Sitting at my desk on Sunday I got an email from a friend in Sonoma that was busy building a proper Cassoulet. Looking out the window watching the blue sky unload a snow flurry, this seemed like a really good idea. Cassoulet has always been one of my favorite comfort foods. I am not sure that this doesn’t have something to do with my family’s lineage to France, or that fact that I simply like white bean stews. As the story goes Dr. Francois Le Baron arrived in Buzzards Bay via shipwreck and became the first doctor in Plymouth Rock. Generations later his ancestors headed to Quebec and finally landed in California where my father was born. My dad used to tell me stories about taking the wagon from Valley Ford to Occidental to have dinner at the Basque Occidental Hotel for 25 cents.
Cassoulet is originally from Castelnaudary in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France. The dish traditionally consists of white haricot beans and a variety of meats. The Cassoulet is always slow cooked and will have at least a few meats like pork, sausage, duck, goose and lamb along with onions, carrots, garlic and fresh herbs. Originally a peasant food, the Cassoulet was added to, as leftovers became available. You can still go to Le Central restaurant in San Francisco and order their Cassoulet that was started over 38 years ago. They continue to add more white beans, wine, meats and fresh herbs daily to their original started some 14 thousand days ago.
When I make Cassoulet I soak my beans overnight. I then start with the onions, carrots and garlic in a pan until the onions are translucent. I then add in the beans, crushed tomatoes and herbs (parsley, bay leaves, cloves, pepper corns and thyme). I usually will grill assorted meats on the BBQ to get the smokey flavor that would come from cooking in a cast iron pot on a fire. Chop up the meat and add to the mixture and simmer as long as possible. I tend to add red wine and bullion to bring out the flavors. Each Cassoulet is different so feel free to add your own favorites. I have found that leeks are a nice addition and even a bit of duck pate in case you don’t have leftover duck in the fridge.
The Cassoulet should be served with a simple green salad, lots of crusty French bread an adequate supply of red wine. Since I now know what is for dinner and it is starting to get late I may have to cheat time a bit today. The bottom line here is start your veggies, fire up the grill and once the vegetables sweat, add good canned white beans, tomatoes and fresh herbs, while this is simmering go out and grill your meat to rare, chop up and add to you stew. Try to simmer for at least an hour. The best thing about this is, your left over’s will be better later in the week.
The sun is out again, I’m off to the store. I hope you enjoy this classic comfort dish. Salute!