Slow Food For SLOW Living: Cassoulet

Being inspired by the scene in the movie Gigi, where Grandmama easily coerces the handsome and rich playboy, Gastone to staying for dinner with the promise of her famous Cassoulet, my Mom and I have always wanted to try this dish. When Ira gave me the Le Creuset Casserole pan for my birthday, my mom decided the time was now. She asked me to bring it home for Christmas break so we could finally try this dish.

Cassoulet is a rustic slow cooked French dish, which you can derive from its name is closely related to a casserole. Though very similar, the differences between a cassoulet and a casserole are very distinct; a cassoulet, must be pronounced (cass-ou-lay) with a haughty accent and be made with countless more hours futzing around in the kitchen then the Campbells soup based American casseroles. I jest! Well not about the how time consuming part. To take a few short cuts and make this recipe more readily accessible, we’ve substituted more easily to find ingredients so I warn you this is not entirely authentic French cuisine. On with the recipe:

Serves 4-6
  • 1 c. diced yellow onions
  • 1 c. diced carrots
  • 1 c. diced celery
  • 1 c. parsnips peeled and diced
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 c. dry white beans
  • 3 c. chicken stock/broth
  • bouquet garni: see below
  • 2 lbs chicken thighs and legs (you want to use dark meat, do not substitute chicken breasts)**
  • 1 lbs bratwurst (uncooked)
  • 1 lbs pork butt**
  • 1 pint canned whole tomatoes -or- 1 28 oz. can tomatoes
  • 5 garlic cloves1/4 c. apple cider vinager
  • 1 c. bread crumbs
  • 1/2 c. chicken stock (total of 3 1/2 cups needed for recipe)
  • 1/4 c. fresh parsley chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pinch black pepper
  • 1-2 large tomatoes cut into 6 wedges per tomato for topping
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
Suggestions for Bouquet Garni:
  • small bunch fresh Parsley
  • 4-5 sprigs Thyme
  • 2-3 Bay Leafs4-6 peppercorns
**Authentic Cassoulet recipes call for lamb and duck, but we have substituted pork and chicken to be more economical as well as save time. Duck is all dark meat, so the dark meat of chicken is a an appropriate substitute. The white meat of the breasts is not suggested.

Dice onions, celery, carrots and parsnips. Sweat vegatbles in 2 Tbs. olive oil on low for about 15 minutes until softened but not until browned.

Add white wine to vegetables to deglaze pan. add beans and 3 c. of chicken stock to pan along with the bouquet garni.

Wrap your herbs in a small piece of Cheesecloth and tie with a string. The cheesecloth will allow the flavors to infuse with your broth and allow you to easily remove your herbs when done. The herbs and amounts listed above are just suggestions. You can add or substitute whatever herbs you have around. Its best to use fresh and not dried herbs.

Bring pan to a boil and simmer covered over reduced heat for 30 minutes.

While beans/vegetables cook:

In a food processor, chop 5 cloves of garlic and mix with 1/2 cup of remaining chicken stock. Set aside.

Brown chicken pieces over medium heat until each side is a reddish brown. (When browning, we are not fully cooking, just prepping so don’t worry if chicken isn’t wholly cooked). Drain reserving 2 Tbs of chicken fat/grease. If there isn’t enough, add a bit of olive oil.

“Brown” brat wursts in chicken fat until brown on both sides. Remove sausages and set aside.

“Brown” pork over medium heat in chicken/sausage grease. When Pork is browned, add garlic and chicken stock mixture and simmer for 5 minutes to deglaze pan.

Dice 1/2 of the canned tomatoes and set aside.

After 30 minutes remove beans/vegetables from heat. Remove the bouquet garni. Drain beans, reserving the liquid and allow beans/vegetables to cool. Beans will be firm and not totally cooked yet.

Combine the diced and whole tomatoes along with the browned pork and garlic sauce to the bean/vegetable mixture.

In a large casserole lay out half the bean mixture. On top, lay out half the browned chicken. Layer with the rest of the beans and top with the rest of the chicken. Pour over mixture 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar as well as the reserved bean liquid. Fill until liquid is within 1/4″ of the top layer of chicken. Sprinkle 1/3 c. bread crumbs over the mixture.

Bake at 375 for 1 hour. After 1 hour, fold crusty bread crumbs into the cassoulet and sprinkle another 1/3 c. bread crumbs and bake for one more hour. Repeat after 2nd hour: Turning crust into cassoulet again. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 c. bread crumbs. Lay browned sausages and tomato wedges on top of cassoulet and bake 1 more hour.

Ganish with Gremolata made with lemon garlic and parsley. Breath a deep sigh of relief because it is FINALLY time to eat. And of course: Serve with wine!

My sister, Emily, using the new corkscrew she got for my Mom for Xmas.

If you’ve made to this point in the post, I am impressed. I don’t know how many of you are going to read all this. If you have, you should leave a comment like one would carve their initials in the stone at the top of a high mountain peak to mark your achievement.

I have to admit, my Mom did almost all the work, as I had been out late the night before partying in Detroit with my cousins. I only browned some of the meat. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started writing this recipe and didn’t find out about all the little steps until I was too far in to give up the post. As always, I didn’t understand how much work goes into my Mother’s endeavors until its too late. So thank you Mom for allowing me to be all hung over while you did all the work. The dish was really delicious!

Although this doesn’t fit in with our mission statement of Slow Food for “Fast” Living, it definitely is from scratch. Though time consuming, the recipe isn’t really all that hard; basically you’re just browning meat, cooking beans in a broth with vegetables and then layering them together to slow bake in the oven. Please don’t let any of the fancy terminology like bouquet garni and gremolata intimidate you if this is your first forey into this kind of dish.

As I said above, this isn’t a super authentic version which would have duck, lamb and fresh tomatoes instead of canned, but we did what we could to make it easier for the average person. For a more “authentic” recipe, this one gives you all the measurements in metric so you can feel very European. Don’t worry vegetarians, we’ve got one for you too!

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