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Cassoulet is a classic French dish, and considered one of the ultimate in comfort foods. Recipes for the dish originate in the south of France, particularly the southwest, but the dish is made throughout France and in many other countries besides. Though ingredients vary slightly, cassoulet typically contains white beans, and confit of duck or goose, a salted and herbed meat (usually made from the legs of the animal) that is cooked in its own fat, cooled, and preserved. Duck or goose legs made in this manner add flavor to the cassoulet, which also often contains other types of meat, like mutton and pork, and spicy sausages.
Traditional cassoulet is simmered for several hours on the stovetop so the beans cook properly and the flavors combine together. It is then placed in an ovenproof dish. This dish in France is usually earthenware and is called a cassole. The whole cassoulet is baked for an additional hour and may be topped with breadcrumbs for extra crunch on top.
The main work in making cassoulet is creating confit, which can take several days to make since the meat is cooled and stored before it is used. You can purchase premade confit at specialty stores, though this is a little difficult to find. Alternately, you can simply skip the confit and add a little additional fat to the dish, as from frying the duck legs, or adding something like bacon, to invest the dish with a hearty flavor.
Cassoulet as it simmers on the stove normally has white wine and plenty of chicken stock, though turkey stock or vegetable stock can be used instead. You can omit the wine, though this will deprive the dish of some of its flavor. You might add a tiny amount of white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar instead to give the food a little bite.
There are numerous recipes online for cassoulet, and books like The Joy of Cooking offer several adaptations to make cooking the dish a little easier. Though it can be a bit labor intensive to make this traditional French entrée, the benefit is you have a one pot “casserole” to serve to the entire family. Add some crusty bread and a salad and you’ve got a wonderfully warm delicious meal, especially comforting during cold winter months.
You can also save a little time on cooking if you use canned instead of dried beans, which don’t require pre-soaking. It is fairly easy to find white haricot beans, but if you are a stickler for tradition, look for French flageolet beans, which are light green in color. Again, a specialty market or imported foods market is likely your best choice when looking for flageolets.