A dry, cold wind known as the mistral sweeps through corners of France in the winter and spring. With winds hitting speeds up to 60 miles per hour, not unlike the recent intense winds in the D.C. area, it makes sense to have a hearty, rib-sticking dish to fight the chill. And one of the great French winter classics is cassoulet — a casserole of white beans cooked with pork skin, and a selection of meats. The meats can range from duck, sausage, pork, goose and/or mutton depending on the originating region.
Traditionally the beans used are Tarbais beans, also known as coco beans, which are Label Rouge-certified as an indicator of quality. They cook faster and absorb more liquid than most other beans. The additional absorptive properties increase the opportunity for beans to break down and thicken the sauce. But Tarbais beans are hard to find in the U.S., so often flageolet or cannellini beans are used.
Beans aren't the only thickening agent in cassoulet. The gelatin in the pork skin adds an additional level of thickness to the stew. And in traditional preparations, the remnant of the previous batch of cassoulet was deglazed to add heft to the next one.
Most cassoulets around D.C. feature garlicky Toulouse sausage made from pork with red wine. According to Le Diplomate chef Michael Abt, it's native to Languedoc, where cassoulet originated. "I like Toulouse because it is exceptionally flavorful, and has a finder grind than many of the sausages I have tried."
Fortunately, there are plenty of restaurants that serve up a hearty cassoulet to help get bone chilled diners through to the spring.Read More