White beans slow-cooked with bacon, pork shoulder, sausage, and chicken thighs pick up tons of flavor in this cassoulet, a hearty French casserole.
I have a few things on my mind this time of year, recipe-wise. With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’m thinking about some romantic dinner for two type meals. I started this blog with date night recipes, after all. Then February 16 is Chinese New Year. Even though I may not make the most traditional Chinese dishes, it does make me want to cook some Asian style food.
And there’s this weather we’ve been having. It was 6 below Saturday morning. When it’s this cold, I crave soups and stews and casseroles, the kind of dishes that sit in the oven or on the stove for a long time, warming up the kitchen and infusing the house with good cooking smells. I usually cook these dishes in large batches, so we’ll have leftovers for lunches and dinners on the days I work late. As an example of this kind of warm winter dish, I made these Apple Cider Braised Short Ribs for dinner this weekend for Jonathan’s family. This is my most pinned recipe, and I can only say, you guys have great taste.
So, I guess I’m on a kick with French food. My Beef Bourguignon is another good winter stew from French cuisine.
Cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole from the south of France. It normally includes white beans, some type of meat or sausage, pork skin, and some type of tomato. Like Beef Bourguignon, it started out as country peasant food before it showed up on the menu at fancy restaurants in modern times.
Cassoulet often includes confit duck legs. I decided to use chicken thighs to keep the ingredients for this recipe accessible. I also swapped bacon for pork skin.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Making cassoulet takes a long time. It’s perfect if you’re having a lazy weekend day when it’s so cold, you don’t want to leave the house at all. You have to soak the beans the night before. Then the day-of, it takes about an hour to brown all the meats and sweat the onions, then another hour for the beans to simmer. I could have cut down the recipe time by an hour by having you brown the meats in a separate pot, but I wanted to keep all that flavor from the browned bits in the same pot with the beans. After the beans have simmered, you assemble the casserole, then bake for 3 ½ hours. So most of the recipe time is still inactive.
Here are the Ingredients Part One: the Meat. We have six chicken thighs, half a pound of bacon, 1 ½ pounds of pork shoulder, and 12 ounces of smoked sausage.
In Ingredients Part Two, we have 1 ½ pounds of dried great northern beans, a chopped onion, some smashed garlic, tomato paste, thyme, celery, and carrots. Any type of white bean would work in this recipe.
This recipe was the first time I ever cooked using dried beans. Normally I’d add canned beans to a soup or salad or something toward the end of cooking. Here what makes the flavor of this dish is the long slow cooking time where the beans absorb the flavors from the meat.
You’re supposed to soak dried beans at room temperature for eight hours or overnight. We turn off our heat before we go to bed and turn it back on when we wake up in the morning. When I woke up, the kitchen was 47 degrees, so the beans wouldn’t have been much worse off leaving them in the fridge. Anyway, it worked.
Here are the beans pre-soaking.
You can see how much water they soaked up, how different the water level looked the next morning.
The next part of the recipe is browning all the meat. Here I’m using the pot I used for the rest of the recipe. I used a 6 ¾ quart Dutch oven and by the time it was ready to go into the oven, it was full to the brim. You couldn’t even fit another bean in there. If you are using a smaller Dutch oven, scale the recipe down. If you have a larger one, use that.
First I cooked the bacon.
Then I browned the pork shoulder.
Then I browned the chicken thighs.
The sausage I used was pre-cooked, so I just browned it.
Next I cooked the vegetables, then simmered the beans in some chicken broth. Then I put everything all together and baked. The pot was very heavy. Be careful transferring it in and out of the oven. I could see my loaded up Dutch oven weighing down the oven rack.
After 3 ½ hours of bake time: