Cassoulet – Very French and Very Comforting

Almost 20 years ago one of my best friends, Mike Caceres, worked front of the house for a Napa restaurant, and his brother was the chef. I had always wanted to work on the line and experience life in the professional kitchen. During the week I worked my finance job, and on Friday afternoons I would drive up to Napa and work for free on weekends. It was one of the hardest, but one of the coolest experiences of my life. It has helped me professionally inside and outside of the kitchen and business office.

There were two dishes on the menu that changed my style of cooking forever. Those dishes were Coq au Vin and Cassoulet. Many people think of French food as being fancy, delicate, saucy, and “foo foo”, but few people realize how many comforting French food can be. The Cassoulet reached me at many different levels for many reasons. Cassoulet broke my preconceived ideas of French food, and to make white beans taste so good was special. As a kid I was victim to being fed cans of Pork and Bean, which turned me off to the thought of eating beans again. To see this dish in my early 20’s was a big breakout on how to properly cook beans. The end result is a large dutch oven stacked with Great Northern Bean packed with bacon, sausage, duck confit / pork / or chicken. If you take any of those components out and eat it alone, you will be very satisfied, but when you put them all together it becomes a soulful and filling dish. On the menu we had steak, but I would always pick the Cassoulet if I had the chance.

My latest attempt at Cassoulet was inspired by Thomas Keller, chef and owner of the legendary French Laundry. The restaurant has been voted best restaurant in the world, not once, but twice.

Here is the link to the recipe: Thomas Keller Cassoulet

Here are some comments on the recipe:
– There is about 30-40 minutes of prep, but it’s worth it.
– The panko bread crumbs and baguette toppings are very important and really bring out a lot of taste.
– Season generously. There is a lot of liquid in this dish and it will take away a lot of salt. To prevent it from being bland, salt (kosher) and pepper it well.

Here are some notes where I had to deviate slightly from the recipe:
– Since I do not have a slow cooker, I used my Le Creuset 5 Qt Oval Dutch Oven placing it in the oven at 225 degrees for 6 hours. Just make sure the pork easily falls apart to determine if you are done.
– I would suggest cutting the pork shoulder into 8 pieces to allow the meat to cook a little faster to insure it falls apart.
– To cook the beans quickly, put the beans in the pot and put enough water to fill it up and cover the beans by 3 inches. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, cover, and take off heat. Let it set for an hour and then drain. Refill the pot with the beans, fill it up with water to cover the beans by 3”, bring to a boil, and then turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
– Once you are ready to put the meat with the beans separate the beans to make it easier. Place a layer of beans in the pot, and then place the meat and tomatoes, and then cover up with the remaining beans. Give it a stir to incorporate the tomatoes throughout.

Wine Pairings:
– In progress

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