Classic Cassoulet

>> Friday, January 4, 2013

Classic Cassoulet

We love simmering stew on a cold evening, and right now in Chicagoland it's downright frigid. The day we made this casserole, we popped it in the oven after assembling it in a casserole pan. When we came back from a long evening walk in the woods, it was ready for the final basting, and the kitchen smelled so good I wanted to lick the walls. What a way to warm up!

At the end of every year, we like to inventory our freezer and pantry and use up things that have been in there a while. We found a great assortment of meats that were perfect for a big pot of cassoulet. So we pulled out our cookbooks and read up on the subject.

According to Julia Child and the Frugal Gourmet (Jeff Smith) cassoulet is a magnificent country dish of meat and beans from southwestern France. This area has a special place in Joe's heart, since he traveled throughout the Bordeaux region on a long wine-tasting trip. Since 1984, he stored a bottle of burgundy he bought from the famous winery Chateaux Margaux. He decanted it the night he asked me to marry him.

Julia and Jeff's cassoulet recipes are very intimidating. After a long introduction, Julia starts the recipe with the headline "A Note on the Order of Battle." Jeff suggests you read through the directions before proceeding, because you might get lost.

Oh dear. We made it much simpler than they did. We also omitted lamb or mutton because I don't like the taste of either. When you make this, choose whatever meats make you happy.

This recipe took 4 hours of elapsed time to finish.



2 cups dry navy, northern, or cannellini beans
1 lb pork loin, butt, or 1 1/2 lbs meaty pork neck bones
1/4 lb lean bacon or salt pork
1 bay leaf
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 lb beef stew meat or lamb, or 1 lb beef shanks
2 large onions, sliced
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch coins
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry white wine or vermouth
2 cups beef broth
1 lb Polish sausage
1 cup fresh bread crumbs


Put the beans in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and let them soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse.

Cut the pork into 2" pieces. Put the pork and beans together in a large stew pot and cover with water. Dice the bacon and add it to the pot. Stir in the bay leaf, garlic, thyme, and cloves. Bring to a boil, then lower it to a simmer and let it cook for 1 hour. Stir occasionally.

Brown the beef or lamb on all sides, then add to the bean pot. Stir in the onions, carrots, tomato paste, wine, and broth, and simmer for 1 hour.

If you used meat with bones, you can remove them at this stage, or leave the bones in place and let the diners remove the bones while eating. We chose to fish out the neck bones and beef shanks and remove the bones and connective tissues that we weren't going to eat.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the sausage into thin coins. Place half the bean mixture into a casserole dish or Dutch oven, then layer with half of the sausage. Layer the other half of the bean and sausages. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. With the back of a spoon, break the crust over the casserole and ladle some liquid over the crust. Continue baking until the casserole is thick and all the meats are tender and falling apart (about 15 to 30 minutes more). Serve hot.

Serves 6-8.


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