Cassoulet is a classic French meat and beans dish that, made in the traditional way, can take five days. This slow cooker cassoulet recipe uses smart shortcuts to whittle the time down to just two days, with very little hands-on work. It’s best served on a cold night with plenty of toasted bread to soak up all the delicious flavor.
Just over a year ago I made beef bourguignon which, at the time, was my culinary Everest and when it was over I asked myself,
“What’s next?” That question led to my Better Know a Mother Sauce series, french onion soup, tartiflette, and, now, the classic French dish of slow-cooked meats and beans called cassoulet.
Girl Gone Gourmet has a little French thing goin’ on now, apparently.
As with most things French I started with Julia Child but stopped cold in my tracks after discovering her recipe for cassoulet takes five days. Five days? Even for someone like me who loves to cook and isn’t afraid to dig in and commit to a recipe five days is excessive. I mean, I have a dog, a boyfriend, a job, and an unhealthy fascination with our current Presidential election that has me glued to CNN every night. I just don’t have five days to make Julia Child’s classic cassoulet. I don’t care how good it is.
And it’s not just the time commitment that’s the issue. Traditionalists argue that cassoulet must have duck confit, it must be baked in a special dish that allows a special crust to form on top, and it must have dried beans that have been soaked overnight. That’s all fine and good, except my local grocery store doesn’t sell duck confit, I don’t own one of those special dishes, and I didn’t want to deal with the whole dried bean issue.
Here’s what I did instead…
I used ingredients available at my local grocery store.
No duck legs? Substitute chicken drumsticks. No pork shoulder? Use pork belly instead. The moral of the ingredients story is to use whatcha got and call it your own.
I used my slow-cooker.
If Mark Bittman thinks it okay, then I think it’s okay.
I used canned beans.
I admit this was a risk. Anytime you slow cook with canned beans the chances of the beans disintegrating is high. So I didn’t slow cook them.
Instead, I did the slow-cooking without the beans and only added them after the meat had cooked for several hours and before chilling the cassoulet overnight in the refrigerator. This gave the beans a chance to take on all of the porky/chicken flavor while keeping their shape. Worked like a charm.
I skipped the whole crust/breadcrumb topping step.
As far as the crust goes, modern recipes call for a breadcrumb crust, but I went an easy route and just toasted up some bread lightly brushed with olive oil and fresh herbs. The bottom of the bread soaks up all the sauce while the top stays crisp and toasty.
In the end, I cut my cassoulet time down from five days to two days, with only about an hour of actual hands-on time. My short-cut cassoulet is a reminder that, while I might strive to cook according to tradition, sometimes it’s just not possible and it would be a shame to skip these classic recipes because they take too long, or have hard-to-find ingredients, or because someone somewhere insists you “have to make it like this”.
My slow cooker cassoulet might not be traditional, but it worked for me.
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Cassoulet is a classic French dish that, made in the traditional way, can take five days to make. This recipe uses some smart shortcuts to cut the time down to just two days, with very little hands-on time thanks to the use of a slow cooker. It’s best served on a cold night with plenty of toasted bread to soak up all the delicious flavor.
- 3 sweet Italian sausages, about 3/4 pound
- 1 pound pork belly (see note)
- 4 chicken drumsticks
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes, with their juice (see note)
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 pound salt pork, in 1 piece (see note)
- 32 ounces of chicken stock
- 2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans
For the Toasted Bread
- 1 loaf (12-inch) French bread, sliced into 1 to 1 1/2 inch slices
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. In batches, brown the chicken drumsticks, pork belly, and sausages until well browned on all sides. Once browned place them in the slow cooker.
- Add the salt pork to the slow cooker in one piece. Add the onions, carrots, garlic, thyme and bay leaves. Pour the chopped tomatoes over the top. Next add the chicken stock. If the liquid is not covering the meat, add some water.
- Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours, or until the meat is tender.
- Carefully remove the meat from the slow cooker and place in a baking dish. Pour the liquid into a seperate large baking dish. Add the beans to the liquid, cover the dish and place in the refrigerator to chill. Cover the dish with the meat and place in the refrigerator to chill overnight.
- The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dish with the meat from the fridge and shred the meat discarding the skin, extra fat, and bones. Cut the salt pork into small pieces and add it, along with the shredded meat, to the dish with the liquid and beans.
- Cover the beans and meat with tin foil and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until bubbly. Remove from the oven and keep it covered while you make the toasted bread.
- Turn the oven to broil. Lightly brush the bread slices with olive oil and sprinkle some of the chopped herbs over the top. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast them for a few minutes under the broiler.
- Serve the cassoulet with a slice of toasted bread on top.
Depending on what’s available at your grocery store you may or may not find pork belly. Try using the same amount of pork shoulder if it’s available.
If tomatoes are in season use fresh ones, but be sure to core them first. I used boxed chopped tomatoes (Pomi brand).
Salt pork is usually located in one of two places in the stores I shop at – either near the pork in the meat section or near the bacon. If you can’t find it, substitute the same amount of pancetta or bacon, but understand that it will change the flavor a bit.
Recipe inspired by The New York Times
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Slow Cooker
- Cuisine: French
- Serving Size: 1/8 of recipe
- Calories: 824
- Sugar: 7.4g
- Sodium: 1395.2mg
- Fat: 52.8g
- Saturated Fat: 18g
- Unsaturated Fat: 31.2g
- Trans Fat: 0g
- Carbohydrates: 50g
- Fiber: 6.4g
- Protein: 37.1g
- Cholesterol: 123.8mg
Keywords: slow cooker cassoulet, easy cassoulet recipe
The nutrition information in this recipe is an estimate only and was calculated using Nutrifox, an online nutrition calculator.