In recent years cassoulet has really taken off, and we couldn’t be happier. It’s downright common to see cassoulet on menus and in magazines these days….in all manner of variations. There’s even a recently-published book of essays called “The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage.” We don’t promise cassoulet miracles, but we can help to dispel your fears about making it at home. It’s a lot easier than you might imagine.
You can think of cassoulet as the French version of chili: A slow-cooked bean stew studded with tender meat that is best devoured by a crowd. It’s stick-to-your-ribs fare, and French towns compete for best cassoulet, much like a chili cook-off.
For more on the history of cassoulet, and some great photos, check this post.
Ariane serving cassoulet at a cooking class.
We admit to being somewhat purist about our cassoulet, but that’s because Ariane comes from Auch, in Gascony, where a specific recipe is followed. In cassoulet country (as Southwest France might be called), different versions are made in different towns, and the true recipe is much disputed. Some will use lamb (a no-no in our rule book), or crumbs on the top (zut alors!), while others will–and this is only in America–use low fat meats in an attempt to save calories. Blasphemy!
But first there is the question of the bean. The D’Artagnan version of cassoulet requires French heirloom beans: The haricot Tarbais. This broad white bean has evolved perfectly for the needs of cassoulet. With a thin, delicate skin and sweet, milky flesh, the Tarbais bean is a perfect match for the rich duck leg confit and sausages our recipe contains. And the magic of Tarbais beans is that most of them will remain whole during cooking, but just enough will burst and those will thicken the cassoulet during its many hours in the oven. We won’t tell you that cannellini beans are forbidden, but consider that we began importing Tarbais beans because Ariane found no substitute for them in America.
Heirloom Haricot Tarbais
We use only duck and pork meats, and nothing smoked. Duck leg confit, duck and Armagnac sausage, ventrèche (a French take on pancetta) and pork and garlic sausage are the meaty ingredients in our recipe, each offering a unique texture. And we never, ever use crumbs on top. With a generous amount of duck fat, cassoulet will form a natural crust of cooked beans. Ariane was taught to break the crust several times as the cassoulet cooks, to thicken the layer of crunchy beans on top.
With all these “rules” cassoulet might seem intimidating. But there’s really nothing hard about preparing a cassoulet feast. Our recipe kit provides all you need (even a French clay bowl for cooking if you like, though any sizable Dutch oven or heavy pot will do), and our easy-to-follow recipe takes the mystery out of the process.
Our cassoulet recipe kit with clay bowl for cooking.
Plus, Ariane and her good friend, Chef Pierre Landet, made a video together to show you how simple it is to make a competitive-quality cassoulet on your first try.
Really, if you can make chili, you can make cassoulet. It’s a one-pot meal that cooks slowly in the oven, with only a little attention needed. And when it’s done, you can invite family and friends to a filling and satisfying meal. The nature of cassoulet is convivial, so get a few bottles of Madiran or Malbec and set out the chairs. Any accompaniments should be light, like a green salad and fruit for dessert.
It’s that time of year again, our Cassoulet Recipe Kit is on SALE! For a limited time only, save 15% off our signature kit, with or without the authentic French bowl. In honor of this ‘it only happens twice a year’ sale we’d like to share one of our favorite videos. Here’s Ariane making a Gascon-style cassoulet with Chef Pierre Landet of Felix in New York City.
We so look forward to this time of year. The days are short and chilly, we’re curling up in cozy sweaters and craving cassoulet. The classic duck and bean stew from Southwest France is a favorite around here, especially during the autumn months. Fairly easy to prepare and incredibly satisfying, cassoulet should be a staple in every foodie’s recipe repertoire. And we’ve made it even more accessible with our Cassoulet Recipe Kit, recipe tips and how-to video.
T-minus-2-days until the NY Giants face the New England Patriots in the 2012 Super Bowl. As everyone knows, we’re not only interested in the game – we’re in it for the grub! For the last few days we covered snacks, beer and sandwiches but what about main dishes? Here are some suggestions for festive (and filling) fare for your Super Bowl gathering!
We LOVE obscure food holidays. Surprisingly, there’s one for just about every day on the calendar. Our friends over at The Nibble put together a list and what do you know?! Today is National Bean Day – the perfect day to enjoy our versatile French Coco Tarbais Beans.
