What is cassoulet, I hear you cry? Sounds a bit foreign to me.
Yes, it's French. Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton), pork skin (couennes) and white haricot beans.
The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides. Nowadays cassoulet is enjoying something of a revival and lots of posh restaurants are presenting cassoulets with their own unique twist, such as salmon cassoulet.
There are quite a few regional variations. The best-known of these is the cassoulet from Castelnaudary, which advertises itself as "Capital of Cassoulet", Toulouse, and Carcassonne. They're all made with white beans (haricots blancs or lingots), instead of the medieval broad bean, and duck or goose confit, meat and sausages. In the Toulouse version, the meats are pork and mutton, the latter frequently a cold roast shoulder. The Carcassonne remix of this is similar, but doubles the portion of mutton and occasionally replaces the duck with partridge. Castelnaudary's cassoulet uses a duck confit instead of mutton. Traditionally, the whole shebang is topped by fried bread cubes and cracklings.
You can also find cassoulet in France in cans and these can be found in supermarkets and grocery stores across the country. These cassoulets vary in price and quality. The cheapest ones contain only beans, tomato sauce, sausages, and bacon because it would be cost-prohibitive to include duck or goose. More expensive versions are usually cooked with goose fat and will likely include Toulouse sausages, lamb, goose, or duck confit.
Haute cuisine versions require mixing pre-cooked roasted meats with beans that have been simmered separately with aromatic vegetables, but this runs counter to cassoulet's peasant origins. In the process of preparing the dish it is traditional to deglaze the pot from the previous cassoulet in order to give a base for the next one. This has led to stories of a single original cassoulet being extended for years or even decades. Those crazy Frenchies, eh? Just kidding, guys - we love ya.
Many culinary traditions have similar techniques for slow cooking beans in a covered vessel. Examples include Feijoada, Fabada Asturiana, and baked beans. The Hungarian-Jewish solet and Eastern European cholent are similar bean dishes, and are also frequently cooked in combination with smoked poultry, especially goose leg, but a definitive relationship has not been established.
Anyhoo, who's up for a little recipe?
Cassoulets by their very nature are perfectly suited for making in a crock-pot/slow-cooker. Here's one adapted from the Williams-Sonoma catalogue, with a bit of a Spanish twist.
Crock Pot Cassoulet
1 1/2 c white beans (Great Northern or similar)
2 slices thick bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1.5 lb bones rib end pork roast, cut into about 8 large pieces
salt & pepper
1 large onion, peeled & chopped
1 c dry white wine
2 T tomato paste
1 14oz can whole plum tomatoes, drained & coarsely chopped
1 c chicken broth
12oz chorizo sausage links, cut in half lengthwise & then into bite-sized pieces
1/2 head of garlic, cloves peeled & cut in half
1 T canola oil
1/2 c panko
2 T fresh parsley, chopped plus extra for garnish
The day before making the cassoulet pick over your beans & put them in water to soak for 24 hours. Drain & set aside. Or, if you feel like cheating, just buy the canned ready-to-go version.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat cook the bacon until crisp. Remove from the pan & drain on a paper towel, leave the bacon fat in the pan. Set the bacon aside until later.
Generously salt & pepper the pork. Put into the hot skillet & cook until brown on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove & set aside. Add the onion & a little salt to the pan. Cook until the onion & starting to brown & soft, about 7 minutes. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Let the wine & onions simmer until reduced by half, about 8 minutes.
Put the wine & onions into the crock pot. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste & chicken broth. Add the pork, sausage & garlic. Set the crock pot to low & cook for about 7 hours, the beans should be tender & the pork should easily fall apart
Heat the canola oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the panko & cook while stirring until golden brown. Season with salt & pepper. Gently fold the panko & parsley into the crock pot. Turn the crock pot off & let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Serve garnished with more parsley & the crispy bacon.
Makes 6 servings.
Now then, what's the new Name This Food! food?
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