A Cassoulet with US Ingredients

A cou­ple of days ago, one of my read­ers chal­lenged me to make a Cas­soulet using ingre­di­ents found in the US. The Cas­soulet is a spe­cial­i­ty from the South­west region of France. It is a dish com­posed of main­ly white beans and var­i­ous pieces of meat, main­ly porc, cooked on low heat over an extend­ed peri­od of time. Find­ing the var­i­ous ingre­di­ents to make a Cas­soulet in the US is very chal­leng­ing. Most peo­ple will order from a spe­cial­i­ty web­site that imports ingre­di­ents from France. The chal­lenge that I took was the fol­low­ing: make a Cas­soulet with ingre­di­ents found in gro­cery stores in my area, with­out hav­ing to order any­thing online. I took the chal­lenge, and, though my Cas­soulet is not per­fect, I am quite hap­py with the result:

cassoulet

 

To make my Cas­soulet, I fol­lowed 2 dif­fer­ent recipes that I com­bined in order to make the best pos­si­ble Cas­soulet. One recipe I used is a French online recipe, the oth­er recipe is a recipe from one of my father’s friends, who con­sid­ered him­self an expert in Cas­soulet. Please note, you will need a dutch oven (cocotte) to make the Cas­soulet.

Finding the ingredients

Meat

To find the ingre­di­ents, I went to a so-called “inter­na­tion­al” gro­cery store. They do not have any French prod­ucts, but they have East­ern Euro­pean prod­ucts as they cater to a fair­ly big East­ern Euro­pean com­mu­ni­ty in the area (if you are in the Chica­go area, the store is called Fresh Farms). In that gro­cery store, I found pork skin (yes, the Cas­soulet is a dish that requires pork skin!) and goose fat, both an impor­tant part of the Cas­soulet.

Anoth­er impor­tant ingre­di­ent is sausage, which is tra­di­tion­al­ly the Toulouse Sausage, which I could not find any­where. The Toulouse Sausage can be bought online on Ama­zon, but since my chal­lenge was to stay clear of order­ing online, I had to find a sub­sti­tute. After doing some research, I learned that the Pol­ish Kiel­basa Sausage is an accept­able sub­sti­tute to the Toulouse sausage for the Cas­soulet. That sausage was easy to find in my area.

The Cas­soulet also requires an addi­tion­al meat, which based on my 2 recipes could be either pork ribs, mut­ton shoul­der or pork shoul­der. Pork ribs are easy to find in the US. I nev­er­the­less opt­ed for pork shoul­der called “pork butt” instead, as I did not want to deal with the bones of the pork ribs.

Some Cas­soulet recipes also add duck con­fit. Accord­ing to my father’s friend (the one who con­sid­ers him­self an expert in Cas­soulet), duck con­fit is not a require­ment for a Cas­soulet, espe­cial­ly if mak­ing a Cas­soulet from Castel­naudary, the town where Cas­soulet was born, as duck con­fit is more of a spe­cial­i­ty of areas north of that town (still in the south­west of France though, just north of Castel­naudary). There are about 10 dif­fer­ent ways to make Cas­soulet, if you can believe that! Any­way, I was quite hap­py not to include duck con­fit as I could not find it in any store in my area any­way.

Vegetables

The main veg­etable and the high­light of the Cas­soulet is white beans. Thank­ful­ly, white beans are very easy to find in the US. My father’s friend rec­om­mends white beans from Chile. I bought large lima white beans. The oth­er veg­etable is onions, also easy to find.

Some Cas­soulet recipes also include car­rots, and some even include toma­toes. The recipe of my father’s friend does not include these, but the online recipe includes a car­rot. I chose to use a car­rot to add a lit­tle col­or to the dish.

Herbs/Seasoning

The usu­al herbs are what we call in France “bou­quet gar­ni”, which con­tain mul­ti­ple herbs includ­ing bay leaf, rose­mary and thyme, as well as gar­lic. You can eas­i­ly buy these sep­a­rate­ly in the US.

A few notes about my recipe choices

As I said ear­li­er, I com­bined an online recipe with the recipe of my father’s friend. The advice I used from my father’s friend was to first cook the pork skin for 45 min­utes in boil­ing water, and then use the cooked pork skin to cook the white beans. In oth­er words, put the cook pork skin in the pot in which you cook the white beans. This will pre­vent the beans from stick­ing to the pot, which is very impor­tant because the beans are such an impor­tant part of the dish, they need to be cooked right. I also fol­lowed the advice of the online recipe to soak the white beans in water for 6 hours, pri­or to mak­ing the Cas­soulet.

I browned the sausages in a skil­let with goose fat, as advised by my father’s friend. Addi­tion­al­ly, the online recipe advo­cat­ed for adding the sausages at a lat­er point in the bak­ing. I fol­lowed the recipe of my father’s friend in that I put the sausages in the dutch oven (cocotte) togeth­er with all the oth­er ingre­di­ents at the begin­ning of the bak­ing. My rea­son­ing is that the longer it bakes, the bet­ter. Fol­low­ing that same rea­son­ing, I baked the dish for 2 hours.

So here is my recipe:

Print Recipe
A Cas­soulet with US Ingre­di­ents
cassoulet
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 4 hours
Serv­ings
peo­ple
Ingre­di­ents
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 4 hours
Serv­ings
peo­ple
Ingre­di­ents
cassoulet
Instruc­tions
  1. Soak the white beans in water for 6 hours or overnight.
  2. Cook the pork skin in boil­ing water for 45 min­utes.
  3. Put the white beans in a pot togeth­er with the cooked pork skin. Add plen­ty of water, the sliced and peeled car­rot, 1 peeled onion, the rose­mary, thyme and bay leaf. Cook for 1 hour on medi­um heat.
    cooking beans for cassoulet
  4. In the mean­time, brown the pork butt with olive oil in a skil­let. In a sep­a­rate skil­let, brown the sausage with some goose fat. Pre­heat the oven to 275 degrees Fahren­heit.
  5. In a dutch oven (cocotte), brown the minced gar­lic and 1 minced onion with 1 table­spoon of goose fat. Then, once the beans are cooked, add the beans, pork skin, car­rot, onion and herbs, togeth­er with about half of the water it was cooked in (save the oth­er half for lat­er). Add the browned pork butt and the sausages. Sprin­kle bread­crumbs all over. Now you should have all the ingre­di­ents in the dutch oven.
    cassoulet prior to baking
  6. Put the uncov­ered dutch oven (cocotte) in the oven, and bake for 2 hours at 275 degrees Fahren­heit. Every 30 min­utes, check to see if a crust has formed on top. If so, you should put the crust back in the dutch oven, mix­ing it with the oth­er ingre­di­ents. Addi­tion­al­ly, about halfway through bak­ing, add the oth­er half of the water the beans were cooked in. You want the cas­soulet to stay wet. If it becomes dry, add water to wet it.
  7. Enjoy!
    cassoulet
Recipe Notes

Note: you can sea­son with salt and pep­per. I chose not to do so, as I find pork meat quite salty, but most recipes say to sea­son with salt and pep­per so feel free to do so.

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Hope you too can make a Cas­soulet using ingre­di­ents you find in your area! Oth­er­wise, you can always order ingre­di­ents online.

Bon Appétit!

French Mom

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