Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps

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When Anthony Bourdain cooks with Michael Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of “No Reservations,” he layers meat and beans together in a giant drum, tops the whole thing off with breadcrumbs and produces a dish most of us aren’t used to seeing on Food TV (and I say that as someone who now works for Food TV): a classic French cassoulet that’d put Julia Child to shame.

Cassoulet is a dish that just makes sense. Why does it make sense? You take fatty, flavorful meat, put it in a big pot with moisture-hungry beans and bake the whole thing until the beans are infused with all that fat and flavor and the meat is cooked. It’s not meant to be a fancy dish–this is the kind of food French people make at home–and it’s infinitely variable, as evidenced by the infinite cassoulet recipes you will find in my infinite cookbook collection, recipes that vary the type of meat, the type of bean, even the amount of time it takes to make the dish (Bourdain’s recipe, in his “Les Halles Cookbook,” calls for three days). I didn’t have three days to spare on Friday night when I set out to make my very first cassoulet. So I turned to an under-praised, underused book in my collection: Daniel Boulud’s “Daniel’s Dish: Entertaining at Home with a Four-Star Chef”.

It’s a great recipe for its simplicity (it’s called “Casual Cassoulet”) and yet the recipe has a serious flaw: it’s meant to be cooked in a 15-Qt Dutch Oven. I completely missed that part when I shopped for my ingredients, so I prepped enough food for a pot 3X bigger than the one I had. Therefore, the recipe that follows is my adaptation of Daniel’s recipe for Dutch Ovens of a more realistic size. Daniel’s recipe calls for lamb shoulder, but I left that out too: sausage + duck + bacon = plenty of meat for one dish, thank you very much.

Since winter’s almost over, this is the perfect dish to make on one of our last cold winter’s nights. I promise it’s easy and I promise the pay-off is big. And so, without further ado, Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps.

1. Soak two pounds of Cannelini beans in water overnight OR, if you’re like me and you want to make this instantaneously, use the “quick-soak” method featured in the Gourmet cookbook. Put all the beans in a pot, cover by two inches of cold water, bring to a boil, boil for two minutes, put the lid on, turn the heat off and leave for an hour. You’re done!

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That’s what I call a quick soak. [Note: I’d definitely use dried beans for this, since they’re such a major part of the dish. Canned beans seem much more likely to disintegrate.]

2. Cut an onion into 1/2-inch cubes, 2 carrots into 1/2-inch cubes, 2 stalks celery into half inch cubes, and slice all the cloves from one whole head of garlic (that’s what it calls for in the big recipe, but too much garlic can’t kill a cassoulet, can it?) Tie together 1 bay leaf, 4 spigs parsley, 3 sprigs time:

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3. Salt and pepper 3 duck legs (I was serving 3 people, so I did ONE duck leg and ONE sausage per person–vary accordingly) and 3 sweet Italian sausages and dice 1/2 pound of bacon into cubes:

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4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and in the Dutch oven, melt 2 Tbs butter along with 2 Tbs olive oil over medium heat.

5. Now here’s where I disagree with Daniel (who are you gonna trust: me or a 4-star chef?) He has you throw all that meat in the pot all at once until it all gets brown. Maybe he suggests that because he assumes you have a 15-Qt. Dutch Oven, but you don’t have that, do you? Of course not. So I added all the meat at once and gallons of fat came out and the meat took forever to get brown, basically steaming in all that fat. If I had to do it again, I’d brown the duck legs really well first, take them out, brown the sausages really well, take them out, and add the bacon till it renders a bit, then throw all the meat back in. In any case: brown your meat!

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[There was so much fat, I ladled a few ladlefuls out. No one missed it.]

6. Add your vegetables and herbs and stir and cook for 10 minutes.

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7. Add 2 Tbs tomato paste, stir around, then add 1/2 pound peeled tomatoes (I used ones from a can) that you dice into 1/2-inch cubes, and the beans (just keep adding beans until it looks pretty full–you’ll want a lot of beans) and then add water until the beans are covered and bring to a boil:

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8. Cover the pot and bake in the oven until the beans are tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. After 45 minutes check to see if it needs more water, and if so add some. When it’s done, take out of the oven and season with salt, paprika and cayenne pepper to taste. Just stir it all around and taste it: you’ll love it.

