Ariane shared her secrets to making great cassoulet at Kings Cooking Studio in Short Hills, NJ on Monday night. But it was not just cassoulet! Ariane talked about the simple techniques that are the backbone of the D’Artagnan lifestyle. Just the basic things a girl from Gascony knows how to do. She seared foie gras and served it with port and grape sauce…and spread medallion of foie gras on sliced bread… then seared duck breast and paired it with a balsamic-red wine reduction into which medallion of foie gras was stirred…and only then came the generous bowls of cassoulet. The folks that attended the class were not left hungry, that’s for sure! Did we mention that for dessert she offered French Kisses? At D’Artagnan, those are prunes soaked in Armagnac and then stuffed with mousse of foie gras.
The evening was filled with the conviviality that is so much a part of life (and eating!) in Southwest France. Ariane had a great time chatting with the students and answering their questions. We hope that the evening inspired them all to make cassoulet, sear foie gras and duck magret at home!
Thanks to the team at Kings Cooking Studio–Randi, Wendy and Steve–who were a delight to work with. We would be happy to come back for another class.
For those at home, enjoy the photos. We hope to see you at the next event!
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!