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Cassoulet: Is It A Magnum Opus, Or An EZ Bean Casserole?

flow chart for making traditional cassoulet
Flickr user, Anthony Georgeff (CC-BY-NC-2.0)
flow chart for making traditional cassoulet

"Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba." - Julia Child

Traditional cassoulet, the rich casserole from the southwest of France, is not fast food.  Duck or goose must be disjointed, seasoned and cooked very slowly in its own fat; pork sausage or mutton, white beans, pork skin, tomato paste, beef stock, wine and herbs must be simmered in stages, assembled and topped with bread crumbs. Preparing a cassoulet is a multi-stage, two or three-day marathon that both Jon Jackson and Greg Patent have undertaken. Jon recalls:

"In one recipe I saw, you were advised very sternly as to what kind of oven to use ... and that you must be sure to use blackberry brambles as fuel."

This exactingly high bar had a short shelf life in the U.S., where "cassoulet" is no longer synoymous with confit. Cassoulet might mean the magnum opus of Castelnaudary, or a generic stew of white beans and any sort of protein.

Here's a tasty example of the latter: a chicken, sausage and bean dish that cooks up in less than an hour. Brown some chicken thighs in a skillet. Season them with allspice, garlic and other herbs. Combine this with canned cannellini beans, chopped carrots, celery, Italian sausage and an apple and simmer it all in chicken stock. Add chopped kale towards the end of cooking.

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 1/5/20. Listen weekly on the radio at 9:53 a.m. Sundays, or via podcast.)

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