What is your idea of comfort food? It’s likely related to where you live or grew up. Or it reminds you of the person who made that special dish. One of my favorites is beef stew. I used to sit in the kitchen and watch my father make his version of beef stew. In addition to beef stew, my other go-to comfort dishes are my baked ziti and smoke-braised beef short ribs.
I was recently introduced to a classic French comfort dish called cassoulet. Cassoulet is a bean and meat stew that cooks for several hours and originated in Southern France. The cassoulet is cooked in a heavy clay pot called a cassole or toupin. Each region of France claims their version is the best. The ingredients may vary based on what is readily available in specific regions of France.
Cassoulet was originally referred to as estoufet when it was invented in 1355 in a town called Castenlnaudry during the Hundred Years War. It was not until the 19th century it was called cassoulet.
In France, the heirloom Tarbais bean is the bean of choice when making a cassoulet. Traditional ingredients include beans, preserved duck and pork, but goose, game, sausages, lamb, mutton, and turkey legs may be used.
Luckily for me, D’Artagnan sent me their cassoulet kit with all the necessary ingredients in one box. They even sent two bonus ingredients: bacon ends and chorizo sausages. Based on my research, these are not traditional components of cassoulet, but there is infinite debate on what should go in a cassoulet per the authors of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
The kit comes with step-by-step directions that are easy to follow. But this dish does take some planning since the beans need to be soaked overnight, then cooked before being added to the cassoulet.
Here is how I put it all together. I soaked the beans overnight. Next, the beans simmered with Ventreche (pork belly), onion, garlic, and a bouquet garni, while I browned the duck legs, duck and Armagnac sausages, chorizo, bacon ends, and French garlic sausage.
Once the beans were drained, I added half to a Dutch oven that was greased with duck fat. The beans were then topped with all the meat, followed by the remainder of the beans. A mixture of duck and veal demi glaze, tomato paste, and water was poured over the beans and meat. The finishing touch was a drizzle of additional duck fat. Due to the extra meat, I added additional water at the start and throughout the cooking process so the beans and meat would not dry out.
I placed the Dutch oven in my Big Green Egg XL (BGE) that I heated to 325 degrees. The cassoulet cooked for 3 hours. I increased the heat to 400 degrees and cooked for another hour. Feel free to use your oven to cook the cassoulet.
The top of the cassoulet browned up and was bubbling away when I opened the BGE at the four- hour mark. I spooned the cassoulet into a bowl and garnished it with parsley. Some people add tomatoes to their cassoulet. I didn’t, but I think it would have added additional liquid and flavor to the dish.
The beans were tender and buttery. The duck leg meat was falling off the bone. Browning the sausages, chorizo, and bacon ends created a crisp exterior that balances the texture of the tender beans. The broth of the stew was super-flavorful and had a hint of spice from the chorizo. It can be difficult to describe how something tastes when writing a blog, but the one word that sums up the cassoulet for me is “Wow!” I was not sure I would be all in on this dish, but the buttery beans, the combination of tender meats, and subtly spicy broth created the perfect bite.
Comfort food should not only taste good, but make you feel cozy. If you are looking for a new comfort food to try, give the cassoulet a go. You will not be disappointed. If you want to make it easy, order the cassoulet kit from D’Artagnan.
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