I have eaten a lot of cassoulet over the years and have a developed an understanding of what it should be: both rich and light, both crunchy and creamy, both earthy and bright and without a doubt, it should transport you immediately to Paris, even if you have never been there. What I want cassoulet to be and what I have experienced in most restaurants, at least here in America, is a gummy, dry pile of muck! I can’t imagine that the average person would want to bother making such a complicated dish when they may have never tasted the dish at its best.
This recipe is not easy, it is in fact maybe one of the most complicated, time consuming recipes you will ever make and is also the reason even restaurants don’t do it well. There a million easy cassoulet recipes out there, but what there isn’t is more authentic versions, so this is my attempt at the latter. There is a good chance you will read this blog and go “Are you kidding me, Shelley? I’ll never make this! But I know some of you will be up for a cassoulet culinary challenge. Sometime over the next year, you’ll carve out three days to cook, you’ll assemble a big group of friends who you know will show up with beautiful bottles of red Burgundy, some crunchy baguettes, a Tart Tatin and healthy appetites…. think Babette’s Feast. You’ll think of me, I hope, and make a comment on this blog thanking me for providing you with this crazy and amazing recipe!
I have to credit Paula Wolfert as her recipe was the basis for mine. It is a stunning recipe, yielding amazing results! With all due respect to Paula, I find her recipe a little hard to follow and the length of her recipe is hard to condense. When you do so, it gets confusing, and I'm guessing the people publishing Paula’s recipe wanted it condensed. I’ll try to be both brief and detailed in mine. This is also an extremely large recipe so you can easily feed 20 people with this. But if you are going to go through all of the work, make a giant batch of cassoulet! You can easily scale it down by dividing the recipe in half and that decision may be based off of your available cookware or bakeware. Now let's get cooking!
- 4 pounds pork shoulder blade chops or pork shoulder
- 1 pound of pork skin with a little fat attached. You should be able to get this from the butcher if you give them advance notice. If you make your own pancetta, you will have the skin from the pork belly to use here, I freeze mine so I have it when I need it.
- Salt and pepper
- 3 pounds dried Cannellini beans
If using pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch-thick by about 4 to 6-inch-long steaks. Length doesn’t really matter that much as the meat will break apart through the cooking process. Liberally salt and pepper the pork and the skin, cover and keep refrigerated for 12 to 24 hours.
Cover the beans with water and let soak overnight, they will double in size so plan accordingly with the size of your bowl.
- 4 ounces salt pork
- ½ cup duck fat - You can use the fat that is on the surface of the duck confit or buy some. If you have made your own confit, you’ll save the extra fat and use that. Sorry I’ll have to follow with a blog on how to make confit!
- 4 large carrots or 6 small ones, peeled and diced
- 3 large onions, peeled and diced
- 3 stalks of celery, sliced
- 8 ounces pancetta, diced
- 8 ounces fresh bacon, diced
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons fresh cracked black pepper, make sure it is coarsely cracked or it will be too strong
- 3 quarts really good chicken stock, if you have made your own duck confit you can make duck stock which is what I did.
- 4 ham hocks
- 2 heads garlic
- 4 ounces fresh thyme, tied into a bundle with twine
- 6 bay leaves
Drain the soaked beans. Put them in a 8-quart stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes, drain and set aside. This brief cooking helps us digest the beans more comfortably.
Put the salted pork skin and salt pork in a pot covered with water and boil until the skin is tender, about 30 minutes.
Put the salt pork in a bowl and refrigerate. You will use this on day 3.
Take the skin and cut it into 5-inch-long pieces and roll them into circles, like a snail and tie them with twine. Set aside. I know this ingredient seems strange, especially because the skin is ultimately removed and discarded but it helps with the gelatin development which is one of the keys to flavor and the crispy crunch on the cassoulet.
Heat a heavy-duty cast-iron French Oven or skillet over a moderate heat. The smaller the pan the more batches you will have to brown but do not overcrowd the pan. Heat your pan, then add enough duck fat to coat the pan. Take the pork you salted the day before, pat it dry and add it to the pan making sure there is space between each piece of meat, this will aide in browning. Brown the pork on each side, continue until all meat is browned. Remove all pork from the pan and set aside.
Add the diced carrot, onion and celery to the cast iron skillet the pork was cooked it, leave all the pork goodness in the pan as that will add flavor to the dish. Sauté for about 10 minutes over moderate heat.
Add the diced pancetta and bacon to the pan with the veggies. Sauté until you get a little brown on the meats, about 20 minutes.
Next mix the tomato, black pepper and stock into the pan. Arrange the pork evenly over the mixture in the pan, place the ham hocks, whole heads of garlic, thyme, bay leaves, pork skin rolls and partially cooked beans over the top.
Cover the pan and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until the beans and pork shoulder are tender.
Refrigerate the cassoulet until the next day. This allows the fat to separate out and the flavors to meld.
- 3 pounds duck confit
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 3 pounds of French-style garlic sausage, this can be hard to find but Johnsonville sometimes makes garlic sausage and most good butchers can make you a mild pork sausage seasoned lightly with garlic.
- 3 cups chicken or duck stock
- 2 cups fresh unseasoned breadcrumbs, Panko would also work well if you don’t make your own
Duck Confit I made
Take the cassoulet out of the refrigerator and skim off ½ cup of the fat from the top and set aside. Place the duck confit on the cassoulet heat over low. Once slightly warm, remove ham hocks, duck and whole bulbs of garlic.
Remove the ham hocks and confit and remove meat, discard skin, bones and cartilage and set aside.
Take the salt pork out of the fridge and dice it. Put the salt pork in the food processor and chop finely. Take the garlic and squeeze the soft cooked garlic out of it. Add that to the salt pork and process. Take this mixture and mix it into the cassoulet.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
You will now need to pick the baking dish or pan you are going to assemble and serve the cassoulet in. I would highly recommend earthen-ware pottery like Emile Henry or cast ion cookware like Le Creuset or Lodge, these materials will help in achieving the outstanding crust you want. I’m lucky enough to have a pan big enough to prepare the dish from start to finish. If you also have a large pan, you can just leave it in the pan you started with. Remember it is fine to use more than one dish if you can’t fit this massive recipe it into one. At this point, you will no longer need a lid and will bake the cassoulet uncovered.
Take the contents of the pan and convert to your baking pan and place it in the oven for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat and brown your sausage. Once evenly browned, cut them in half or even smaller if you like. If they aren’t fully cooked it is fine, they will finish in the oven.
Add the sausage, the ham hocks, duck confit and stock into the cassoulet and mix in just enough to combine but being careful not to break up the ingredients too much.
Drizzle the ½ cup of reserved fat over the top and cover with bread crumbs. Reduce oven to 275 and bake for another hour or until beautifully browned.
Remove from oven and rest at least 10 minutes before serving. Do not cover or the crust will get soggy.
This is a recipe as you might imagine would be pretty impossible to do in one of our regular cooking classes even though I have always wanted to teach it. I am always game so let me know if you would be up for a 3-day class like this; we would love to teach it! In the meantime, check out our Culinary Boot Camp if you are looking for more a professional cooking class experience. And if you want more French food, join us for:
- French Creperie Saturday, May 11 10am Merchandise Mart
- Paris in the Spring Saturday, May 18 7pm Merchandise Mart
- Paris in the Spring Friday, May 24 6pm Merchandise Mart
- Fabulous French Pastries Saturday, May 25 10am Lincoln Square
- Culinary Adventure: A Trip to Southern France 7pm Merchandise Mart