Cassoulet (oh not this again)

I’m going to make Cassoulet, not the fussy kind with duck confit and beans from northern France, just a simple bean casserole with three meats, chicken, sausage and hamhock and white or cannellini beans. All the recipes I’m reading have you brown the meats, then cook the beans separately and after they are tender, add in the meats and cook in the oven for 4 or so hours. Why not brown the meats, then add your beans and stock all at once and shove it in the oven? It’s supposed to be a time saving dish so you can go out and work in the garden, chase the kids, you know take care of life, while it cooks.

The traditional recipe made by actual real people in France is anything but fussy.

It is intendednto be put on in the morning and seen to once in a while whilst doing chores.

I showed my French friends the Dory Greenspan 3-day recipe and they laughed out loud.

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You can put it together however you want. As long as the beans are cooked through and you like it you’re good to go. That’s why a lot of the recipes have you cook the beans separately first. But, if you feel your beans skills are solid, go nuts.

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Why not use a pressure cooker for the beans and save 3 hours?

Jacques Pepin has a 30-minute version, I’d trust him too.

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Hmm, my bean skills? Not sure I have been skills. :slight_smile: I just figured that if I braise the meat with stock and beans for 4 or so hours, those beans will get cooked.

Pressure cookers are great for many dishes, but for what is essentially a braise, they are not my fav choice. Plus you don’t get all those wonderful aromas filling the house.

Thanks all.

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Do you have a typical recipe I can see online?

I’m not juniorballoon, but here is a Paula Wolfert recipe from her Cooking of Southwest France book. It is definitely complex, even though it assumes you already have the duck confit. I love Paula Wolfert and I have made a version of this several times, leaving out some of the fats. It is spectacular and if you already have duck confit, or are using duck legs not confited, and spread it out over several days, it actually doesn’t take that much time.

The meats are browned and simmered alone for 1.5 hours with stock. If you are starting with uncooked duck, it would go in with the other meats. Then the beans, which have soaked overnight, are first brought to a boil by themselves, then added to the simmering meats. You could skip that bring to a boil step and just added the soaked, drained beans. It all simmers together for 2 hours or until beans are done.

Then it is refrigerated overnight. This is to let the flavors meld and also the beans will continue absorbing some of the very flavorful liquids. This also allows the fat to solidify and you can remove some of it the next day if you want.

Next day, you skim off the top fat if desired, remove the meats, cut off bones and gristle and fatty parts, and cut the meats in bite-sized pieces. This makes it much easier to eat and digest. Step 7 could easily be skipped. Then you add the duck confit, if that is what you using, and bake the whole thing for 1.5 hours. Cook the sausage separately and place on top, then bake another hour.

Very true: all these ingredients and all the steps are not necessary to produce a good cassoulet. They do produce a spectacular one, however. It was worth it to me to try it a few times for very special occasions. I do think the several long, slow braises and overnight rest enhance the flavor a lot without a lot of active work time.

Slightly simpler cassoulet recipes are in Paula Wolfert’s World of Food and her Slow Mediterranean Kitchen.

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Okay, thanks! I actually have that book at home I believe… :slight_smile:

I was just asking to find out what could make the author suggest to separate boiling the beans from cooking the meats. The only thing I can think off, is not wanting the liquid from the boiled beans to end up in the final dish. That would make for a cleaner, more meat-centric final flavour profile.

I guess it depends on the type of beans. Some beans after being cooked in boiling water will leave a nice stock, while others you don’t want that liquid in another dish.

By the way, personally, I’d probably not cook this in the oven, but just on the stovetop.

I think some of it is about making sure that each component is cooked precisely (older beans might take longer than the time it takes to render some meats tender). Some of it is about trying to replicate that a cassoulet would have been put together with ingredients a cook would have had on hand, like previously made duck confit, that a more modern cook would need to make or procure before making the whole dish now.

