Cassoulet Recipe

by Dr Catriona Walsh

What is all the fuss about cassoulet?

You might have heard of a dish that hails from the south of France called cassoulet. Described as a simple peasants' dish, it is actually a labour of love that can require days of preparation, even though the ingredients are essentially beans, onions, tomato, some herbs, sausage, and a lot of meat. What makes cassoulet so special is that it is a dish resplendent with connective tissue. Skin and joints really elevate this simple casserole to the ultimate gelatine-rich comfort food and, like so many casseroles, cassoulet actually improves if you allow it to sit in the fridge for a few days allowing the flavours to meld. Some people swear that the secret to a good cassoulet is to add extra pork rind, but I make do with the trotters, the skin of the pork knuckle, the bacon rind and the duck skin. Also it really has an obscene amount of garlic. It's just as well it gets cooked for such a long time.

Cassoulet really does take a while to prepare though, and this recipe takes some organisation and preparation, before spending quite a long time on the stove, and even longer in the oven. I try to cut corners as much as possible if I can get away with it, but it is still almost an all day affair.

If you really wanted to cook it properly you would cook the beans separately first, after soaking them overnight. Even better would be to sprout the beans, especially if you find that beans are hard to digest (or cause some somewhat antisocial side effects after consumption). I am a little wary of things in tin cans, mostly due to the plastics in the linings, but also because sometimes they can transfer huge amounts of zinc and possibly other metals from the alloy into the food, but I won't tell anyone if you decide to use tinned haricot beans as a shortcut. Occasional use of tinned whole foods probably isn't the worst thing in the world.

If you are not the sort of person to cut corners then you would also brown all the meat in batches in a large frying pan, making sure not to crowd the pan to create a crust and slightly better flavour. I tend to dispense with this, as I don't feel that it adds enough flavour to make it worth my while. But I am also sometimes a bit of a philistine. If you want to see what a more authentic cassoulet tastes like, you can keep this step in. You will need some additional fat to fry the meat though. Duck fat would be a good choice. Or you could be a little bit lazy like me and just fire everything into an enormous pot.

Traditionally a cassoulet is cooked in a clay pot called a cassole. I don't have one of these, so I use an ovenproof, very large stock pot. A big casserole dish would do nicely as well. It's very important that the handles are safe to heat in an oven, so no plastic. Some sort of cauldron would probably do the job too. This recipe should make enough for about 14 servings, so you really do need a very large pot.

Confit leg of duck or goose is also traditionally used, but this is more expensive than just using a half a goose, or a lot more effort if you choose to do the confiting yourself. Why stop cutting corners here? I just use half of a duck, portioned and the breast cut into a few chunks. And since I don't waste anything, the neck, heart, carcass, and gizzards go in too. I kept the liver to cook separately, but you could pop the duck liver in there too. Make sure you remove the silverskin from the gizzards before nestling them in the cassoulet. If you do want to use genuine confit duck or goose legs you only need to rest these on the top of the cassoulet when it is already mostly cooked through, about 20 minutes before you are due to remove it from the oven. 3-4 confit duck legs should suffice.

I don't use bread, and breadcrumbs are not necessary to form the crust on the top of a cassoulet; that is what all the gelatine from the trotters and skins is for. Of course if you really want to top with breadcrumbs, that is your prerogative.

I was in a well known UK supermarket looking for fresh herbs when I spotted their fresh packed roasting herb mix (which contains sage, rosemary and thyme). I bought it on an impulse, otherwise I probably wouldn't have bothered including the sage and rosemary, but I'm glad that I did, because the flavours were lovely. I used about half of the pack. The whole lot would have been overwhelming. A classic bouquet garni for cassoulet usually just has thyme, bay and parsley. If you have some organic oranges you could throw in a slice or 2 of orange peel as well.

If you can't find really good quality garlic or Toulouse sausages, and you're a glutton for punishment, and you have the spare time and the inclination, I do have a recipe for those too (which I'll post in due course). Of course I also have a recipe for how to confit duck that also works well for gizzards.

