Traditional French Cassoulet comes from three villages in France (Toulouse, Castelnaudary, and Carcassonne), each village with its own “true” version of the recipe. So, there is much fuss about the “right” way to do it. I’ve never experienced cassoulet right from one these French villages but the cassoulet I have eaten on our home turf of the good old USA has been an absolutely lovely rich combination of meats and beans with simple flavors, a perfect fall entrée.
There are some guidelines I followed so I didn’t just create the most elegant Baked Beans but something as special as a French Cassoulet.
- It’s a peasant dish using locally sourced food.
I bought as many ingredients as possible that were local or from Michigan.
- Duck, Partridge, Pheasant, Lamb, Pork, and Sausage – a combination of these meats were used.
Duck, Partridge and Pheasant were easily accessible to the French Villages, not so much for me. I used local Chicken (cooked in duck fat) as my poultry. Instead of a pork sausage, I used duck and lamb sausage.
- It was all created in a single pot.
No kitchen sink filled with pots and pans, this was going to work in a single pot.
- The casserole formed a dark crust as it slowly cooked. They used a pot with tapered edges, allowing more surface area to brown.
I don’t have that kind of pan. Some people will top the casserole with breadcrumbs to create a crust. That felt like cheating. I read that if you use a home-made chicken stock it will have a higher concentration of gelatin than store bought stock. This thicker stock will help create that crust.
My sincerest apologies to the purest of the Cassoulet world. What I created here was my Michigan version of Cassoulet following the guidelines that felt like the heart and soul of the French Cassoulet. I used as many local and Michigan products as possible. To start with, traditional cassoulet uses lingot (a dried white bean). I used a Michigan navy bean instead. When it came to meat, duck can be expensive so I substituted local whole chicken legs cooked in duck fat. To cover the bases with the pork, I used local bacon. Then to tie everything together instead of using a 100% pork sausage, I used local lamb and duck sausage. So I covered all the meat and kept it local. So like the French peasants who created this dish from locally accessible foods, I did the same. The vegetables are all readily available. Due to the time of year, I can’t claim they are local. But if you were creating this dish during our harvest season, you would be able to use local carrots, onion, celery, garlic and parsley.
The French version of this dish is not a thick stew with beans, meat and vegetables and topped with a crumb crust. It is beans swimming in a rich, gelatinous broth with bits of tender meat. This recipe might not be a perfect reproduction of a French Cassoulet. Food imports so much from where it is made. It is an absolutely lovely version of a Michigan Cassoulet created in our own beautiful spot in the world.
Like most recipes, it is a good idea to get all your ingredients prepped and ready to go. You’ll be cooking with high heat so you want to be able to move from one step to another without having to chop or find the necessary ingredients. In addition, have a long pair of tongs available to keep your hands as far away from the sizzling pot as possible. Use a screen over the pot while you are browning the meats. This is a safe way to keep from getting splattered and helps keep your stovetop clean.
So, let’s begin. The night before you’re going to need to soak your beans. The texture of dried beans is superior to canned beans, making this step very worthwhile.