Let's face it ... unless it is easy most of us won't make Cassoulet at home. So this Easy Cassoulet Recipe will give you the 80/20... 80% of thedelicious goodness for 20% of the effort!
Yes, traditional Cassoulet with its mixture of duck (confit), sausage, reconstituted beans; made in the traditional Cassole pottery dish is a thing of beauty. I had it inside the Medieval walled city of Carcassone where it comes in an individual serving dish with a blackened crust that you break through to creamy beans and meat underneath... and it was divine!
But here is the thing... it started out as a peasant dish. The duck confit that makes it seem so exotic to us was actually just the way they preserved their most plentiful poultry back in the day. So they had duck confit on hand... we have to make it over hours/days! Same with the beans. You sure couldn't buy canned beans when this recipe orignated so you had no choice but to soak and reconstitute dried beans.
If you know me - you know I am a HUGE fan of Boston Baked beans from scratch. That amount of effort I am willing to put in. (It is really more about elapsed time than effort). And, I have made a traditional cassoulet. Yep... made my own duck confit, reconstituted the beans, found interesting high quality sausage. And yes it was good... okay... really good! But even though I have had a hankering for a good cassoulet this winter - EVEN I couldn't bring myself to three days of effort for this dish!
So I combined some of the traditional techniques with modern convenience and made cassoulet in a couple of hours- which is mostly oven time!
Chef's Tips for Easy Cassoulet
- Fowl - Use duck legs (not confit style) if you can get them or use skin on, bone in chicken thighs as a substitute. If you have or can source some duck fat then the trick is to brown your meat in the duck fat before adding to the casserole and you will get much of the traditional duck flavour. Some traditional recipes just use sausage. There are a number of variations on this ancient recipe so that gives us licence to switch things up!
- Some recipes use different cuts of pork - like chunks of pork shoulder and a variety of pork sausage.
- Let's talk about sausages. The dish should include a good pork, garlic sausage. Two types of sausage will add depth and interest to the dish, along with the poultry or pork you have chosen to use. You can use the sausage here to add flavour - if you can get duck sausage that is a bonus! You can add traditional flavour very easily! I used garlic pork sausage and lamb sausage. I used half the amount of lamb sausage as pork. Lamb is a stronger flavour and I didn't want lamb to take over the dish. Let's face it... if you use a sausage you love then how can you not like the finished dish?
- Beans - I used canned beans. White beans are the traditional choice. Cannellini is a good choice, white kidney beans work well and canned Navy beans or Great Northern beans also work well.
- Stock- Use the best stock you can source. The traditional dish ends up with a slightly thickened sauce that a fresh gelatinous stock would help to create. Well - guess what? Thanks to Serious Eats for the suggestion to add a gelatin packet or 2 to the stock you are using. That will help give moe body to your finished sauce. I would stay away from bouillon cubes here in favour of liquid stock.
- Aromatics - garlic - lots of garlic! Recipes suggest between 6 and 10 cloves typically. So use your judgment based on how much you like garlic and how fresh or pungent your garlic is. I used 10 cloves in mine but it is winter so the garlic is far less juicy and pungent that it would be in spring or summer. I can tell you the garlic was not overwhelming in the dish. The other signature herb is bay leaf. We are not going for a tomato-y, basil, oregano style sauce here that might lean toward the Italian profile. There is a bit of tomato paste added to the vegetable saute to create some umami and a hint of flavour only.
- The casserole dish- a traditional cassole, as you can see in the photo, is deep and narrow at the bottom and much wider at the top. It is this shape that helps to form the black crust on top and keep the beans and meat underneath still moist and cream. I chose to use an oblong baking dish with a lot of surface and about 3 inches deep.
- While traditional oven time is 3-4 hours - my canned beans would have been mush after that amount of time. So I did an hour of oven time. After 30 minutes I put the oven on broil for 5 minutes to crisp up the top, returned to 350 degrees for 20 minutes more and did a final 5 minute broil to finish crisping up.
- The recipe calls for 3-4 cups of stock. You want just see the stock at the top of the dish but you want the tops of the sausage and chicken just breaching the surface so they can brown up. (And yes the beans will not be totally submerge either). Check the stock level at mid point. It doesn't have to be at the starting level but you don't want it to have dried up either. If you feel you need to - add more stock if you started with less than 4 cups or a bit of water. The important thing is not to disturb the top - add the liquid gently down one side of the casserole.
- This makes 4-6 servings. Four generous for sure! If you know you want to serve more than 4 consider using 1 chicken thigh per person.
- I was totally happy with my dish. Plan to serve with some nice crusty bread to help mop up the sauce.
Wine Pairing for Cassoulet
There is a fun and obvious choice for wine pairing with cassoulet! The wines from Languedoc tend to be approachable full-bodied reds. St. Roch Chimères from Roussillon Village is a great choice. It is a Grenache/Syrah/Carignan blend. A Rhone blend would work well too. A wine from Fitou region, next door to Roussillon, would be another heavenly choice.
With the meat and the starchy beans any robust red would be enjoyable.
On the white spectrum, look for a round, rich white like a Marsanne or Chardonnay.
Easy Cassoulet Recipe
- cassole pottery (specialty item) deep pot with narrow bottom, wide surface top
- or use a 9 X 13" casserole dish
- 4 skin on, bone in chicken thighs or duck legs, chicken legs or 8 oz breasts cut in large chunks
- duck fat for frying preferred substitute butter or butter, olive oil mixture
- 12 oz garlic pork sausage or sausage of choice
- 4 oz cubed pancetta or 2nd sausage type of your choice I used lamb. Consider duck sausage if available or any other sausage variety you like.
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 packets gelatin (2 Tbsps)
- 1 large yellow onion diced
- ½ carrot peeled and minced
- 6-10 cloves garlic to taste, rough chopped
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 Tbsps tomato paste
- 2 19 oz cans beans mixture of cannellini, navy beans, white kidney beans or Great Northern beans
- 2 Tbsps chopped parsley
- 2 leaves
- 1 cup bread crumbs optional
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Brown poultry in duck fat if using, othewise mix of butter an olive oil. Use a large skillet over medium high heat and do not disturb for 3-4 minutes to all meat to brown. Brown on all sides. Transfer to a platter and set aside.
- Optional: Remove browned poultry and brown cubed pancetta or sausage cut in to 1 ½" chunks. This is not necessary if sausage is cooked or smoked but it will add a nice texture. Transfer to same platter as poultry.
- Pour the stock in a large measuring cup and sprinkle the gelatin on top.
- Reduce stovetop to medium. In the same pan, add more fat if necessary, add the onion and saute about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Add the fennel seeds and salt and stir. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables. Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook 2-3 minutes.
- Drain the canned beans and add them to the skillet. Add the stock, parsley and bay leaves. Stir to mix.
- Add the meat and any accumulated juices to your baking casserole dish. Add the bean mixture and stir to mix evenly. See Note 1 below if using a bread crumb topping.
- Bake uncovered 30 minutes, increase the oven to broil setting and broil for 5 minutes. You should see some browning on top of casserole. Check if you need to add any liquid to the casserole. Only add if you are concerned it will go dry. Return oven to 350° and bake uncovered 20 minutes more. Return oven to broil and broil a further 5 minutes. The top should be nicely browned but not burned.
- Remove casserole from the oven. Remove the bay leaves and serve with crusty bread.