Dish of the Week: Cassoulet

Dish of the Week: CassouletEXPAND
Photo by N Wong

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re sharing a French classic: cassoulet.

Originating in the south of France in the province once known as Languedoc, cassoulet is a slow-cooked stew or casserole made with white beans, pork rind and meat— typically duck, pork sausage or goose. The dish is named after a cassole, or a large, deep earthen pot that traditionally has an inverted cone shape and works as both a cooking and a serving vessel. When baked, the bubbling casserole develops a deeply caramelized, full-flavored crust.

Though it has peasant origins and is basically a farmer’s bean stew, that hardly describes the rich, complex flavors that cassoulet shows off.  There are several varieties, one more decadent than the next; some incorporate goose fat, duck confit, lamb and saucisse de Toulouse, fresh sausages originating in the city of Toulouse. Other variations use cuts of meat that are easier to come by, including chicken, pork sausage and salt pork.

This recipe, from Serious Eats, swaps in chicken thighs and legs for the more traditional duck or goose, because of both its availability and its cost (it is a peasant dish, after all). Store-bought duck fat is added to bring the traditional “duckiness” to the forefront.

Traditional French Cassoulet

Ingredients serves 6 to 8
1 pound dried cannellini beans
Kosher salt
1 quart homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
3 packets (3/4 ounces) unflavored gelatin*
2 tablespoons duck fat (optional)
8 ounces salt pork, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
6 to 8 pieces of chicken thighs and drumsticks, or 4 whole chicken leg quarters
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound garlic sausage (2 to 4 links depending on size)
1 large onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
1 carrot, unpeeled, cut into 3-inch sections
2 stalks celery, cut into 3-inch sections
1 whole head garlic
4 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
6 cloves
*If using homemade chicken stock that already has lots of gelatin (it should thicken and gel when chilled), you can omit the unflavored gelatin

Directions

In a large bowl, cover beans with 3 quarts water and add 3 tablespoons salt. Stir to combine and let sit at room temperature overnight. Drain and rinse beans and set aside.

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and preheat oven to 300°F. Place stock in a large liquid measuring cup and sprinkle gelatin over the top. Set aside. Heat duck fat (if using) in a large Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add salt pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside. (If not using duck fat, cook pork with no additional fat.)

Season chicken pieces with pepper (do not add salt) and place skin side-down in now-empty pan. Cook without moving until well-browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Flip chicken pieces and continue cooking until lightly browned on second side, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to bowl with salt pork.

Add sausages and cook, turning occasionally, until well-browned on both sides. Transfer to bowl with salt pork and chicken. Drain all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot.

Add onions to pot and cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until onions are translucent but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add drained beans, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, cloves and stock/gelatin mixture. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce to low, cover Dutch oven and cook until beans are almost tender but retain a slight bite, about 45 minutes.

Using tongs, remove carrots, celery, parsley, bay leaves and cloves and discard. Add meats to pot and stir to incorporate, making sure that the chicken pieces end up on top of the beans with the skin facing upwards. Beans should be almost completely submerged. Transfer to oven and cook, uncovered, until a thin crust forms on top, about 2 hours, adding more water by pouring it carefully down the side of the pot as necessary to keep beans mostly covered.

Break crust with a spoon and shake pot gently to redistribute. Return to oven and continue cooking, stopping to break and shake the crust every 30 minutes until you reach the 4 1/2-hour mark. Return to oven and continue cooking undisturbed until the crust is deep brown and thick, about 5 to 6 hours total.

Serve immediately.


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