TO CASSOULET OR NOT TO CASSOULET? A FAVOURITE FRENCH WINTER DISH

If one were to make a list of the French winter dishes that set your tastebuds to work and titillate your palate, leaving out Cassoulet would simply be a crime de lèse majesté… Cassoulet is the perfect French winter dish! It is hearty, filling, and leaves plenty of leftovers to enjoy throughout the week!

For those who don’t know, Cassoulet is a peasant dish that comes from the southwest corner of France. It is typical of the Languedoc region and the cities of Toulouse, Carcassonne and Castelnaudray. The name Cassoulet is believed to derive from the ‘cassole’ – a conical earthenware container – in which it is traditionally prepared.

Why eat Cassoulet during winter?

It is THE perfect winter dish for many reasons:

  • The slow cooking releases a tantalising scent throughout the kitchen from the moment preparation begins.
  • It is hearty: it was originally made to feed people who had worked in the fields all day. So, it is the perfect thing to eat after a long winter randonnée (a bushwalk) or coming off the ski fields. But a lazy Sunday is just as perfect a reason to enjoy….
  • It is an all-rounder of a dish! No need to prepare sides and an entrée: a serving of Cassoulet will satiate any dinner guests! 

What is in Cassoulet?

Cassoulet is made of a few essential ingredients and any other elements will vary depending on the cook. Recipes are fiercely guarded family secrets…

There is, of course, pork (belly, loin, hock, sausage) as well as duck confit, Saucissons à l’Ail (French garlic sausages), neck and breast of lamb. Additionally, there are variants that include goose confit and goose fat. However, whatever ingredients you chose, the secret to the success of this dish is how long it is cooked for. It must simmer for a long time, so a wide-at-the-top earthenware dish that is narrow at the base is best. This is because the shape promotes a delicious crusty top to form when you finish it off under the grill.

Like all good stews, Cassoulet improves the longer you keep it, so, don’t forget to make more than you need!

What do I serve it with?

Other than a simple green salad with a light vinaigrette and an excellent bottle of full-bodied red wine, no other accompaniment is needed!

The sommelier in me recommends a Côtes du Rhône if the recipe you select is white beans and vegetable-based whereas a cassoulet that includes tomatoes or long-simmered meat, particularly duck or pork would benefit from something a bit more aggressive, perhaps a Madiran (based on the under-appreciated Tannat grape) or a Cahors (mostly Malbec, with a bit of Tannat).

Where can I get Cassoulet?

If you can’t get hold of a family recipe, the best Cassoulet recipes can be found online.

My favourites include Raymond Blanc and Julia Child.

Alternatively, you may want to make a reservation at Philippe: Philippe Mouchel, Melbourne’s favourite French chef has dedicated his life to promoting refined French cuisine and has revealed novel ways to enjoy it.

After savouring a meal of Cassoulet you may need to devote the rest of your afternoon to napping…

Bon appétit!

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