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9. Now’s the fun part: the breadcrumb topping. Reduce the oven to 350 and take 2 cups of fresh bread crumbs, mix together with 3 Tbs coarsely chopped parsley, 6 cloves of finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper and layer on the top of the cassoulet. Now Daniel has you do this in two stages: you put half the breadcrumbs on, drizzle on 3 Tbs melted butter, put in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, remove from the oven, press it into the liquid to moisten and then cover with the rest of the breadcrumbs, drizzle on another 3 Tbs butter, and put under the broiler until golden brown (5 to 7 minutes). I think the reason he suggests this is because if you don’t do it this way, lots of the breadcrumbs sink into the moisture and you get a big gunky mess. But I had impatient eaters waiting on the couch:

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So I just did it all at once. All the breadcrumbs went on and I drizzled on 6 Tbs of butter:

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Into the oven it went, and out it came (about 10 minutes later) thusly:

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Not bad, eh?

10. Serve!

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Everyone gets a duck leg, everyone gets a sausage, everyone gets a big bowl of bacon-infused beans. Served with a strong French wine, could a winter meal get any better? It really can’t.

Plus, the next day, the leftovers taste even better and go great with a salad:

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This is the kind of food that sounds scary because of its big scary name (Craig quite cutely calls it “Cassie O’lay”) but which is indeed, quite easy, once you understand the concept. So here’s the concept: meat infused beans. Now was that hard? It’s not! Give cassoulet a try and do it soon, before it gets too warm to consume all that fat, meat and beany beany goodness.

You may want your own bedroom afterwards, however.

I’m just saying.

Related Recipes:

The Best Beans of Your Life

Rachel Wharton’s Bodega Beans

Baked Red Kidney Beans with Chorizo

Coq au Vin

French Apple Tart

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60 comments

  1. This looks delicious, and really seems like a great winter dish to have in one’s repertoire.

    Plus, duck legs, bacon, and sausage…

    no brainer.

  2. With all due respect, what the hell do you mean by “a classic French cassoulet that’d put Julia Child to shame”?! I saw that episode, and your statement makes no sense at all. Tony himself would bitch slap you for saying something so moronic.

    I’m sure you were all swept up in your cassoulet, incapable of imagining a tastier version than the one before you– that’s why cassoulet is so magical– but dude, take a step back, come to your senses, resolve to brown your meat properly in the future, and keep Julia out of it.

  3. “a classic French cassoulet that’d put Julia Child to shame.”.. really? That I think, was extremely disrespectful to probably one of the best known and highly loved tv and cookbook personalities. She paved the way for people like you to become more experimental and involved in the food you eat and love.

    Have you ever tried her cassoulet?

  4. I used to have that exact Andreas Gursky print in my kitchen! (Uh, when I had a kitchen wall that was more than 1-foot wide) How I miss it. Great minds!

  5. when I saw “cassoulet” in your title, I immediatly thought of that episode and the glorious cassoulet the pair of them made. Even as a vegetarian, I would throw all caution to the wind and dig in to that (or your very yummy looking) cassoulet.

  6. when I saw “cassoulet” in your title, I immediatly thought of that episode and the glorious cassoulet the pair of them made. Even as a vegetarian, I would throw all caution to the wind and dig in to that (or your very yummy looking) cassoulet.

  7. I may actually try this… it looks delicious and it doesn’t like it is going to get any warmer in Ohio in the forseeable future.

    Also: dude on the couch looks like he is trying to use the Force on his laptop.

    (Do or do not, there is no try)

  8. Where do you get your duck legs? After you did the braised duck legs recipe, I went to many many butchers in Astoria (where I live) and the Whole Foods in Union Square. Finally, I bought a whole duck, but I’d really like to be able to just get some legs……. Where do I do that?

    Thanks.

  9. Looks incredibly yummy! I think I’d have to substitute some of the meats, but otherwise, it looks like something I could try…especially since we’ll have winter for at least another 4 weeks here in the mountains.

