Cassoulet is an iconic dish of Southern France. It’s peasant food, made from whatever ingredients happened to be around—white beans, pork, sausage, slow cooked fowl (a confit if you’re feeling fancy)—and that’s where the arguing begins. Ingredients vary from town to town, and each is convinced that its particular combination is the best.
Cassoulet has a reputation for being difficult to make because of all the steps you might have to take to prepare its many possible ingredients. It couldn’t be simpler, actually, and lends itself well to having its ingredients made ahead and assembled in advance of cooking. In fact, we think it tastes better a day or two after preparation, so savor those leftovers!
The crust. Cassoulet is baked long and slow to create a crisp top crust over creamy, savory beans and meat. So, don’t scrimp on the breadcrumbs for the topping and use good quality bread—yes, it can be stale—to make them. Just toast cubed bread in a 350o oven until tanned, cool, and pulse in a food processor or blender to make them. Use real butter or a good olive oil to coat them.
Creaminess. Don’t let the bean/meat mixture get too dry. Break open the crust during baking and check the consistency of the mixture. If it looks too dry, add some stock.
Good stock. You can’t make a fine savory dish without good stock. If you don’t have time to make your own, find a good one. Without mentioning brands, you probably won’t find good stock in a big name grocery; however, one of the large club store chains has excellent organic chicken and vegetable stock. If you have access to a restaurant commissary store that allows cash and carry shopping, you’ll find that their stocks tend to be good as well.
Timing. There are three main preparations—beans, meat, and crumbs—so make them ahead in stages. Make the beans two days ahead, and soak them the night before you’ll boil them. If you’re roasting turkey legs, season them when you boil the beans and roast them the next day. Assemble the cassoulet the day before you’ll serve it.
Don’t color inside the lines. If you want to use other meat or fowl sausage, do it. Use pork bacon or butter instead of olive oil. Mix up the herbs or use fresh. There’s no right answer to what makes the best cassoulet; it’s all about what tastes good to you.
Our recipe is based on the New York Times Ad-Lib Turkey Cassoulet by David Tanis (http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014570-ad-lib-turkey-cassoulet). We’ve taken some liberties to remove dairy and only use poultry. If you want to make yours gluten free, use gluten-free bread crumbs and make sure that your sausage does not contain any gluten ingredients (it’s common for artisan sausages to use some crumbs).
1 pound small dry white beans
1 small onion, peeled and halved
1 bay leaf
Pick over beans to remove any stones or debris and rinse. Soak beans overnight in enough cold water to cover them plus 1 teaspoon of baking soda.
Drain beans, rinse, and transfer to a large pot. Add fresh cold water to cover them by three inches plus the onion and bay leaf. Bring rapidly to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer until tender but still toothsome (don’t cook them to mush!)—around 45-60minutes. Add one teaspoon of salt and stir. Let beans cool in the cooking liquid.
Beans can be prepared up to two days in advance of assembling the cassoulet—just refrigerate them in their liquid. Drain before assembling cassoulet.
3-4 cups leftover turkey meat (we prefer smoked turkey) torn into rough pieces OR
2 turkey legs (drumstick and thigh, approximately 1-1/2 pounds. each)
3 cups chicken or turkey stock, heated
If you’re starting with raw turkey legs, season them with salt and pepper, wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Before cooking, bring the legs to room temperature and heat oven to 400o. Roast legs uncovered in a shallow pan for 30 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 375o and add stock to pan. Cover tightly and continue roasting for another 60 minutes. Remove legs from pan and cool; reserve pan juices. Remove skin, gristle, and bone from meat. Tear meat into rough pieces.
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound turkey bacon, sliced into ¼ inch pieces
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1-1/2 teaspoons dried French thyme or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon Cayenne pepper
4-6 cups of chicken or turkey stock
1 bunch small carrots, peeled and diced (or roughly chopped in a food processor)
Beans (from step I), drained
½ pound smoked turkey sausage (preferably with garlic) halved and cut into ½ inch slices
2 cups coarse dry bread crumbs
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon dried French thyme or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Heat a wide heavy soup pot over medium high heat and add olive oil. Add sliced bacon and onion, stir, cover, and reduce heat. Allow onions to soften and begin to caramelize very lightly, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking or burning. Add Cayenne pepper and a few grinds of black pepper, thyme, and garlic. Stir and cook until garlic begins to soften. Add carrots and stir to coat. Cook an additional five minutes until carrots begin to soften.
Add reserved pan juices, warmed (if you’ve roasted legs) plus 2 cups of hot stock or 4 cups of hot stock. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add beans and gently mix with the sauté above. Add turkey. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes, adding broth as necessary to keg beans a bit soupy but not liquid. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Transfer mixture to a 3 quart baking dish. Arrange sausage slices over the top of the mixture and push down each into the beans to bury them. Mixture can be held at this point overnight before baking.
If refrigerated, bring cassoulet to room temperature. Add stock if mixture looks dry. Put bread crumbs into a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, thyme, a pinch of salt, and pepper. Mix with a fork (or fingers), adding olive oil if necessary to coat. Sprinkle crumb mixture over the beans in an even layer, and gently push them down into the beans to bind.
Cover dish tightly with foil and bake at 350o for one hour. Remove foil and bake uncovered until crumbs brown and crisp—around 30 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.
- Cuvee Lola