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November 6, 2008

Cassoulet forever!



I loved this election night comment from Robert of Cross Keys:

I'm watching ABC News, and in the Times Square crowd there are two signs: Cassoulet and Cassoulet Forever. I didn't even know Cassoulet was on the ballot. If so, I may have changed my vote. 

The signs were later explained by hmpstd, but it does seem a timely subject for exploration. 

Cassoulet, for those of you who have never had it, is a rich French stew of duck, sausage, often other meats and beans. I feel like I've seen it on Petit Louis' menu in the past, although it's not there now. If any of you has had it at other French restaurants in the area, please post below. 

Here's a column Rob Kasper wrote on a local cassoulet competition, which suggests that Brasserie Tatin might sometimes have it on its menu (not now). You will be able to get cassoulet stuffed in a sausage casing, though, as I mentioned in a Table Talk item this week. ...


It's a great company dish, if you like to cook. The one time I made it (from a Julia Child recipe, of course), I was living in a one-room apartment in Philadelphia. After the last guests left, I got violently ill -- not from the food but from a weird facial neuralgia thing that lasted three days. It was very painful and was accompanied by terrible nausea.

I couldn't get off my bed of pain even to wash out the cassoulet dish that sat on my kitchen counter. The rich smell lingered in the apartment for those horrible three days, and for years I equated cassoulet with being sick. It took me a long time to be able to enjoy it again.

Funny how great dishes can be spoiled by association.

The photo, by the way, is of a winter chicken and white bean cassoulet, definitely untraditional, but it looks good. Too bad I don't have the recipe to share with you, just the photo from our archives.


(Photo by Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/MCT)
Posted by Elizabeth Large at 11:03 AM | | Comments (33)


I was just thinking about making some this weekend!

You said: Funny how great dishes can be spoiled by association. When I was a child I had to take this vile tasting, thick white liquid medine. My father, while trying to coax me to take it, told me mmmmm, it tastes like melted vanilla ice cream. I literally could not eat vanilla ice cream until I was in my 20's!

I've never had the nerve to attempt making a cassoulet. It sounds like enough trouble that it would have to be for company, but I'm already notorious for never having dinner prepared in time and having to enlist the help of the guests. This seems like asking for trouble!

But if anyone knows where I can find some that someone else prepared, please share that info!

Cassoulet is really a winter comfort food kind of dish, so it should start showing up on menus now that it is getting cooler (or at least the nights are getting longer). The first time I made cassoulet, I was a newly wed and I made it for our first dinner party. Since I worked full time, it took a week of cooking at night to get all the parts ready. The night of the dinner, the bread crumb/duck fat topping caught fire in the oven. After we extinguished the blaze, we all sat down and one of the lit candles at the dinner table fell over into someone's plate. Then one of the guests went to the bathroom and passed out in a reaction to some medication she was taking. She fell against the bathroom door so that it took forever to push it open to get to her. All in all a night to remember. Happily the cassoulet was wonderful and remains a family favorite to this day.

I wonder if it'll come back to the Petit Louis menu soon, now that it's finally (kind of) cold out. My husband had it there last December and it was really pretty fantastic.

It's a "for two" dish, but he ate almost the whole thing himself, in one sitting. And still had dessert.

Claudia, I'm amazed that didn't scare you off either cooking or entertaining.

I'm sure it was a memorable dinner, though.

Claudia - what a wonderful funny story!

My great dish that was almost forever spoiled was chicken tikka masala. Had a wonderful big portion of it and came down with the flu later that night. I was sure it wasn't food poisoning because 3 others ate from the same serving plate and nothing happened to them. It took me over 2 years to want to try Indian food again!

Great story Claudia! I must confess that I had never heard of cassoulet. The pictured dish looks very good though.

I guess there's no Funtastic Thursday today since the Owl has been absent lately? Hope he's well.

Mr. McIntyre over on the language blog has some nice things to say about our gathering.

You Don't Say

EL, like you I have made cassoulet exactly once. No bad associations--it was just a LOT of work!

I've made it a few times; however, I always take some shortcuts with developing the base. I've never been all that happy with how it turns out.

Unfortunately, Petit Louis is only offering it on Wednesdays this year. Last year they did it every night during the colder months.

So ... here's how I store up duck fat. ...

I get a decent size duck breast and freeze it for about half an hour. I take my sharpest knife and cut as many slices into the skin and fat of the breast as it will take.
I have a ridged grill pan from a famous European iron works. I heat it up on medium low for a little bit, then turn it down to simmer. I lay the duck breast on the pan, cover it with foil, and place a snack-size baggie filled with ice over the flesh side of the duck.

The low heat of the ridges starts to render out the duck fat, but gently, without cooking the flesh. Every eight minutes or so I carefully drain away the fat into a freezer safe container (clever, those Europeans, to put pour spouts on enameled cast iron grill pans!!).

Oh, you betcha (oops, sorry!) it takes some time to get it to work. But in a little while I have a cup full of delicious pre-confit and a duck breast ready to cook and eat with minimal guilt. ...

... zzzzzzzzzzz ...

... uh, wha' .... oh yeah ... what was the question? How do I store up duck fat? Duh ... eat a lot of duck! What's cassoulet?

All this talk of cassoulet reminds me how annoying it is that the Harbor East Whole Foods almost never has duck confit anymore (or any duck, for that matter).

Aldi's has duck on sale this week. I was all excited, until I picked it up, and saw that it was up to 10% water.

Good poultry doesn't need watering, especially duck. They afraid it'll be dry?

I put the duck down, and walked away.

Excuse me , I'm French , I come from the city of cassoulet and this picture does NOT represent a cassoulet at all !!!

Oui, magalie. I had exactly the same thought. It looks like a deconstructed cassoulet, uncooked. Where is the wonderful crusty bit?

Elizabeth, you are brave to venture onto the topic of cassoulet. My daughter lives in Toulouse, France, and she reports that cassoulet is subject to regional variations that people are quite passionate about. It's analogous to North Carolina barbecue vs. Memphis barbecue.

A couple of years ago while visiting, we went to a butcher shop in the little town of Gimont to buy ingredients for cassoulet. Foolish Americans that we were, we asked for the wrong kind of sausage. The butcher, his wife and all the other customers in the shop rose as one to say "Non, non, monsieur!" and direct us to the correct sausage. It was like a scene out of a Victor Hugo novel. Of course, the sausage we ended up with was absolutely delicious.

When properly made cassoulet is a cold winter evening's dream meal, particularly when paired with a well-aged Meursault, or, if you just must have a red with your duck, then it's hard to beat a fresh Chassagne Montrachet (rouge).

My the way, Jack's Bistro has a delightful version of this dish--highly recommended, and the best I've had to date in Baltimore.

Okay, new rule for the Sandbox: if you mention your favourite place (Jack's Bistro) for whatever dish, unless its a name that has appeared here ofter, please add a parenthetical with the address. Thank you.

I don't know about a Chassagne Montrachet. I think a Cahors or something from the Languedoc would be a better match and alot cheaper.

It is interesting that David Rosengarten makes his with mutton instead of duck and he doesn't add a crust. Tried to find a Richard Olney recipe but it appears he didn't write one.

Tommy said: if you just must have a red with your duck

I fail to see why white wine would be better with duck than red.

Meursault isn't your normal white wine. It is definitely the most masculine of the White Burgundys. I enjoy it with many well done meat dishes. Roast pork, chicken livers in cream sauce, dark meat chicken, slow roasted duck and goose, rabbit, veal, etc. The only drawback is the cost. Easily $50+ and that's not for a premier cru. If you want to try it I suggest something from Michel Colin or one of his sons.

White wine with duck in general seems absurd. I'm no wine expert but I would think a medium body red would be best, maybe a Cote de Rhone, Rioja or Pinot Noir. It depends upon how it's cooked also and what kind of sauce it's in.

You are right omg. It has everything to do with how it is cooked and the sauce. I would never have a white with a medium rare duck breast served in a reduced red wine sauce. However, I would drink a big white like Meursault with well done duck served on a bed of pureed white root vegetables with pan drippings for the sauce. If the dish has an Asian twist I would definitely drink Pinot Noir. If it is served with a fruit sauce I would serve a Chinon. Otherwise Bordeaux, Cahors, Malbec, Syrah, or a red blend from the Languedoc would be my choice. No California Cabernets or Zinfandels. Almost all Cabs and Zins are now overripe and overoaked.

Rose with cassoulet is fabulous.

Eddies on Charles St and Wegmans both regularly have duck leg confit.

I have a recipe at home for a "quick" cassoulet (2 hours vs 2 days) that is really very good. Use canned white beans. For the topping, saute panko with minced garlic and some of the duck fat from the confit, and the cracklings.

Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way has a tasty recipe titled "Thirty-minute cassoulet" that is quite good (although I've never made it exactly like the recipe).

It's not a true cassoulet, but it's quite tasty and can be easily pulled off on a weeknight.

I must say, though, Fast Food My Way has some of the worst food photography I've ever seen. Apparently some designer thought it was a good idea to have food photos with very shallow depth of field such that much of the dish is out of focus. Not a wise decision at all for a cook book, and personally I don't think it worked artistically even on its own.

Hal -- I always felt uneasy about Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way because the PBS series was underwritten by, the website for the Canned Food Alliance. Owing to the underwriting link (or so I suspect), many of the recipes included canned food ingredients.

If you want to do anything fast with beans, you pretty much have to resort to canned. Fortunately, most beans can quite well.

Jim- my rendition is up! You might say I cheated duck but fantastic sausage, spare ribs and beans!

i'm french and i'll explain you the story of cassoulet lol
there is a show in france and they put this cassoulet sign in front of camera hoping that it would be diffuse on american tv and it works!!
le cassoulet is a very fat french plate with white bean and meat, its very traditionnal, it's not a "chic" recipe, it was eaten by poor people cos it make u feel full, personally i dont think it's good, so no cassoulet if u wanna loose weight but cassoulet if u dont wanna be hungry for 2 days ;-)

Hi, I'm French :)

If you read "CASSOULET" and "CASSOULET FOREVER" in the crowd on abc, it's because a French TV show called "Le Grand Journal" was in New York for the elections. In this show, there's "Le Petit Journal" by Yann Barthes. One of the team member decided to say hello to his mum :) And wrote "COUCOU MAMAN" on a first sign and showed it behind an abc interview . And then decided to say "COUCOU" to the Frenchmen :) And wrote CASSOULET ^^ (because it's a typical french dish)

I saw it in the "Petit Journal" but I didn't know that so may american would wonder what "CASSOULET" is xD Now "Le Petit Journal" is famous even in the USA :D

You can watch it here ! (but it's in French, of course)

Vive le Petit Journal People !!!! Après avoir ressuscité Cyndi Sander, voilà qu'il remet notre cassoulet national au devant de la scène internationale xD

it's not a cassoulet picture.... see the URL...

le cassoulet it's the first speciality from TOULOUSE (france) after the RUGBY and the airplanes AIRBUS.

Welcome all in TOULOUSE !
(sorry for my english, i'm french !... hè oui !)
Congratulation for your OBAMA votes !

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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