Dried coco tarbais beans, ready to soak and cook.
The Coco Tarbais bean is one of the great exports of Southwest France, with a history as rich and wonderful as its flavor. These large white beans come from the village Tarbes and are grown within sight of the Pyrénées Mountains. Known as the best bean for the traditional cassoulet of the region,they’re also tremendous additions to summer salads, picnic foods, and season-agnostic appetizers. Plus, Tarbais beans are high in fiber and nutritional benefits as well. Richly satisfying, versatile, and not bad for you? Now that’s a tradition we can sink our spoons into.
Young coco bean vines wind up corn stalks in Tarbes.
Tarbais beans were introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus, and they flourished in the sunlight of Southwest France, where they developed their own distinctive characteristics. They’re planted in early May alongside corn, and the two crops grow together, with the bean vines using the corn stalks as support. During the season, Tarbais beans are picked and sold fresh, but many are left to dry on the vines and are painstakingly hand harvested and sold dried. Just as true Champagne hails only from its namesake region, only beans grown and handpicked in the protected geographical French region may be called Tarbais Beans and are identified as “Label Rouge” on their packaging.
Our Cassoulet Recipe Kit with an authentic cassoulet bowl.
Cassoulet It would be impossible to talk about haricot Tarbais and not discuss the traditional Gascon cassoulet. This dish has ignited passions in the Southwest of France for generations, each town claiming their version to be the one true recipe for cassoulet. Whatever the recipe (we, of course, believe ours is the best), cassoulet is bean and meat dish that cooks low and slow for hours, and feeds a crowd, often for several meals. Cassoulet tastes even better the day after it is cooked, as some kind of alchemy occurs when it is refrigerated for 24 hours and then reheated. To make a cassoulet, our French Coco Tarbais Beans – Label Rouge, of course – are the first place to start. The large, white bean has a thin skin allowing it to cook easier than other beans while still retaining its flavor and composition for the slow, mouthwatering stew. Beyond the beans, a cassoulet includes cured meats like Duck Confit; flavor-happy Duck & Armagnac Sausage, Garlic Sausage, and Ventrèche, or French pancetta; and a touch of Duck and Veal Demi-Glace and Duck Fat.
Where's your fork? Dig in!
We offer an easy-to-follow Cassoulet Recipe Kit, a perfect way to establish your own cassoulet tradition. Cassoulet makes a great holiday meal, and is best enjoyed with a few bottles of wine from the Southwest France (we like Madiran in particular).
Beyond the Bowl of Cassoulet Aside from the slow-cooked Gascon stew, these versatile beans find their way into many dishes, most of which are quite simple to prepare.
Tarbais bean soup with heritage ham.
For a spicy, easy sausage dinner, we like to grill lamb merguez sausage and serve atop wilted spinach, Tarbais beans and a light mustard dressing. For an extra kick, stir some harissa into the dressing. Try our ground buffalo chili with Tarbais beans for a unique texture and flavor. Tarbais beans pair well with pork, so our recipe for porkchops with beans and escarole is a natural fit, and will likely become a go-to meal in your kitchen. Tarbais beans make for great appetizers, too. Puree them with Black Truffle Butter, and place atop a crostini; or puree with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley and serve with homemade oregano pita chips.
Tarbais beans on crostini with herbs and parmesan.
No matter the season, stewpot, or picnic occasion, Tarbais beans are a welcome addition to any table.
Perhaps there is no dish in Southwest France more iconic, cherished, and controversial than the cassoulet.
Cassoulet made from our recipe kit, sent in from a customer, Karine.
The name cassoulet comes from the word cassole, referring to the traditional, conical clay pot in which it is cooked (and which the potters of the village of Issel perfected). Cassoulet was originally a food of peasants–a simple assemblage of what ingredients were available: white beans with pork, sausage, duck confit, gizzards, cooked together for a long time. And although it is essentially a humble stew of beans and meat, cassoulet is the cause of much drama and debate. André Daguin, a famous chef of Gascony (and Ariane’s father) says, “Cassoulet is not really a recipe, it’s a way to argue among neighboring villages of Gascony.” Much like chili cook-offs in Texas, cassoulet cooking competitions are held, not only in France, but now even in the United States.