  10. “You may want your own bedroom afterwards, however.”

    So, *you* did, or Craig did? :)

    Looks awesome…I’ll have to try it (but without the breadcrumbs, I’m sure it’ll still be great).

  11. I’ve been looking for a good cassoulet recipe. This one looks like it’ll end that search once and for all… Thanks for sharing this (and paring it down for home cooks — 15 quarts? What was he thinking?!).

  12. OH poo, you don’t git no gas from the quick soak method. Narsai David says so, and I’ve had pretty darned good luck. It’s 3 days out on the leftovers where I get some interesting special effects.

    MmMMm, brown breadcrumbs in butter first, then apply. Macky Cheese Technology.

    xo, Biggles

  13. Whoa where did that gorgeous yellow color come from? Hmmm that does look rather good. So I can use other meats you say? Bacon and sausage definitely aren’t allowed in my kitchen.

  14. Your cassoulet looks delicious. My wife, (I do not cook very well, or often), will try to make a great rendition of your cassoulet with (more kosher types of meat). The final color looks so brighly yellow, with the orange rim, (like a sun).

    How does it come out sooooooooooo yellow?

  15. Gahhh…. “MY” Craig (here’s a secret: BF’s name is Craig, which I NEVER mention on my site…) hates beans unfortunately. And most food in general. Sigh. But that sounds so beany delicious… perfect for Dutch ovens! Um, I mean the cooking vessel, what else could I mean? =P

  16. We made Paula Wolfert’s cassoulet last spring — it was fabulous — but SO SO rich, and there were SO many delicious wines, and I had to go home and sit on the couch and drink nearly a whole bottle of Pellegrino before bed. Delicious, but a food hangover the next day from all the duck fat, and sausage, and lamb, and pork — oh yeah, and the beans that held it all together. Yum.

  17. A beautiful dish; I love the orange tint. I usually make cassoulet from the Les Halles cookbook, and I really enjoy taking three days to make it, but yours looks great.

    Getting just legs is an interesting idea, but I love buying a whole duck! You can get so much out of one bird.

  18. So I became obsessed with Cassoulet when living in France. It is the most amazing dish, and you are right – cooked properly is supposed to take a couple of days! Every village in the region (south west) have their own special touch and competition is fierce. There is a cassoulet competition every year which i wish i got to go to, and you can also buy it in cans all over the place. Its unbelievable! So glad you have posted this as its coming into winter here at the moment, and i am now excited about cooking this for myself!

  19. Duck legs, for people in NY trying to find them, can be found at the Union Square farmer’s market most days, at Fresh Direct (where I get mine) and at Fairway.

  20. Oh yes. Awesome dish with awesome flavors. Thanks for posting a great recipe! (It probably does put Julia Child to shame!!)

  21. What do you think of the recipe for Cassoulet that appears in The Joy Of Cooking?

    It uses lamb and pork, but no duck.

    Is cassoulet a kind of improvisatory dish, made in a variety of different ways (since it was a peasant dish)?

  22. I tried a variation on this last night but just had sausages in it and put in several different types of beans in it to add some variety (haricot, butterbeans, lentils). It was great!

    I also put a slice of Haloumi on top when I served it which went very well will it.

  23. This dish came up on my food radar this weekend as a result of a magazine article discussing the dish that this meal is baked in, the cassole, which led me to discover your wonderful site.

    I’m baking my first cassoulet as I write using your recipe as a framework to throw mine together. No duck, no chicken. Just sausage and bacon for this one. Red beans instead of white beans, no carrots. From my experience cooking red beans and rice it’s going to come out just fine. I’m looking forward to the crunchy bread crumb crust (which is or isn’t traditional apparently.)

    The discussions I’ve found online about cassoulet remind me so much of the discussions I’ve heard about gumbo or chile. Cassoulet, ask a dozen Gascon’s how to make it and get a dozen different answers. For me it’s a great way to take care of a bunch of different leftovers. Probably the reason that it takes three days in the traditional recipe. Three days to acquire all of the leftovers to use as ingredients.

