All day Cassoulet

January 18, 2010 · 25 comments

Oh cassoulet. Rich, comforting, complex cassoulet.

Eat cassoulet on cold winter days to warm your soul, or make it for a feast to share with friends. There are many variations, many interpretations. Whichever one you choose, know that you’re in it for the long haul, and dedicate two days to preparing and cooking.

Cassoulet, a hearty stew of pork, duck and beans, dates back to the 14th century in Languedoc, France, where townspeople gathered all the food in town and prepared a communal stew for soldiers who were on their way to war. Communal stew. I love that notion. A big pot of slow-cooked, everyday foods that create a bond between all who dip their spoons inside.

I had hours to devote to cassoulet, but I didn’t have days, and so I planned to omit the duck confit. Confit (con-fee) is a way to preserve meat by curing it in salt and poaching it in fat. You then seal it up covered in the same fat, and store it in the fridge for a few months. But just as I convinced myself that an all-pork version could still be called cassoulet, my butcher, Jesse from Star Meats, changed my mind. It didn’t take much. One look at his beautifully confited duck legs and before I knew it they perched beside my pork shoulder, ham hock and pancetta.

Yes, yes I know. All cassoulet must have sausage. Well not all, because mine doesn’t. I don’t claim this to be a completely authentic, traditional cassoulet from the foothills of France, so I intentionally left it out. Sausage has an extremely recognizable taste, and I didn’t want it to sway the balance of flavors already mingling in the cassoulet.

Wait, are there foothills in Languedoc?

All day cassoulet
Serves 10

4 ½ pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 4 large pieces
2 duck legs confit
1 ham hock
½ pound slab pancetta, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 carrots, roughly chopped
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 1/2 pounds dried cannellini beans
1 28oz can organic whole, peeled tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled, crushed and chopped
2 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh sage
Small handful fresh parsley
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons duck fat

The night before:
Soak the beans in water overnight. Water should come up 2 inches above the beans.
Season pork shoulder with salt and freshly ground black pepper and place in the fridge.

Prepare the beans:
Heat up a large pot and add 2 tablespoons duck fat. Add half of the chopped carrots, onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add beans, their water and ham hock and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a slow simmer and cook until beans are tender (but not mushy), about 1 hour. Remove ham hock and cut all meat off the bone. Throw away skin and grizzle, and stir the meat into pot of beans. Strain excess liquid out of beans.

Prepare the pork:
Heat up a large Dutch oven and swirl in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add pancetta and brown until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Pat pork shoulder dry with a paper towel, add it to the hot Dutch oven and brown on all sides. You may need to do this in batches if your pot is not large enough.

Preheat oven to 250F.

Remove pork shoulder and add remaining carrots, onions and garlic to pot. Cook for 10 minutes or until soft. Put the pancetta and pork shoulder back into the pot and add white wine. Cook for 5 minutes and add tomatoes and their juices. Crush the tomatoes with your hands before throwing them in the pot.

Put together a bouquet garni by spreading out a piece of cheesecloth and filling it with sage, thyme, peppercorns and parsley. Tie the cheesecloth together with kitchen twine, creating a pouch. Add the bouquet garni to the pot. Cover and cook for 3 hours.

Meanwhile, heat up a cast iron skillet and add a swirl of olive oil. Add duck legs and brown on both sides (about 2 minutes per side). Shred meat off the bones and set aside.

When the pork shoulder is finished, it will be so tender that it easily falls apart. Remove from oven and skim off some of fat that floated to the top of the sauce. Remove bouquet garni. Shred pork shoulder, throwing away fat and skin, and put back into pot. Add shredded duck and stir to combine. Add a pinch of salt to taste (though it should taste slightly under-salted).

If you have one of those beautiful cassoulet dishes, great, but if not use your Dutch oven for the final step. Put a layer of the pork mixture on the bottom of the pot. Follow with a layer of the beans. Alternate layers until you use up all of the beans and pork. Top with breadcrumbs, and drizzle on 2 tablespoons of melted duck fat.

Cook uncovered at 300F for 3 hours. Every so often, poke a hole in the breadcrumbs with handle of a wooden spoon.  Broil for 1 minute before serving to crisp the breadcrumbs. Drizzle on high-quality olive oil to finish.