Sun rays shine through the window in this potter's studio in Southwest France. Traditional cassoles air-dry as they wait to be fired and glazed.
The dish has developed an almost mythological importance to the people of Gascony and Languedoc. Legend has it that cassoulet was first created during the Hundred Years War. The story goes that as the British laid siege to Castelnaudary, its people gathered up what ingredients they had left for a large stew to nourish and bolster their defenders. The meal was so hearty and fortifying that the soldiers handily dispelled the invaders, saving the city from occupation. While likely not the true account of the origin of cassoulet, this story establishes the importance of the dish as the symbolic defender of French culture.
Vintage postcard from Languedoc.
The origin of cassoulet is probably the result of more global interactions than the Castelnaudary legend would suggest. Some credit the Arabs for inspiring the dish. In the 12th century they introduced a mutton stew—perhaps the precursor to cassoulet. After Columbus’s voyage the white bean from the Americas was introduced to France and subsequently, Catherine de Medici, queen of France, facilitated the importation of the white bean, which started to be cultivated extensively throughout southwest France.
Cassoulet bubbling in a fire-burning oven in France.
Since its composition is based originally on availability, cassoulet varies from town to town in Southwest France. In Castelnaudary, cassoulet is prepared with duck confit, pork shoulder and sausage. In Carcassonne a cassoulet will typically have mutton, and the Toulouse version has duck confit, Toulouse sausage, and is breaded on top. In Auch, only duck or goose meat is used, and crumbs are never added on top. Even the type of bean is a point of debate. In the southern areas, it must be the Coco, or Tarbais bean, a large and somewhat flat white bean that grows at the foot of the Pyrénées Mountains. A little further north they use flageolet beans. But everyone agrees that, come spring, the last and best cassoulet of the season is made with freshly picked fava beans.
Selection of cassoulet in the market.
The sanctity of cassoulet is taken so seriously that there is even a brotherhood–the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet – that defends the glory and quality of cassoulet in Castelnaudary, in part by conducting surprise taste tests of the cassoulets offered by local chefs. And there is an Academie Universelle du Cassoulet, whose members promote the cassoulet and its significant cultural heritage (they even have a theme song).
Plaque on the outside of a residence in Castelnaudary.
In 2011, France-based British actor, David Lowe, pulled a prank on the people of Castelnaudary putting their pride and defense of the dish to the test. He set up shop in the town market and dressed in British regalia, waving the Union Jack, attempted to hawk British Cassoulet. Needless to say, the people of Castelnaudary fiercely proteced their status as the unofficial world capital of Cassoulet and the video went viral.
Originally the cassoulet was cooked in the hearth, or a bread baker’s oven, using residual heat. The low heat allowed the beans to break down and all the flavor and fat of the meat to melt into the beans.This can be replicated in the modern kitchen and the process will take only a few hours. Some think cooking a cassoulet is intimidating, but in fact it is quite simple. When making a cassoulet use as many confit meats as possible, which will impart the most flavor, but use only unsmoked bacon, like ventrèche. Don’t hesitate to cut open the upper crust to check if the cassoulet is drying out too much inside as it cooks. If so, add some liquid, like stock or demi-glace. The idea is to form a crusty top on the cassoulet, while maintaining a moist center, so breaking the film that forms as the beans cook is a good thing. Some cookbooks claim that it must be broken seven times to get the perfect cassoulet, but even breaking it and allowing it to reform twice will create a crusty and delicious finish on top (no crumbs needed!). Click here for our version!
Here’s a tasty tune to get you cooking!
New Bumpers Jazz Revival Band playing Cassoulet Stomp!
This rich, heavy bean dish is best enjoyed in cold weather, with a group of family or friends. Part of the magic of a cassoulet is the conviviality that seems always to surround it at the table. Nobody makes just a little cassoulet, so it will generally feed a crowd. The satisfying flavors are complemented by the wines of the Southwest region. A deep-red Madiran is considered the ideal wine to drink with cassoulet, as they both resonate with the same essence of terroir—“sense of place.” One needs little else than a thick slice of country-style bread to accompany cassoulet. And plenty of the aforementioned Madiran wine.
We're ready to dig in!
As Julia Child, the original American who went to Paris and brought back a culinary revolution, memorably said, “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.” Bon Appetit!