What it is: Cassoulet is an earthy, peasant dish from southwestern France, traditionally a casserole of beans, pork, poultry and herbs, slowly baked until a dark crust forms. Recipes vary throughout the region, though, so that in 1929, Chef Prosper Montagné declared, “God the Father is the cassoulet of Castelnaudary, God the Son that of Carcassonne, and the Holy Spirit that of Toulouse.”
While in France l’Académie Universelle du Cassoulet religiously guards the recipes for les cassoulets à l’anciennes, in modern parlance, especially in heretical America, “cassoulet” is apt to apply to any hearty preparation involving beans. State and Lake restaurant in the Loop, for example, serves a salmon cassoulet.
Where it comes from: Named for the cassole, a distinctive, round earthenware pot with deep, slanting sides in which cassoulet is traditionally cooked, the dish originated in the Languedoc region at least as far back as the 14th century. Legend has it that during the Hundred Years’ War, the rib-sticking dish so strengthened the defenders of the town of Castelnaudary that they beat back a siege and sent their British invaders running.
What to do with it: Cassoulet is hearty winter fare, best served simply, perhaps with a salad and crusty bread.
Le Titi de Paris’ classic cassoulet
Chef Michael Maddox
Le Titi de Paris in Arlington Heights serves this traditional version of cassoulet during the winter months. Upcoming dates include: today through Jan. 15, and Feb. 2–5, 7 and 9–12.
4 bacon slices, coarsely chopped1 pound fully cooked smoked sausages (such as kielbasa), cut crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick rounds1 pound game sausage, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick rounds2 medium onions6 garlic cloves, chopped1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper1/2 cup brandy3 15-ounce cans great northern beans, drained2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice1 cup low-salt chicken broth3 tablespoons tomato pasteSalt and pepper to taste4 pieces duck confit1/4 cup olive oil4 cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs made from French bread1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the bacon in a heavy, large, ovenproof pot over medium-high heat until brown and crisp, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a bowl. Add the sausages to the drippings; saute until brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the bacon.
Pour off all but 1/4 cup of the drippings. Add the onions and garlic and saute until beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Stir in the rosemary, thyme and crushed red pepper. Add the brandy and simmer until almost evaporated, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the beans, tomatoes with juices, broth and tomato paste. Add the bacon, sausages and duck. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.
Cover the pot and transfer to the preheated oven; bake 30 minutes. (The dish can be prepared up to this point up to two days ahead. Uncover; let cool 1 hour. Refrigerate uncovered until cold; then cover and keep refrigerated. Before continuing, rewarm the covered cassoulet in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes, adding more broth if dry.)
Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Heat the oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and saute until light golden, about 4 minutes.
Transfer to a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the warm cassoulet. Bake until breadcrumb topping is deep golden, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle the cassoulet with parsley and serve. 8 to 10 servings.
State and Lake’s salmon cassoulet
Chef Bradley Manchester
1 cup dried white beans
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1 cup pureed tomatoes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 7-ounce salmon fillets
1 cup Italian sausage, cooked
Make the beans: Combine all ingredients and simmer over medium heat until the beans are cooked through, about 1 hour. Drain off any extra liquid and set beans aside.
Make the tomato sauce: Heat the tomato puree over low heat. Wisk in the butter.
To serve: Grill the salmon 10 minutes per inch of thickness or until desired doneness. Combine the sausage and beans and heat through. Mound the bean and sausage mixture in the center of a plate and top with salmon. Drizzle the tomato sauce around the fish. Serve immediately. 4 servings.