Cassoulet is a delicious, traditional white bean stew, which originated in South West France - the capital of Foie Gras and many other duck based recipes.
Christophe has a wonderful story about a favorite uncle who announced that he was on a mission to make the very best Cassoulet! And that begins with the very best ingredients - which are : white beans, confit of duck, and or pheasant, pork, and sausage from Toulouse.
I so loved this story of making the very best Cassoulet that we decided to make our own version one wintery Sunday. Christophe Googles, ‘the best Cassoulet,´ and stumbled upon the L’Auberge de Poids Public cooking class and restaurant, where we ended up going to for their cooking class on what else, Cassoulet!
We were so excited to attend this class given by the chefs at L’Auberge. She started by explaining that we would be making that evenings cassoulet, which would be served to their guests at dinner - and that we would learn the recipe from A-Z, nothing left out!
Some of the ingredients had been prepared in advance as you'll see it really takes 2 days to make this recipe. We made everything from scratch, the stock would be used the next day..
The secret is in the sauce! Of course there are probably 100s of different variations of the recipe - every family has their own version.. and it began like most traditional French recipes as a more humble version with just bacon and fava beans.
The cassoulet at the Auberge has certainly evolved, and is no exception as it’s their own family recipe. So here it is , in all its glory, the best cassoulet recipe in France!
For the best flavors allow 2 days to prepare, with a minimum of 6 hours cooking time, excluding the overnight soaking of beans. And of course it's even better the next day!
For 8-10 persons :
2 lbs of white beans - these should come from the Tarn or Languedoc region of France and be one of the AOP categorized brands, ideally. If you can't find these then any nice quality dry white navy bean will do.
1/2 pound of prosciutto ham ( in one whole chunk)
4,5 pounds of raw pig skin - yes!
You can substitute this with bacon rind.
2 pounds of pork shoulder or pork loin
2 pounds of pork ribs - cut into small pieces with a butcher cleaver.
2 pounds of garlic pork sausage ‘saucisse de Toulouse’
5 duck thighs confit with the fat
( you can buy this sous vide)
Stock ingredients :
2 med onions
1/2 stalk of celery
1 bouquet garni ( Thyme, bay leaf)
1/2 roasted chicken carcass or bones
1 /2 roasted duck carcass or some roasted duck bones
A few roasted pork bones
( may use one or 2 of the above bones if all are unavailable)
Sauce seasoning :
10 cloves of garlic
Fresh ground pepper
Begin by soaking the beans in cold water overnight - allow for them to double in size thus make sure you use a large enough pot.
Prepare your stock, ‘bouillon,’ the day before with all of the above vegetables - first brûle one onion by cutting it in half, literally charing it black on the flat sides on the stove top or in the oven broiler, before adding it to the stock pot. This adds a lot of flavor and is a key element in the cassoulet at L’Auberge. Add the 2 cloves to the other raw onion cut into quarters before adding it to the stock pot. Simmer all of your other vegetables and bouquet garni in 2, 5 gallons of water with the roasted bones and the prosciutto ham for 4 - 5 hours.
Start to cook the beans in the same soaking water for 1 hour - until they are tender but still slightly undercooked. Skimming off all of the white foam as they cook, and finally when they are done throw out the cooking water and rinse the par cooked beans with cold water and set aside.
Using the stock you made from yesterday, remove the vegetables and simmer the par cooked white beans a second time for 40 min in the stock.
Cook the pork skin in boiling water for 1 hour, until very soft. Remove the pieces and discard the water - this actually boils away the fat out of the skin. And your left with a silky soft yummy finished product which is another important secret ingredient to the sauce. See instructions below.
Cut the pork shoulder and ribs into small chunks and sear them to golden brown in duck fat in a large sauté pan. Salt and pepper the meat after it’s browned - this allows it to retain its juices, if salted before browning the juices will run out of the meat during the cooking process.
Cook the sausage whole - sear it brown in duck fat in a sauté pan on 2 sides.
Once the meats are browned and par cooked drain the fat from the pans and deglaze the pans with 2 cups each of hot water, scaping off the brown pan bits and juices, add this pan water back into the beans - stock pot.
Now you are ready for assembly - you should have your cooked beans, your 2 kinds of browned pork bits, confit de canard ( fat removed) the whole par cooked sausages and cooked pig skin.
The chefs assured us that to achieve the best results for the perfect cassoulet, that it should be cooked in round oven proof terra cotta bowls, as there is a crispy crust which forms on top during the final 2 hour baking, while the beans in the bottom half remain moist and tender - both very different and delicious textures.
Preparing the special sauce:
In a good processor or blender add half of the boiled pigs skins, 4 - 6 cups of broth from the beans ( without the beans)
All of the garlic, salt and pepper - here you can be quite generous with the seasoning as we did not salt the stock nor the beans previously. Season the sauce to your liking and taste it a few times to check it’s just right start with a 2 teaspoons of salt and add more if needed. A lot depends upon the salt your using.
Assembling the cassoulet:
In 10 individual oven proof terra cotta bowls or if you’ve got a Dutch oven this would be the next best bet. Place a 2 inch layer of beans in the bottom( without the liquid stock)
Add the sausage - cut into smaller pieces, a few pieces of the seared pork, and a small piece of the pre-cooked pigs skin, and the duck confit skin side up, then cover with more beans leaving 1 inch of room on the top of the bowl, as to add the sauce - about 1/2 cup to start.
Bake these babies for 2 more hours in a med oven temp (325 degrees f.) Adding a second 1/2 cup portion of sauce after 1 hour of cooking.
Your cassoulet should come out golden brown and crunchy on top, smooth and creamy inside with succulent falling off the bone meats.
This is the Auberge ´s family recipe handed down for generations, however, I would like to try it with some slight variations - adding a large fresh thyme sprig to each in the final baking process, substitute fleur de sel and fresh coarse cracked pepper (they used fine sea salt and powdered pepper).
I would also try serving the sausage on top after cooking it separately, as it seemed slightly over cooked.
I would also like to experiment with substituting the pigs skin or omitting it and thus making the special sauce with something lighter such as olive oil.
You could also deglaze the pork pans with white wine for an added touch of refinement.
Certainly there are many variations of this classic French dish and I was quite surprised by the pig skin - it was absolutely delicious! And I'm not sure any of the substitutes will cut it but certainly one can try!