot with the lamb and pork. Return pot to a low simmer.

5. When cool enough to handle, clean the duck meat from the confit and shred or cut into bite-sized pieces. Slice the garlic sausage into ¼-inch slices and halve each slice. Add the duck and sausage to the beans, lamb and pork; stir all to incorporate. Add more stock or bean cooking liquid to achieve a slightly soupy consistency. Maintain simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes, then remove from heat.

6. Transfer everything to a cassole or a large deep casserole, cover and refrigerate
2 hours to overnight, depending on whether you’re eating it today or tomorrow.

7. When ready to cook, bring the cassoulet to room temperature. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine breadcrumbs, paprika, ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper in a small bowl. Heat remaining duck fat (about 5 tablespoons). Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the cassoulet; drizzle with duck fat. Bake about 2 hours on a rack in the middle of the oven. After 2 hours, roughly break the breadcrumb crust with a spoon and return to the oven for another ½ hour. Serve hot.

Behind The Story

Type: Opinion

Opinion: Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

Dizney is a designer, art director and unrepentant sensualist. When the Cold Spring resident is not thinking about food, he is foraging for, cooking or eating it. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Food

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