I like the oven for this over stovetop, because when the beans cook in there partially covered they develop a lovely crust. Some recipes encourage you to develop and then break and stir in that crust a couple times before the dish is done. I think it helps with the overall flavor doing it that way (for me anyway).

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Oven, what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. So, I can see that now. I’d also agree that correct cooking times could be the reason for doing the beans separately, but then the recipe would dictate to add them at the end probably? Otherwise they would still cook further with the meats. That’s why I asked to see a recipe the OP is using.

Man, now you guys have me drooling over cassoulets… Maybe I should make one myself! :slight_smile:

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Maybe also look at Cholent recipes, which may be less fussy

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Yes, I add them at the end, as per this recipe:

There are tomatoes in the sauce for that recipe. Beans can be tough when cooked with something acid, like tomatoes, so cooking the items separately avoids this problem!

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Will have to try the Ansel recipe. Thanks for posting a link.

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It is totally worth the effort - but be warned it makes a ton! We ending up freezing about half of it for later meals!

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I love duck cassoulet.
I usually buy this excellent canned one at an annual holiday craft show in Toronto , made by a duck farm in Quebec .

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Cassoulet and Boston Baked Beans come from the same cooking tree, so to speak. Here in this article Daniel Gritzer says cook the beans first because molasses can inhibit the beans cooking.

"Bring the pot to a gentle simmer, then cook the beans until they’re done. I made the mistake early on in my testing of precooking them to just shy of doneness, and the result was an endless baking time due to the powerful effect of molasses. Take my word for it: You want the beans creamy and tender before they even go in the oven. "

I have read, as Amandarama points out, that tomatoes can make the beans tough. I don’t plan on adding any tomatoes, just the basics, a well minced mirepoix, bay leaf, meats (chicken legs.thighs, sausage, smoked ham hock), beans and a simple chicken stock. Hopefully nothing in that list will inhibit the beans. I mean, who doesn’t like an uninhibited bean!? If it does, I’ll have learned something and that’s good too.

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I learned miso also seems to keep the beans too firm if added before the beans are fully cooked.

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Another thought occurred, beans, even soaked beans, will absorb a certain amount of the cooking water. If cooked all together they will absorb some of the chicken stock. All good flavor wise, but it does alter the ratio of liquids needed to braise. I will take that into account as I check on it as it cooks. Most recipes mention breaking the crust that is forming to allow more of the braising liquid to caramelize on the surface, so it won’t really add to the labor, will just take note and add more stock if needed.

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Yes, Paula Wolfert’s recipe that I linked to earlier seems to be designed for the beans to absorb the stock and other liquids without overwhelming the beans. She is very meticulous about it: the beans are soaked overnight, and then drained, brought to boil alone with fresh water, simmered for a few minutes, and skimmed (the foam that often comes off dried beans; I’m guessing most people would skip this step and have one less pot to clean.) Then they are put into the stock/meats/tomato ragu that has already simmered for an hour, and the whole thing is simmered for another two hours, or until the beans are done, before being refrigerated overnight.

Her note to the cook specifies that the tomato acid is there precisely to keep the beans from cooking too rapidly, so they can stand up to the long braise and absorb more of the stock and meat flavors. It’s only one large plum tomato or 1 tbs of rich tomato paste, so just a touch of acid. This step too will seem like overload to many cooks.

When the complete cassoulet is assembled and baked the following day, she’s careful to specify putting all the solids in first, and then adding just enough of the liquid to cover the beans by about 1 inch (so the beans aren’t overloaded with liquid). I’ve made this recipe several times and the beans turned out very well every time, although they were purchased from different suppliers.

So checking on the liquid level and the texture of the beans throughout the baking is a very good point, start low and add more stock if needed.

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Very interesting point on the acid and overcooking. Even without pre-cooking the beans I was wondering about them getting over cooked. Beans only take about an hour to cook so even a 3 or 4 hour braise is plenty of time. I also like the flavor a bit of tomato would add and think I’ll risk a tbsp of tomato paste. :slight_smile: