For Comforting, One-Pot Winter Meals, Get to Know French Cassoulet

Get to know this slow-cooked French stew that's perfect comfort food for winter.

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closeup of the edge of an enameled cast iron pot filled with sausage, beans, and duck confit
Photo by catherine.drew. Photo: catherine.drew

As winter temperatures drop, we seek out warming, flavorful dishes packed with hearty ingredients. So-called "peasant" dishes from around the world fit perfectly into this category; these rustic entrees feature comforting proteins and simple techniques that can be easily learned by cooks of all levels. One prime example is cassoulet, a slow-cooked French dish that's a casserole and stew hybrid. It's been part of the culinary conversation since medieval times, and it is a favorite of executive chef Laetitia Rouabah of Benoit in New York City, who gave us plenty of useful tips on making this classic recipe for the first time.

What Is Cassoulet?

Cassoulet is a dish that hails from the Languedoc region of southern France and features layers of meat, beans, and aromatics like garlic and herbs. Traditionally, cassoulet cooks in an earthenware dish known as a cassoule, which lends its name to the dish.

Which ingredients Are Found in Cassoulet?

The traditional meats used for cassoulet are duck (usually duck legs and a duck confit made by cooking the duck in its own fat until it becomes soft and almost spreadable), and pork (pork confit or pork sausage). That said, home cooks can take plenty of license with their cassoulet meats; alternatives to duck and pork might include chicken (especially dark meat chicken), turkey sausage, or even plant-based sausage, and sturdy root vegetables. Cassoulet also contains white beans (haricots blancs in French), and seasonings may include salt, black pepper, garlic, and nutmeg. The meat and beans used to make cassoulet give it the rib-sticking nature for which it's celebrated.

To make cassoulet, Rouabah recommends "cooking each meat separately and then combining them once you transfer everything into the oven." After adding the meat to the earthenware or ceramic dish, layer in the cooked beans. Rouabah warns that you need to "make sure that the beans are not crisped or turning into a puree. To avoid cracking, boil them over high heat and add salt about 3/4 of the way into the cooking time." The layered cassoulet will then roast in the oven (with cooking liquid ladled in as a moistener) for 2-3 hours, resulting in a rich, casserole-like stew that will warm up even the coldest winter night.

How Do You Serve Cassoulet?

Although old-timey cassoulets were prepped in earthenware containers, modern-day cooks have plenty of flexibility in their choice of cooking vessel. Rouabah tells us that she likes to use a cocotte (an enameled cast-iron pot that's very much like a Dutch oven, but with a flat lid rather than a curved one) to make her cassoulet, specifying that "Le Creuset or Staub [cocottes] are the best to cook the ingredients properly and to concentrate the heat level in the cocotte." If a cocotte isn't available to you, any covered casserole dish or Dutch oven will do the trick.

Because cassoulet is meant to be rich and substantial, it pairs beautifully with a salad of dark greens and a citrusy (or mustardy) vinaigrette to add some acidity to the meal. Also, don't forget to serve your cassoulet with plenty of crusty baguette pieces for dipping!

Try These Cassoulet Recipes:

Explore our complete collection of French Recipes.

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