Cassoulet loves a Stumble…

Where I shopped:
Pork Shoulder, house-made duck confit, pancetta and ham hock: Star Meats, Berkeley
Carrots, Garlic, Onion: Berkeley Farmers’ Market
Dried Cannellini Beans: Monterey Market, Berkeley
Duck Fat: Ver Brugge, Oakland

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January 21, 2010 at 8:10 pm

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Chad K. January 18, 2010 at 10:01 pm

That looks amazing! Definitely going to have to make this one. Haven’t had stew in a long time. After reading this, ITS STEW TIME!!! I agree… I’d prefer it without sausage too. The flavors you included seem like they would really compliment each other. I find some sausages, like italian sausage to be very over powering. Thanks again. Keep up the great work!


rach January 19, 2010 at 3:54 am

We used to go to France alot when I was growing up and we would always have cassoulet, I thought it was one of the most delicous things ever. I have never made it, but my eccentric cooking friend does (my request) when I go to see him, I have his recipe which I have been meaning to try but it is a mothership one, rather overwelming and this is a better start…… very very inspiring.


maggie January 19, 2010 at 4:37 am

It’s a beaut! I thought I overdosed on cassoulet the last time I made it, but now yours is looking good. I had some success using lamb belly and lamb riblets instead of pork for non-ham-eating friends.


Maria January 19, 2010 at 7:31 am

We are getting a lot of snow this week-this is the perfect dish to warm up to!


Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction January 19, 2010 at 8:30 am

Absolutely beautiful! I have never tried cassoulet before, but I’m feeling inspired. The weather has turned strangely warm around here, but I think I will reserve this recipe for when winter inevitably returns!


Lauren January 19, 2010 at 10:04 am

I have had cassoulet on my mind ever since the weather turned cold… This recipe looks great, I can’t wait to try it.


Kate @ Savour Fare January 19, 2010 at 10:55 am

Love cassoulet and that looks fantastic! Though I would argue that sausage is essential!


my spatula January 19, 2010 at 2:22 pm

count me in on the communal stew! just beautiful…could not be more perfect to warm up a cold winter’s night.


Denise | Chez Danisse January 19, 2010 at 6:28 pm

This looks so wonderful! Perfect for a cold winter night.


Dawn Hutchins January 20, 2010 at 6:28 am

Wow…so delicious and filling. Almost makes me want some more cold down here so I could come back to a warm pot after being outside in the snow all day!


Diana @ frontyardfoodie January 20, 2010 at 8:32 am

Wow that is intense! I would LOVE to spend all day making dinner. I’m a freak about the kitchen. haha


The Food Hunter January 20, 2010 at 10:27 am

Looks like perfect comfort food to me.


Liz January 20, 2010 at 5:38 pm

God that sounds amazing but I can feel my ass getting bigger just reading it.


Allison Arevalo January 21, 2010 at 10:17 am

Haha! Yes Liz, this is not a recipe for those on a diet. But considering it’s made with local meats and veggies, it’s not that bad.


Angela@spinachtiger January 20, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Looks like something I could eat through the screen. My husband had his first cassoulet when we were in Yountsville at Bistro Jeanty. We had to go back again the next night so he could order it all over again. I’ve since tried to make it, but I need to try again to get it right. I left the duck out and I think I want to give it a try with the duck confit.


Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen January 21, 2010 at 10:10 am

It looks beautiful!


Renate Valencia January 21, 2010 at 6:06 pm

I’ll have to try this, and am so glad to come across another person who omits the sausage, which, I agree, is so strong it distracts. This is the ultimate comfort food!


Dave January 22, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I think this is the same dish that Jews call Cholent. It cooks all night Friday night and is eaten on Saturday lunch. Only difference is no Pork. Duck sounds interesting..


Feeding the Saints (A. C. Parker) January 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Ah-ha! So after seeing you wondering about the pork on Twitter, now the internal conflict is resolved: the duck won out. So glad. I tweeted to you that my hubby would kill me if I tried to make the cassoulet without duck, being as he is from the heart of cassoulet territory; it’s true, he probably would. Anyway, he wouldn’t eat it. And I have to say, I might not either. I rarely eat duck, so when there’s a wonderful dish that features it, well . . . it needs to be there, for me anyway. Your cassoulet looks lovely, and I’m glad you made it. Someday I hope to get to the heart of the great “Toulouse” versus “Castelnaudary” cassoulet debate–it’s quite the rivalry, though I’ve yet to remember just what the differences are. Have to look it up, or consult the resident expert in my house! Cheers to you and thanks so much for the recipe and great photos. (PS: I believe there are plenty of foothills in Languedoc-Roussillon.)


Luisa January 24, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Heavenly. I think you may be a long lost cousin… loving your blog! Here’s my version of cassoulet using sausage:


Hannah January 27, 2010 at 2:37 pm

This looks so tasty!


nakedbeet February 8, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Drooling over this recipe and the pictures…now to find a day for making this. I probably will have to replace the dug legs, though. I have plenty of duck fat, but no more duck.


kamran siddiqi February 9, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Um, can you please just make this for me and send me a bowl? This looks absolutely delish!! Great post! :)


David March 23, 2010 at 6:35 pm

The namea of the markets where you shopped filled me with fond memories of the wonderful food culture of North Berkeley/Oakland. I loved to go to Ver Brugge and pick out individual meat choices. I’m not familiar with Star market, but I know that it is top quality. Thanks for a real from the ground up recipe for cassoulet. I almost wish that it were still winter so I would have an excuse to make this.


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