This is not the proper way to make Cassoulet. This recipe will however get cassoulet on your table in about 30 minutes – 45 minutes if you’re a procrastinator or are styling ingredients for a photo shoot. With Languedoc origins from the Southwest of France, historically cassoulet is not a quick meal to prepare and it is said the best cassoulet can only be made by a farmer’s wife.
The word cassoulet comes from the earthenware casserole dishes it is often baked in and, as with many old recipes, there are many variations that evolve over time and distance, leading to debates regarding the “right way” to properly capture history in your kitchen. Depending upon your recipe source, you begin with soaking the traditional haricots Tarbais overnight. These are big, white, sometimes hard-to-find and expensive heirloom beans from the Tarbais region of France, which can withstand a lengthy simmering time without turning into unidentifiable mush. Don’t forget that if you’ve opted for duck confit in your recipe – and why wouldn’t you – you’ll need to start that 2 or 3 days before you’re ready to serve. Roast pork, sausage or goose are other meats you might find in the pot, adding dimensions of texture and flavor.
Wanting to make a cassoulet for fun, for the portfolio and of course for dinner, but not really keen on waiting days or even hours, I turned to Jacques Pépin’s recipe in his book Fast Food My Way. This book has become one of our favorites lately. J.P. uses ham, canned cannellini beans, and Italian and bratwurst sausages, simmered with garlic, onion, chopped mushrooms and fresh tomato. Since it’s winter, I even went a step further into the “fast food” factor and used canned diced organic tomatoes instead of fresh, which I often do anyway to get better color in photos. We made this in a big pot, but afterward heated and served our portions in personal sized cast-iron cocottes (little pots) that kept everything nice and warm at the table. Our cookware obsession behooves me to mention that these are very special black cocottes of a particular size, shape and brand that we agonized over finding ever since being served cassoulet in almost the exact same vessels years ago in a Bistro during our Paris honeymoon.
This photographer’s wife was able to make a satisfyingly simple yet still luxurious version of this classic comfort food, or so the photographer said, as we lingered at the table enjoying our subject matter after wrapping up this very enjoyable photo shoot.