  24. I agree with Philip. Even though I have only recently begun researching cassoulet recipes and stories, it seems noone can agree. It reminds me very much of the heated arguments over chili or gumbo. (Both humble stews) As a Southern Louisianian, you should realize that I’ve heard many an argument about gumbo. Just make it and enjoy it!

  25. The reason the fancy chef suggested you throw all the meat in a pot and cook it is that traditional cassoulet is made with confited duck; a sort of slow-cook in animal fat actually is more appropriate in this case than a high-heat sear.

    That said, you might find that the sausages are browned on the outside, but they too generally should be slow-cooked, this time through cooking in the stew itself.

  26. The herbs are tied together to make it easier to find and remove, do so before the breadcrumbs.

    Also before the breadcrumbs skim off alot of the fat, leave some since the breadcrumbs are designed to soak up some of that falvor. In multi-day recipes you will find that day three is so that you can chill the beans during the night, remove most of the fat then reheat and do the breadcrumbs; also they are alot better the next day.

    If you can find duck confit get it, alot more tasty then fresh duck. Also save the duck fat, you can use the above approach just dump all the fat except for the duck, and some duck fat back in when doing the beans. Duck confit comes in cans and is kind of gross when opening, you can also find it with potatoes so watch the can.

    two other recommendations, use garlic pork sausages it gives them a little more bite and standout from the rest of items. More importantly dump the bacon and use pork belly, cut in to chunks and most of the fat rendered separately and dumped if you have duck fat. the fat belly gives you a better mouth feel and can add a little chew; I would guess that bacon would be too thin and just fall apart in the long cooking.

  27. Last time I made Cassoulet I did a search and took a little bit from several recipes. Your recipe sounded alot like a cassoulet I had in Toulouse, so I’m giving it a try. From having it in several area’s of France and a few attemps at home, there is no wrong way to make it.This time I used duck confit (Costco had the duck confit in vacuum sealed packages by Grimaud Farms http://www.grimaud.com/duck.htm), spicey Italian sausage, cubed lamb shoulder and some thick sliced bacon. I started cooking it at 10 pm and finished at 1 am. I set the LeCrouset casserole in the snow covered it with a couple shovels of snow and went to bed. The next afternoon I scraped the fat off the top and reheated and then did the bread crumbs.

    Good reviews all around the table, Thanks for a quicker and tasty way to make Cassoulet.

  28. True cassiolet is a peasant’s dish, and it is not meant to have a set recipe, but to put in it what is left over from other meals, or not yet eaten. Except for the beans, it has to have beans.

  29. Bean stew ” Big Deal ” No doubt this was and is a cleanout and sterilizeing of quesionable food stuffs. Somehow somebody got lucky and now it has taken on a life of it’s own with a cult like following. My recipe: 1 bag of dried beens, chopped up bacon left over from breakfast, pick the meat from sundays chicken,duck, turkey or roast pork,lamb,thyme, bay leaf black pepper mortoms table salt,onion, pick the tomatoes from old left over salads and voila you have a cassolet. You can thicken it with sundays mashed potato’s, turnips etc. The most important thing to do is COOK THE HELL OUT OF IT but slowly,Wine for liquid if you please. Enjoy!!

  30. Bean stew ” Big Deal ” No doubt this was and is a cleanout and sterilizeing of quesionable food stuffs. Somehow somebody got lucky and now it has taken on a life of it’s own with a cult like following. My recipe: 1 bag of dried beens, chopped up bacon left over from breakfast, pick the meat from sundays chicken,duck, turkey or roast pork,lamb,thyme, bay leaf black pepper mortoms table salt,onion, pick the tomatoes from old left over salads and voila you have a cassolet. You can thicken it with sundays mashed potato’s, turnips etc. The most important thing to do is COOK THE HELL OUT OF IT but slowly,Wine for liquid if you please. Enjoy!!

  31. oh dear god, mon dieu, mon dieu!

    there are posters above who will try to make this dish without the bacon? heresy, utter and complete heresy and foolishness.

    make another dish. cassoulet is not for you!

    it’s all about the bacon, baby.

    just sayin’

  32. This recipe is an heresy, a cassoulet without pork shoulder or lamb… but it s the BASE of this recipe , bacon,saussages,duck confit are only some extras and you, you make a recipe only with this things !! are you insane ?

