Et Voilà! Classic French Cassoulet

Cassoulet is a rustic, slow-cooked, French dish, which you might deduce from its name, is a cousin to a casserole. Though they are similar, the differences between a cassoulet and a casserole are very distinctive; a cassoulet, pronounced (cass-oo-lay) with a haughty French accent, generally refers to a long-simmering stew from southwest France which includes beef, duck, lamb or pork, and white beans.

A casserole, on the other hand, is a slow-cooked, often baked dish that includes a starch, vegetables, some sort of sauce, frequently involves cheese, and sometimes contains a protein. Classic American casseroles include macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, chicken pot pie, and lasagna. The French sometimes use the term gratin to refer to homey potluck-style baked dishes that we’d call a casserole.

Cassoulet is a favorite cold-weather dish in our house; a dish that warms body and soul. The addition of beans to the braised beef adds a creamy depth and hearty broth. Served with a crusty baguette, et voilà, you have a classic French meal.

Beef Cassoulet
1 lb. of stew beef trimmed of fat and cut into 1”-2” cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onions or leeks
1 cup peeled and sliced carrots
3/4 cup sliced celery
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced or squished
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
½ cup white wine
2 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste or ketchup
1/2 lb. dried Great Northern beans, (pre-cooked according to package directions)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley or chives, chopped for garnish (optional)

Pre-heat your stewing pot. Pat the beef dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper, and then add it to the hot pan. Allow the beef to form a crust before turning it over to brown the other side. Remove seared beef from pot and set aside. Add the diced vegetables and a drizzle of olive oil and allow them to sauté until soft. Stir in spices and then de-glaze the pan with a good glug of white wine or cooking wine (about half a cup) and stir in the ketchup.

Add the seared beef chunks back to the pot and cover with beef stock. Put on the lid, place in a 200ºF oven, and cook for 3-4 hours until the meat is meltingly tender. Check periodically to make sure that the sauce is not reducing too fast, if it is add some more stock or water to prevent it from drying out.

About 30 minutes before serving, remove the stew from the oven and add cooked beans to the pot. Stir together gently (so as not to break apart meat or smash the beans) and simmer on your stove over low heat until ready to serve. Ladle cassoulet into serving dishes and garnish with chopped parsley or chives and serve with crunchy bread.