Keeping Warm with French Cassoulet from La Becasse
On Tuesdays at La Becasse we celebrate the heart-warming wintry meal that is cassoulet. Cassoulet is a white bean and tomato casserole studded with duck confit, Toulouse sausage, pork shoulder and pork belly. The whole thing is topped with breadcrumbs and baked to a happy crisp before being served. At La Becasse, the cassoulet is served in a Le Crueset enamel pot (in one of the French flag’s bleu-blanc-rouge colors). Be warned, this is no small pot!
When the server removes the lid from the pot and the steam rises and disappears and you get the first glimpse of this casserole, you know you are in for a treat. A large spoon and a bowl (or two, if you’ve ordered the cassoulet for two) allows you to serve yourself manageable portions. It is great fun to dig around looking for the pieces of meat. There are almost always leftovers. This meal is hearty and soul-satisfying.
Cassoulet originated in the Languedoc region of France, in a place called Castelnaudary (although as one might imagine with an ancient dish, that point is open to debate, particularly if you are from Toulouse or Carcassonne). One origin story suggests that during the siege of Castelnaudary by the Black Prince, Edward the Prince of Wales in 1355, the peasants put their remaining food together in a cauldron and the resulting stew became what is now known as cassoulet. A less romantic and more likely origin is that it is a variation of the bean stew of Arab cuisine from nearby Muslim Spain. Regardless, the cassoulet has been a revered part of French cuisine for a long time.
The cassoulet is on the menu from November through April. It can be ordered for one ($40) or two people ($55). On Tuesdays the cassoulet for two comes with a bottle of wine (from the Languedoc, of course). If you do not wish to order the wine, we offer the cassoulet for two for $40. At any time you can order the cassoulet to go—it freezes well and can be reheated in the oven in the foil pan we send it home in. Cassoulet is a bit of a project to do at home, but it can be done, and you can play with the meat that you use—or maybe you’ll make it meatless. Bon Appetit!
Hearty, French Cassoulet
In a nutshell:
This is a two-step process involving beans and meat. The meat should be pre-cooked. At the restaurant, we use duck confit, pork shoulder, pork belly and Toulouse sausage. You get to choose what goes in yours.
Start with one quart of dried Great Northern white beans, and soak them overnight.
To cook the beans, first drain and rinse them.
Make a mix of the following:
1 ½ Tablespoons chicken base
1 ½ Tablespoons beef base
¾ cup tomato paste
½ large yellow onion, minced
Sautée the onion in olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until softened
Add the above mix and the rinsed beans
Let them cook until tender. Approximately one hour—but check periodically by eating a bean to determine if it is still crunchy or if it is tender.
When the beans are cooked, add the meat. Lightly cover with bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil or melted butter. Cover and put in a 450-degree oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until it is bubbling. Then remove the lid and put back in the oven for a few minutes to crisp the bread crumbs.