Julia Child’s Cassoulet
In the States, Cassoulet is not really something that you should try to make entirely from scratch at home, unless you a have a day to spare to make the confit goose or duck legs and another day to make the cassoulet. In France, it is much easier, as you can readily purchase the confit. In the States, you can special order it, or get your confit from a local restaurant if you make friends with the chef. This is Julia Child’s classic take on cassoulet. The people around Toulouse grew up with this navy bean stew dish. This warm, rustic dish is perfect for winter. Serve with fresh bread and a salad.
Serves 10-12, From “Julia’s Menus for Special Occasions” (Knopf)
For the beans:
- 2 pounds (5 cups) dry white beans,
- such as Great Northern
- 1 pound fat-and-lean salt pork (rind optional)
- 1 large herb bouquet made up of
- 8 parsley sprigs, 4 garlic cloves,
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme and 2 imported bay leaves,
- all tied in washed cheesecloth
- Salt, to taste
For the cassoulet:
- 4 pounds bone-in lamb shoulder, sawed into stewing chunks
- Rendered goose fat, or cooking oil
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 4 or 5 large garlic cloves, minced
- 4 or 5 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 2 imported bay leaves
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 3 cups beef stock or bouillon, or more if needed
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 5 pounds preserved goose, cut in pieces, plus cracklings
- 11/2 to 2 pounds sausage, such as kielbasa or chorizo, or sausage meat formed into cakes
- 3 tablespoons rendered goose fat or melted butter; more if needed
- 2 cups moderately pressed-down fresh white crumbs from crustless,
- nonsweet French or Italian bread
- 1/2 cup moderately pressed-down minced fresh parsley
Make the beans: Pick over the beans to remove any debris, wash and drain them, and place in a large pot. Add 41/2 quarts water, cover and bring to a boil. Boil uncovered for exactly 2 minutes. Cover and let sit for exactly 1 hour.
Meanwhile, if you are using the salt pork, remove the rind and cut pork into slices 1/2 inch thick. Simmer rind and pork in 3 quarts water for 15 minutes to remove excess salt. Rinse in cold water, drain and set aside.
When the beans have finished soaking, bring them to a simmer, adding the optional pork and rind, the onion and herb bouquet, and 1 tablespoon salt if you have not used salt pork, 1/2 tablespoon if you have. Simmer slowly, partially covered until the beans are just tender, about 11/2 hours, adding boiling water if needed to keep beans covered at all times, and salt to taste near the end of the cooking. (May be done up to 3 days in advance; refrigerate. Bring just to a simmer before proceeding with the cassoulet.)
To make the lamb: Dry lamb pieces. Film casserole with fat or oil, heat to very hot, but not smoking, and brown lamb pieces, a few at a time, removing the browned pieces to a dish. Pour out excess fat and brown the onions lightly. Return lamb to casserole, add garlic, tomato paste, herbs, wine and enough stock just to cover lamb. Salt lightly, cover and simmer slowly until lamb is tender, about 11/2 hours. Correct seasoning. When cool, remove and discard bones from lamb. (May be cooked up to 3 days in advance; when cold, cover and refrigerate lamb in its cooking liquid. Discard congealed surface fat before using.)
To assemble the cassoulet: Remove bones from preserved goose and, if you wish, the skin. Cut goose into serving chunks the same size as the lamb pieces. If using salt pork, cut it into thin slices. If using sausage, cut in half lengthwise, then into chunks, and brown lightly in a frying pan with goose fat or oil. If using sausage meat, form into cakes about 11/2 inches across, and brown in fat or oil.
Using a slotted spoon, remove beans from their liquid, but reserve liquid. Arrange a third of the beans in the bottom of a 6-quart casserole. Cover with a layer of lamb, goose, sausage, a handful of goose cracklings and, if using it, half the salt pork. Repeat with a layer of beans, then meat. End with a layer of beans, coming to within about 1/4 inch of the rim of the casserole. Ladle the lamb cooking liquid plus as much bean cooking liquid as needed just to cover the beans. Spread breadcrumbs and parsley over the top. (Recipe may be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance, but if the beans and lamb have not been freshly cooked, bring them to a simmer for several minutes before assembling cassoulet, to prevent any chance of spoilage. When cool, cover and refrigerate.)
Cooking the cassoulet: If you have assembled and refrigerated the cassoulet in advance, place the covered casserole in a 325-degree oven for an hour or more until its contents are bubbling and the center of the cassoulet reaches 212 degrees when tested with an instant-read thermometer, then proceed as directed below. Heating the cassoulet on the stove to this point may cause the beans on the bottom to scorch.)
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring casserole to a simmer on top of the stove, then set it in the oven. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until breadcrumb topping has crusted and browned lightly. Break the crust into the beans with the back of a spoon and return casserole to the oven. Lower temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking 15 minutes or more until a second crust has formed. Break it into the beans, and if the cooking liquid seems too thick or the beans dry, add a spoonful or so of the bean-cooking liquid. When the crust forms again, the cassoulet is ready to serve.
These photos were taken by our friend, Ferenc Horvath, at the Smithsonian museum’s celebration of Julia Child’s 100th birthday, where her beloved Cambridge, Massachussetts kitchen is on display. Julia Child (1912-2004) used the kitchen as the set of of her television shows and as the testing ground for many recipes featured in her cookbooks. The kitchen contains hundreds of tools, appliances, and furnishings, all arranged exactly as they were when Child donated the kitchen to the Smithsonian in 2001.