Stage 1

Prepare the trottery goodness stock and meat. You can use this recipe. You can make this up to 4 days in advance.

Stage 2

Soak the beans. Determine how sensitive you believe yourself to be to the adverse effects of beans. If you cannot tolerate beans at all, substitute several jars of chestnuts for the beans (which would also work out considerably more expensive).

If you can manage beans reasonably well start sprouting the dry beans about 6 days before you intend to cook the cassoulet, and follow the instructions for sprouting beans which involves soaking first, then rinsing and draining a couple of times a day.

If you are fine with beans just soak them overnight the night before you intend to cook.

Alternatively you could use tinned haricots beans instead of soaking dried beans. I used dried haricots coco rose for this dish, just because I found them in a local Asian supermarket.

Stage 3

Start throwing ingredients into a great big stock pot and start cooking.

Stage 4 

Enjoy. Then get someone else to do the washing up.


500g dried haricot beans, soaked, (or 3 (400g) tins of haricot beans)
250g smoked streaky bacon with the rind left on, chopped
4 yellow onions, chopped
1 head garlic, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
Bouquet garni (a few sprigs of thyme, a small bunch of parsley, 2 bay leaves +/- a sprig of rosemary and about 5 leaves of sage) tied up in a little muslin bag. Or if you prefer to live dangerously just chop the herbs up and toss in
1 (200g) jar steamed whole chestnuts, roughly chopped
500g pork casserole meat (belly or shoulder cut into large chunks, or an equal weight of pork ribs)
500g of Toulouse (or extremely garlicky) sausages, sliced
1 pork knuckle
1/2 a duck, portioned and the breast cut into a few chunks (or 3-4 confit duck legs)
250g tomatoes (roughly chopped if large tomatoes, or left whole if cherry tomatoes)
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 lot of trottery goodness


Heat the very large stock pot on the stove over a gentle heat and add the bacon to start to render. Meanwhile chop and prepare the other ingredients. Add the copped onion, stir and allow to soften for about 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, garlic and tomato paste and stir to mix well. Throw in the herbs chestnuts, pork, knuckle, sausages and duck portions and stir to mix. Add the beans, then top with trottery goodness to make sure all the beans are submerged (you might have to top it up as the gelatinous stock starts to melt and wend its way down through the cassoulet). If you have any duck gizzards, neck or heart nestle these in. Also try to nestle in the duck carcass (you may have to cut the carcass up into a couple of pieces with kitchen shears), but there might not be enough room, in which case balance the carcass on top and nestle in what parts you can without it overflowing. Increase the heat and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer gently for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 160 C.

When the cassoulet has cooked for an hour transfer it to the oven to finish cooking for another 2 hours. Every 20 minutes or so take it out, crack the crust and allow some of the sauce to well up to create a thicker crust. Top up with a little trottery goodness stock (or water) if necessary to keep all the beans slightly submerged. About 20 minutes from the end of cooking discard the duck carcass (picking off any bits of meat that have cooked and adding them back to the pot, or just popping them in your mouth if you can't resist the temptation. You'll ruin your appetite if you chow on lots of lovely duck meat and skin though). If you opted for the confit duck legs instead of the half duck, the last 20 minutes of cooking time in the oven is the time to pop them on top of the cassoulet to let them cook through.

That is pretty much it. Toss a few lettuce leaves in a bit of a light French vinaigrette, or steam some cabbage sprouts, dab the sweat from your brow, and maybe pour yourself a nice glass of wine to serve along with your cassoulet. Some people opt to serve it with some crusty French bread (clearly I am not one of those people). But mostly just savour it, preferably with some good company. But trust me when I say you will enjoy it more the next few days when you reheat it, especially since you won't have to go through the ordeal of all that cooking! If there is far too much to eat it all within about 4 days, portion up the leftovers, label with date and identifying information and freeze.

To get more of a feel for what I am up to, and whether I might be able to help you, come to my website at


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