Cassoulet, a French stew, is a quintessential winter dish—hearty and satisfying, with perfectly slow-cooked beans that absorb the deep flavors of the meats (thick-cut bacon, pork shoulder, sausages, and duck confit) and aromatics that get cooked with them. Breadcrumbs get sprinkled on top with a drizzle of duck fat, creating a glistening golden crust.
Although it takes some time to prepare and requires a few specialty ingredients, this dish is a triumph. To make Cassoulet, you’ll have to dig deep into the recipe and give over a day or two of slow cooking. You will be rewarded with a dish worthy of serving on a chilly night to special guests who will appreciate your efforts.
Cassoulet: A Little Background
Cassoulet is rooted in the Languedoc province of southwest France going back to as early as the mid 1300s. It was originally baked in an earthenware dish, a casserole, hence the name cassoulet.
The dish calls for duck confit, a time-honored way the French preserve duck before modern refrigeration. It traditionally also calls for a plethora of meats such as pork, sausage, lamb, salt pork, bacon, ham hocks, pork skin, and pork shoulder.
There are many regional versions of cassoulet, the best ones coming from a home kitchen. That gives you some license to improvise with ingredients you can source. Try not to stray too far afield from the spirit of the dish—white beans, flavorful meats, aromatics, and breadcrumbs baked until tender, brothy, and deeply flavorful—and you will have a memorable meal to share with family and friends.
The Best Beans for Cassoulet
Cassoulet is traditionally made with dried white beans like flageolet or regional specialty beans like these ones from Tarbais. It might be a stretch to locate these beans in your local market, but great northern beans, navy beans, or cannellini beans are all great alternatives.
For this recipe, soak the beans overnight. I add a tablespoon of salt to the soaking water. Some people believe that salting beans will make them tough. The reason beans do not soften is usually because they are old. So, if possible, try to find dried beans that were harvested within the last year or so. Check the date on the packaging.
While I prefer to soak the beans overnight, a short soak is okay. For this, place the beans in a pot, cover them with 2 inches of water, and bring the water to a boil. Turn off the heat and let them soak, covered, for 1 hour. Drain the beans and rinse them under cold running water.
Some beans, such as flageolet, will need to cook longer than others. You may want to allocate some extra time in the oven (Step 9) just in case.
A Tip for Cooking Beans
The soaked beans are partially cooked on the stovetop first. The trick is to slowly bring them to a simmer and to cook them gently, stirring occasionally. Don’t let the water come to a hard boil to prevent the beans from bursting and losing their shape. The beans will continue cooking in the oven, so they don’t have to cook through here.
Layers of Meat for Flavor
Cassoulet is richly flavored, and most of the flavor comes from the variety of meats that go into the dish. Although there are many options, cassoulet typically has pork (pork shoulder, bacon, or salt pork), duck confit, and sausage.
If the duck arrives frozen, defrost it in the fridge overnight, remove it from its package, and pat it dry with paper towels before cooking it. When assembling the cassoulet, you can leave the duck legs whole, separate the thigh from the leg, or pull the meat off the bones. I opt for pulling the meat for easier eating.
Bacon: Use thick-cut bacon sliced into 1-inch pieces and cook it to render most of its fat but do not brown or crisp them.
Pork shoulder: This is the cut of pork that is traditionally used to make cassoulet. For this recipe, I found a thick slice of pork shoulder with a bone in it. I cut around the bone to remove it and into the pot of beans it went to flavor the beans.
Sausage: The traditional sausage to use here would be a pork sausage from Toulouse. Sweet Italian pork sausage is a great choice available to us. Brown the sausage, slice it into bite-sized pieces, and cook it with the beans.
Other meats: You could include diced ham steak, ham hocks, pork skin, pancetta, and lamb shoulder, but this version is plenty meaty. It’s up to you. You’re the boss in the kitchen!
The Breadcrumb Topping
A breadcrumb topping or “skin” that is baked on top of the cassoulet is essential. A layer of coarse fresh breadcrumbs is added on top of the beans towards the end of cooking and followed by a drizzle of duck fat.
After about 20 minutes in the oven, the top of the breadcrumbs become dry and a little toasty. They are gently pushed down into the cooking liquid, just far enough to moisten them, and baked for a little longer. This process of pushing the breadcrumbs down and baking, for purists, is repeated seven times. Honestly, after two or three times, I was quite happy with the result.
What to Serve with Cassoulet
Cassoulet is rich and stewy, with a fragrant meaty broth. A simple green salad and hunks of torn baguette to dip into the broth are all you need to complete the meal. Serve it with a light red wine such as Beaujolais or Cahors, a full-bodied rosé, or chilled dry white wine.
You Will Need to Plan Ahead
This is not a recipe you can make in one day. (We have an Easy Cassoulet that’s much quicker and perfect for a weeknight!) Prepare the components a day or two in advance: soak the beans, cut the vegetables, thaw the duck, if frozen, and make the breadcrumbs. Give yourself about 5 hours before you’ll serve the cassoulet to cook, assemble, and bake.
To Store and Reheat
Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To reheat, transfer it into a small baking dish, top with more breadcrumbs, and bake in a 350ºF oven until heated through and the breadcrumbs are browned.
You can also freeze cassoulet in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Fully defrost it in the refrigerator and reheat it as described above.
