Cassoulet My Way

Serves 6–8

Beans

Cook’s note: French tarbais or flagelot beans are best, but Great Northern or cannellini beans are easier to find, and work well. What’s most important is to buy from a source that sells high-quality dried beans that are not more than one year old. Rancho Gordo products, available by mail-order or at Edwin’s Butcher Shop, on Buckeye Road, are a good choice. Mediterranean Imported Foods and Urban Herbs at the West Side Market also are reliable suppliers.

  • 1 pound dried beans
  • 1 large onion, studded with 4 whole cloves
  • 1 stalk celery, with leaves
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ bunch whole fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, leaves and stems

Rinse the beans. Spread on a towel and remove any bits of stone or grit. In a container, cover with cold water, and soak them overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, drain the beans, and place them in a large pot. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove pot from heat. Drain the beans, and rinse them in cold water. Wipe the pot to remove any scum or sediment. Return beans to the pot, and once again, cover with cold water. Cook over high heat, skimming off any foam as it appears. When the water comes to a boil, reduce heat.

Add the clove-studded onion, celery, garlic, salt, dried herbs, and parsley. Cover and simmer gently until beans are soft, but still firm, and not mushy. They will finish cooking when the cassoulet is baked. Remove from heat and drain. Save the cooking water. When the beans are cool, remove celery, parsley, and bay leaves. Beans can be prepared a day or two in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

Meats

Cook’s note: Various cuts of meat can be used for roasting, but they need to have some fat in and on them. Don’t trim it off. Larger pieces of meat and poultry can be purchased, roasted ahead and used for a meal. Reserve the ½ pound needed for the cassoulet in the refrigerator or freezer, depending on how long it will be stored, along with the drippings from the cooking and/or any gravy you make with them. A mild, garlicky sausage (but not Italian) works best, and there are many varieties to choose from. Check what’s available at your local butcher. Some of my favorites include Ohio City Provisions, Saucisson, Edwin’s Butcher Shop, or the West Side Market.

  • ½ pound boneless pork shoulder
  • ½ pound boneless lamb shoulder
  • ½ pound poultry (fresh duck or turkey thigh)
  • 1 pound fresh pork sausage (not smoked)
  • 1 scant tablespoon olive oil

Lightly season and roast pork and lamb, as usual, until meats reach an internal temperature of 140°. Let rest. When cool, cut in bite-size pieces. If using whole duck or breasts only, roast to internal temperature of 135°, or 165° for thighs and legs, which also applies to turkey thighs. Let rest, and cut into small pieces when cool.

Slice sausage into rounds. Brown in olive oil, using a deep saute pan. Remove sausage with tongs or a slotted spoon. Combine with pork, lamb, and poultry, and set aside. Use the same pan and the remaining fat to prepare the sauce.

Sauce

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • Meat drippings
  • ½ cup bean cooking liquid
  • 1 28-ounce can tomato purée
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce or anchovy paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions, garlic, carrot, and celery in the sausage fat remaining in the pan, plus the olive oil, scraping up any bits of meat stuck to the bottom. When soft, lower heat and add wine, tomato puree, drippings, bean water and fish sauce, stirring to combine. Simmer uncovered over low heat until sauce begins to thicken, about 10–15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Assembling And Cooking The Cassoulet

  • 1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon melted duck fat or olive oil

Preheat oven to 325°. Select a large heavy ceramic bowl, enameled cast-iron casserole, or Dutch oven. Put a little sauce in the bottom. Add beans, then meats and poultry, and repeat in alternating layers, ending with meats. Pour in all the sauce, plus enough of the reserved bean water so the casserole is ¾ full. Save remaining bean water to use during cooking if needed or when reheating the cassoulet.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top. Drizzle with the melted duck fat or olive oil. Bake, uncovered for about 2 hours. Can be served immediately, but flavor is even better the next day. Cool, store covered in refrigerator, and reheat.