Cassoulet is one of the most revered and talked about great French dishes. If you are tackling French food, as one approaches a genre of foods to master, Cassoulet is probably on that list of dishes to master.
If you have traveled to France and had Cassoulet cooked by a chef, a friend, or a grandmother there and it knocked your socks off, yet looks so simple, or have been fortunate enough to have had a Cassoulet at a good restaurant (one that uses quality ingredients), that knocked your socks off. And now you know you can make this at home, right?
Everyone speaks so highly of it.
It’s so simple.
A braised dish, with leftover odds and ends from the kitchen. How can you go wrong?
And yet, you make it, and, it’s not that special?
I mean, how hard can it be?!?!
Well, it’s not. No matter what recipe you follow, all their special instructions and hours and use this meat and that meat, bake so many hours, top with bread crumbs, then top with more bread crumbs….
The key, you see, is in the beans themselves.
The first time I ordered beans from Rancho Gordo, I read their guides and warnings with amusement.
- Our beans are fresh picked and dried.
- They have not been sitting in a warehouse for 2 years.
- They do not need to be soaked overnight.
- They will cook much faster than store-bought beans.
Having heard from some in the bean business that it is true that some of our most favorite beans sit in a warehouse for 2 years before we get them, I figured they were right.
The first time I cooked the tarbais beans, I cooked them with no seasoning, not even a bay leaf or thyme. I wanted to taste the bean for itself. I waited until they were almost done, and then tasted one. It was buttery creamy, and really tasty. Salt? Didn’t really even need it. I fished another bean out and handed it to my husband passing by. Even he was impressed by this unsalted, unseasoned bean. Of course, his comment, was “Now, season them up!” And they were delicious!
So, a year or so later, when a pork roast got overcooked to fast on a too hot grill, I knew exactly where the tough meat on that bone was destined to go: with those tarbais beans from Rancho Gordo to create yummy braised southern cassoulet beans. But that bad bone in a slow cooker overnight to get all the meat off the bone, pack everything in the freezer until the day I’m ready to make some beans!
These beans are worth every penny, because every bite is like a little bite of heaven.
From whichever source you obtain your tarbais beans from, don’t store them forever. Use them soon. The age of the dried beans does affect the ultimate texture and flavor. Also, I’ve heard that tarbais beans from France can cost up to $30.00 per pound. Crazy! Makes Rancho Gordo prices seem like a steal!
To make simple braised cassoulet-style beans, you will need:
- 2 cups tarbais (aka cassoulet beans) – or any white bean or flageolet bean that you can obtain
- Water to cover (I prefer quick soak method)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup minced onion
- 1 cup minced celery
- ½ cup minced carrot
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 to 4 cups stock and/or water to cover beans (after soaking)
- 2 to 3 cups leftover smoked or braised, pulled pork, chicken, duck, turkey or good sausage (whatever is lurking in your fridge or freezer that must go!)
You can soak your beans overnight (or all day), or, you can use the quick soak method. I usually use the quick soak method as I usually do most of my cooking on the weekend. Rinse and sort the beans. Cover them with water, about 3 to 4 cups. Bring to boil, and reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Drain water. This is optional, and debatable; some say it reduces gas (in your tummy), and some say you are throwing away vital nutrients. You choose. Usually I do not throw away the water, but simply add more water (or stock, depending on meats added for seasoning) as needed to cover beans by an inch or two.
Simmer the beans about 20 minutes to 30 minutes.
In a separate skillet, sauté the seasoning vegetables in olive oil till translucent. Once the vegetables are translucent, transfer to the beans. Add the tomato paste, the bay leaf and meats to the beans. Add more water, if needed. Just enough to keep beans covered by about a half inch to an inch, depending on your preference.
Let the beans simmer another 45 minutes to an hour, if not longer. Taste a bean for doneness. Depending on the age of the dried bean you have obtained, it could take a while longer. Add water as needed. Adjust for salt.