We Think Beans Are Cool Too!
- Black Bean Soup
- Cowboy Beans
- Spicy, Citrusy Black Beans
- Ham and White Bean Soup
- Feijoada (Brazilian Black Bean Stew)
We recommend making this recipe over 2 days. On the first day, soak the beans and defrost the duck confit (if purchased frozen). On the second day, cook the components, and assemble and bake the cassoulet.
Don't want to order duck confit? This recipe is the prefect excuse to try our Easy Duck Confit recipe, which involves nothing more than salting duck legs and cooking them low and slow in an oven.
You'll need an 8-quart Dutch oven to make this. If you don't have one that large, you can assemble and bake the excess in a baking dish covered with foil.
2 pounds dried flageolet, great northern beans, or navy beans
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen twine
6 to 8 cloves garlic, unpeeled
4 duck whole leg confit, excess fat trimmed off
6 slices (6 ounces) thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound sweet Italian sausages
1/2 baguette or 4 slices crusty sourdough bread, torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons duck fat (rendered from browning the confit) or olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish
Soak the beans overnight:
In a large pot, add the beans and cover them with at least 2 inches of cold water. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and let it soak overnight or for at least 8 hours. If it’s a cool day, you can leave the beans on your kitchen counter. Otherwise, pop them in the fridge for soaking.
Partially cook the beans with aromatics:
Drain the soaked beans in a colander set in the sink and rinse them under cold running water. Return the beans to the pot and stir in the diced tomatoes, white wine, onion, carrots, celery, thyme, and garlic. Add enough cold water to cover the beans by 1 inch.
Set the pot over medium-low heat and slowly bring the beans to a simmer, covered with a lid. Once it comes up to a simmer, cook for 30 minutes. The beans will not be fully cooked at this point.
Set a colander over a large bowl and drain the beans and aromatics into it. Do not discard the cooking liquid. It’s not necessary, but if you’d like, pick out the thyme and garlic peels, and discard them.
Preheat the oven:
Set an oven rack to the center and preheat the oven to 300°F.
While the beans simmer, brown the meats:
Pat the duck legs dry with a paper towel. Heat a large (at least 8-quart) Dutch oven over medium heat and when it is hot, add the duck legs. The duck should render enough fat, so you will not need to add any oil. Brown them on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer them to a platter. You can reserve some of the rendered duck fat for the breadcrumbs—pour some into a small bowl.
If you are using our Easy Duck Confit recipe, you can skip browning the duck legs, as they will already be nicely browned from their time in the oven.
If you want to serve the duck in smaller pieces, not whole, cut each leg in half at the joint between the thigh and leg. You can also pull the meat from the bones using your hands. This will make them easier to eat.
In the same Dutch oven set over medium heat, cook the bacon for 5 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until it renders most of its fat, but is not yet crisp. Transfer it to the platter with the duck.
Season the pork with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper. With the tip of a paring knife, prick each sausage in a couple of places. This will help them keep their shape as they cook.
In the same Dutch oven set over medium-high heat, add the pork and sausages in a single layer without overlapping. Cook them until browned all over, turning them often, about 10 minutes total. Transfer them to the platter.
Cut the sausage into 1-inch rounds.
Deglaze the pot:
Set the Dutch oven over medium heat. To deglaze the pot, add about 1/2 cup of the reserved bean cooking liquid and use a wooden spoon to scrape the brown bits stuck to the bottom and sides.
Assemble the cassoulet:
Turn off the burner. Into the Dutch oven, add a third of the beans and spread them out into an even layer. Arrange the bacon and pork on top. Cover with half of the remaining beans. Arrange the duck and sausages on top and cover with a final layer of beans.
Pour in the reserved bean cooking liquid. There should be enough liquid to just about cover the beans (the same level as the beans). Add water if needed. If you have leftover bean cooking liquid, reserve it in case the cassoulet needs more as it cooks.
Bake the cassoulet:
Cover the Dutch oven with a lid and set it in the oven. Bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes without opening the lid.
Meanwhile, make the breadcrumbs:
In a food processor, add the bread and pulse until you have large crumbs (about 1/2-inch pieces).
Bake the cassoulet with the breadcrumbs:
Take the Dutch oven out of the oven. Remove a few of the beans, then bite into them. (They should be quite close to done. If not, continue baking until they are.)
If the beans look dry, add enough of the reserved bean cooking liquid to barely cover the beans. Spread a layer of breadcrumbs over the cassoulet. Pop the Dutch oven back into the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
Take the Dutch oven out of the oven again, and with the back of a large spoon gently press the breadcrumbs into the cassoulet to dampen them. Bake it again, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
Raise the oven temperature to 350ºF.
Once again, take the Dutch oven out of the oven, and gently press the breadcrumbs into the cassoulet. Drizzle the top with 2 tablespoons duck fat or olive oil. Bake it again, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is golden and glistening.
Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Some beans, like flageolets, will absorb liquid as the cassoulet rests out of the oven, so don't be alarmed if the cassoulet appears a little soupy at first.
Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. You can also freeze cassoulet in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 8 to 10|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 42g||54%|
|Saturated Fat 14g||69%|
|Total Carbohydrate 90g||33%|
|Dietary Fiber 21g||76%|
|Total Sugars 7g|
|Vitamin C 15mg||77%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|