When I was first learning to cook, I was game to try anything that sounded fancy and impressive, irrespective of the grunt work involved. I had time on my hands, lazy weekends with nothing to do but visit the farmers’ markets and make a mess in my kitchen.
Cassoulet was one of my early dishes. With loads of slow-cooked beans and plenty of pork fat, it’s the kind of food that speaks my language.
My first attempt was a several day affair. I had to source the salt pork, boneless lamb shoulder, and fresh pork skin. I made my own chicken broth, and pre-soaked my beans. Although I couldn’t get my hands on real Toulouse sausage and didn’t make my own Duck confit, it was a decent first try.
And it was good. A hardened French peasant might have questioned my technique, but I’m certain that I could have fooled most people on this side of the Atlantic.
If you’re eager to try your hand at authentic cassoulet, I recommend the book Real Stew by Clifford Wright. Along with the cassoulet, it’s full of inspiring stew recipes from around the world, from Bedouin Lamb and Mushroom Stew to Veal Paprikash and Czech-style Goulash. And of course, there’s a fantastic selection of chili recipes, which, have inspired me to make this, and this, and this. It’s one of my dog-eared, wine-splashed favorites.
Now I’m guessing that most people don’t have the desire or the time to spend 3 days preparing a dish. Even Clifford Wright’s quick cassoulet takes serious effort. But I don’t want you to miss out on making this dish at home because a simple version can be made in an hour. I make mine with ingredients that you’ll likely have on hand. No Toulouse sausage, no pork skin. Just raid your pantry and most of the items should be there.
Flavorful sausage is a must. I’m lucky enough to have a butcher in the neighborhood who makes some of the best sausage in the city – Cotechino with parmesan, Lamb Merguez, Irish bangers, Wild Boar. For this recipe, I used his famous Porchetta sausage flavored with fennel, sage, and bay leaf. The sausage gives this dish most of its flavor, so if you’re using cardboard, your final dish will taste like cardboard.
Along with the support cast of good smoked bacon, white wine, baby white beans and fresh bread crumbs, it’s one of those meals that you can’t really screw up.
If you screw it up, put an egg on it.