October 19, 2009

Thomas Keller's Cassoulet & 2001 Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Cassoulet is a peasant dish that origniated in the south of France. You can think of Cassoulet as a fancy way of describing pork-n-beans. Traditionally, Cassoulet is made with various combinations of duck confit, goose, pork sausage, pork, pork skin, bacon, garlic, onions, and lotsa white beans. The key to Cassoulet is cooking it long and low over the course of an afternoon (or two). There are numerous recipes for Cassoulet, some more complicated than others. It's not uncommon for Cassoulet to be a two or three day process (see Julia's or Bourdain's Les Halles' Cassoulet if you really want to spend three days on your Cassoulet).

I like Thomas Keller's "easy" Cassoulet recipe. You start by rendering lardons, then browning pork shoulder in the fat. Remove the pork, sautee onions in the renderings and then deglaze with white wine. Once the wine is reduced by half add white beans (canned work here), chicken stock, a head of garlic, and some crushed tomatoes. Return the pork shoulder to the pot, and let it go for about 8 hours at 200 degrees. After 8 hours or so, you'll have a pot of gooey goodness with pork that just falls apart and creamy beans. Stir in some toasted panko and parsley, a little parmesan, top with baguette slices and it's the best damn thing you could eat on a cold Sunday night.

One of my favorite wines with Cassoulet is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I also love CdP in the fall, it's like a warm blanket, it makes me think of home and cold nights by a raging fire.
2001 Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape

The wine, from a .375, showed a soaring nose of iodine, pine, abd wet leaves. Palate features red fuit, spice, white pepper, and garrigue. Tightens slightly with air. Still formidable tannins on the backside. Shows like a youngster still, but a delight, and so bloody good with the Cassoulet. Yum.


  1. Sounds awesome. My wife and I will have to add Cassoulet to our winter Sunday cooking dish wish list, though we have no aged CdP to go with it, I'm sure we can come up with something.

  2. Thanks, Kevin. Cassoulet is so incredibly perfect for cold fall/winter nights. The dish came from southern France, Cab Franc, Bandol, and even older Burds work well. I just happen to like it with CdP, too! Cheers.

  3. Looks awesome man. I've been wanting to make Bourdain's cassoulet ever since I got the book but duck confit is pretty hard to find in Athens.

    Sure beats chicken soup on any night of day - not just Sunday!

  4. DWAFD, that sounds awesome. Cold snap over the weekend definitely called for some hearty dishes. I made a pretty strong ragu bolognese Sat. night, but I don't know if it would stand up to this. Well done!

  5. Thanks Sean-Bourdain's recipe is the bomb; I haven't made it, but have had Rowdy's incredible version. This one is an easier knock-off and is not really "tradtional" cassoulet. Thanks for the comments.

    Joe-Bolognese sounds great, too. I've never made a bolognese. Need to. Thanks!

  6. Dude, that is some fine lookin' cassoulet my friend!

  7. Thanks Rowdy. My cassoulet will do...until I can convince you to make yours again.

  8. I do not render the lardons. I actually place large thick pieces of bacon above the last layer of beans so the fat will melt on these beans that are not directly sitting in the juice.

    Duck confit is hard to find indeed as some commented; I replace it with chicken legs or duck legs (get a frozen whole duck and use the legs for the cassoulet, roast the rest for another meal).

    Traditionally you would not put bread slices on top but a eight to quater inch layer of bread crumbs just above the bacon and beans and the liquid must not come all the way up or the bread will be too humid and should be crunchy.

    Then I cook it in an imported French Claybourg clay tureen (available at www.claybourg.com) for 3 hours at 325 degrees. Cooking the cassoulet in clay is the best by far, no comparison with a cast iron casserole, it tasts 10 times better. If you have time you could cook for a couple hours, let it slowly cool off at room temp. in the clay pot overnight and cook it again 1 or 2 hours the following day. This way all the flavors come together during the cooling process. Also, to keep all the juices and flavors in, seal the clay pot with a flour and water dough (oil the pot before so it does not stick too much).

  9. Guillaume,
    Great points all around. I like the idea of laying the bacon across the top layer of beans, going to try that next time. I usually don't put the baguette slices on top; it's a Keller thing I thought I'd try.
    Thanks for the tip on the clay tureen.

  10. Dude! I love cassoulet -- which Atlanta restaurants do it best?

    And you are spot on: CdP pairs perfectly.

    Doug K

  11. Thanks, Doug!
    The only cassoulet I've had locally was at Cafe Alsace in Decatur. A gem of a restaurant.