    This is not a cassoulet

    A guy from toulouse (south west of France)

  33. I don’t care what you call it, we both LOVED it and don’t need it to be properly titled to do so.

  34. I made this and it tasted great. The duck legs were a bit dry though. Maybe I cooked it too long. Next time I’ll try some duck confit from Costco instead of regular duck legs.

    Great recipe. Thanks for putting together the step-by-step with photos. One of the reasons I picked your recipe over others.

  35. Hi Adam: Is there any way to get the recipe and instructions in a printable form on your site? I still like having paper in front of me when I cook! Thank you

  36. Hi Susie,
    Not yet. Trying to integrate that feature into the next iteration of my blog! Adam

  37. It looks tasty,but mark you one can never know of any other better cook than his or her own mother until he or she travels the world round .

  38. NOT NICE. You think this can put Julia Child to SHAME ??? I am going to get her RIGHT BACK HERE AND DEFEND HER TITLE TAKE BACK YOUR WORDS

  39. I worked with Gerard, a French Chef from France, and he recommended using a garlic sausage in his Cassoulet

  40. I SEE YOU STILL HAVE NOT APOLOGIZED ABOUT OFFENDING JULIA CHILD. I WILL PUBLICIZE EVERY CHANCE I GET HOW LOW-LIFE YOUR COMMENT IS

  41. I just made the Saveur recipe for Cassoulet, which has a number of steps and took all afternoon. This does sound like a quicker, easier version. I would include some browned pork shoulder, diced pancetta and instead of Italian, use garlic sausage. And I ordered duck confit online….which is already cooked, and just needs to be warmed a little….I took the meat off the bones, so the meat would be distributed throughout.

    Next time I make this, I’ll use the same meats, but will try this quicker, easier version….or some hybrid.

    I was amused by the comments from the French guys. Hey…this dish originated with French peasants! I’m sure they would have taken some of these shortcuts if they could have. Except, I agree with the need for pork shoulder and bacon….but if the method works, it’s just a matter of which ingredients you use.

  42. I just made the Saveur recipe for Cassoulet, which has a number of steps and took all afternoon. This does sound like a quicker, easier version. I would include some browned pork shoulder, diced pancetta and instead of Italian, use garlic sausage. And I ordered duck confit online….which is already cooked, and just needs to be warmed a little….I took the meat off the bones, so the meat would be distributed throughout.

    Next time I make this, I’ll use the same meats, but will try this quicker, easier version….or some hybrid.

    I was amused by the comments from the French guys. Hey…this dish originated with French peasants! I’m sure they would have taken some of these shortcuts if they could have. Except, I agree with the need for pork shoulder and bacon….but if the method works, it’s just a matter of which ingredients you use.

  43. I just made the Saveur recipe for Cassoulet, which has a number of steps and took all afternoon. This does sound like a quicker, easier version. I would include some browned pork shoulder, diced pancetta and instead of Italian, use garlic sausage. And I ordered duck confit online….which is already cooked, and just needs to be warmed a little….I took the meat off the bones, so the meat would be distributed throughout.

    Next time I make this, I’ll use the same meats, but will try this quicker, easier version….or some hybrid.

    I was amused by the comments from the French guys. Hey…this dish originated with French peasants! I’m sure they would have taken some of these shortcuts if they could have. Except, I agree with the need for pork shoulder and bacon….but if the method works, it’s just a matter of which ingredients you use.

  44. I made this the other day. The only thing I did different is i cooked the bacon first, then browned the meat, then removed the meat and cooked the vegetables with the tomato, and added the meat back in before the beans and water.

  45. I attended a dinner party a few nights ago, and the hostess served a magnificent cassoulet with duck confit and sausage. All I’ve been able to think about since is having more – delicious!… *ps – the hostess/cook said that she used Julia Child’s recipe as a guide.

  46. Wonderful, thanks for breaking down the steps. I have been doing the same, looking at multiple recipes and trying to determine the essential elements for this dish so I can make it easier for myself by not following any particular rules!