A French Cassoulet is the product of centuries of practice focusing on multiple preserved foods. At the heart of the Cassoulet are beans (dried) and rich flavors of pork and duck charcuterie. The Cassoulet is baked over hours melding the flavors together wonderfully.
If you were to make a Cassoulet in Southwest France you have the advantage of an abundance of choices of ingredients. There have been times I have gone all out with making a Classic Cassoulet and the results are special. But acquiring the ingredients can be a project in itself, not to mention the time involved. Hence I have developed a Weeknight French Cassoulet. A Weeknight French Cassoulet is also an Easy French Cassoulet that can satisfy with less effort.
Cassoulet is one of those dishes that leads you to understand that in so many ways French cuisine is simple, just good ingredients well prepared.
Notes on Ingredients
In order to do this I have addressed what is absolutely required for a French Cassoulet: what is required, what is desired, what is optional, and what can be substituted.
Required for Weeknight French Cassoulet
Toulouse Sausage is a mild fresh sausage made with pork. It is flavored with white wine, and spices such as nutmeg, coriander, caraway, and allspice. The spices flavor through the Cassoulet. If you cannot find Toulouse sausage you can use another mild sausage. Or you could add a bit of cooked pork shoulder and add the above spices to the mixture.
The recipe uses one 15-ounce (425g) can of diced tomatoes.
Cassoulet traditionally uses French Tarbais beans. For our quicker weekday Cassoulet, we are going to use canned beans. Good luck finding Tarbais as a canned bean; instead, we can use most white beans. Great northern beans are likely your best bet, followed by cannellini or navy beans.
If you can start a day ahead, you can prepare some dried beans and add the already cooked beans in the same proportions as canned. In the U.S., Rancho Gordo Cassoulet Beans are as close as we get.
Thick-cut bacon or bacon ends are best. Avoid heavily smoked bacon.
Chopped, both are required.
Thyme and other spices
As discussed above, if using Toulouse Sausage, it likely contains many spices. If not, consider adding spices such as nutmeg, coriander, caraway, and allspice. Regardless of your sausage flavorings, add thyme to the mix. Top with parsley after baking.
Bread Crumbs and Parsley
A classic Cassoulet has a crusty top of well-cooked beans. This comes from hours of cooking. Our weekday Cassoulet will not offer the same. We can offset this by using bread crumbs on top and finishing with a sprinkling of parsley.
In many respects, duck confit makes a cassoulet. The preserved duck adds an earthy taste to the dish. But let’s face it, it is not a standard supermarket ingredient in most of the world. Ease in assembling the ingredients is one of the considerations for this weekday dish. If you can’t acquire duck confit, don’t worry about it. Duck confit goes a long way, I find one leg enough.
Adding chopped carrots to the dish adds a bit of complexity to the taste and a nice bit of color, but they are not required.
As discussed, making this a practical weeknight dish requires using ready-to-eat beans (canned or previously) prepared. If you only have dried beans, your only choice is to cook them up the day before and make the cassoulet tomorrow night.
Notes on Preparation
The cassoulet requires a minimum of hands-on preparation — browning the bacon and the sausage and the onions and garlic. Other than that, it is a process of assembly and cooking.
Note that the recipe offers an option for cooking temperatures and times: 350°F (180°C) for an hour and a half or 375°F (190°C) for 1 hour. Even though this is a quick weeknight cassoulet, it will benefit from the extra 30 minutes of cooking if you have the time.
- 4 ounces bacon, cut into 1" pieces
- A leg of duck confit (optional)
- 4 Toulouse Sausages (see note 1 for alternatives)
- 1 Small - Medium Onion finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2-3 medium carrots peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks (optional)
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
- 2 cans white beans (see note 2) or 2.5 to 3 cups cooked beans
- 1 small bunch of fresh thyme (tied) or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1 cup or so, bread crumbs
- fresh parsley
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C) for slower cooking, if you have time. Or preheat to 375°F (190°C) for quicker cooking (see Note 3)
- In a Dutch oven over low-medium heat, cook the bacon for 3 to 4 minutes stirring frequently or until it renders much of its fat but is not yet crisp. Transfer the bacon to a plate. Remove all but 2-3 tablespoons of fat.
- Remove any extra fat from the confit, and brown the duck a bit, skin side down. Remove from pan and transfer to a plate.
- In the same Dutch oven, brown the sausages for about 8 minutes. Sear on all sides. The sausages do not need to be thoroughly cooked.
- Add the onions, garlic, and optional carrots and cook for 3 to 4 minutes to soften. Onions should have a light golden color.
- Remove the sausages from the pot. Assemble the cassoulet by adding the tomatoes, beans, and all cooking liquids to the Dutch oven. Mix ingredients together.
- Remove the duck confit from the bone and break the duck confit into bite-size parts. Nestle the duck confit and the bacon in with other ingredients. Then place the sausages on the top partially nestled into the beans. Top with the bread crumbs.
- Place in the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours if cooking at 350°F (180°C) or 1 hour if cooking at 375°F (190°C),
- Remove from oven, top with the parsley and let cool a bit. Serve with crusty bread.
Note 1: Substitutes for Toulouse sausage can be any mild sausage or even cooked pork shoulder. In any case, consider the spices discussed for Toulouse sausage and adjust accordingly.
Note 2: Great Northern beans are likely your best bet, followed by Cannellini or navy beans.
Note 3: 350°F will give you best results, but if short on time, 375°F will work fine.