Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
I don’t think there’s a dish out there that’s more fortifying against a cold winter night than a good cassoulet. However, this classic French casserole can famously take days to make. That takes it out of the running not only for weeknights, but even a lot of weekends. I really wanted a recipe that could make cassoulet into a viable everyday dish … or at least for a less hectic night.
Like so many others, I’ve recently become an Instant Pot convert and cassoulet seemed like a dish just waiting to be adapted to this useful kitchen contraption. That alone took hours off of the cooking time. To tailor this dish to the average evening, though, I took a few more liberties and stripped it down to its bare essentials. The result was incredibly flavorful.
I limited the number of meats to the two most widely used in this casserole: duck and pork sausage. If you have other stew-worthy meats on hand to cook, or leftovers from other dinners, it would be completely in keeping with the spirit of the dish’s peasant roots to add them to the pot.
Cassoulet typically uses duck confit; however, this can be expensive to buy and time-consuming if you’re making it yourself. I just seared regular duck legs in the pot first before cooking them with the rest of the casserole, and they turned out tender and delicious. If you’d like to keep costs down further, try swapping in chicken thighs for the duck.
I took advantage of conveniently pre-chopped mirepoix, now available at many grocery stores, to reduce prep time to nearly nothing. If your grocery store doesn’t carry this, you can chop the onions, carrots and celery yourself; it’ll just add a few minutes of prep time (and take the ingredient count up by two).
One impressive aspect of a multicooker is its ability to cook dry beans without a lengthy soaking period. Many people still advocate soaking the beans anyway to increase their digestibility and for aesthetic reasons, as it may help keep them from bursting or cracking; however, if you didn’t have the time or forethought to presoak, you can take those beans from dry to fully cooked in about an hour.
Though I strictly limited my ingredient list in keeping with this column, you can certainly take your cassoulet to the next level by embellishing it with items you have on hand: Tomato paste, bay leaves and additional herbs and vegetables are all often included in this dish.
There was one extra I couldn’t quite do without: Traditional cassoulets are often topped with a layer of breadcrumbs that get baked into a delicious crust. As much I love this crust, I compromised to keep things simple. I flavored bread crumbs with thyme, salt and pepper and baked them separately, then sprinkled them on the individual serving portions. If you want the bread crumbs to be fully baked, transfer the otherwise-finished cassoulet to an oven-safe casserole dish, sprinkle on the topping and stick the whole thing under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Alternatively, try using croutons or crispy bacon bits as toppings.
Cassoulet originates in France’s Languedoc, and I’d hoped to pair it with a wine from the region. Though these are often widely available, I couldn’t find one at the store on this particular occasion. I opted instead for red from the nearby Côtes du Rhône appellation, as Rhône grape varieties such as Grenache and Syrah are commonly planted in the Languedoc. In addition, I opted to try a California expression of Mourvèdre, another Rhône grape.
My husband and I were torn as to our favorite match, as both wines spoke to different aspects of the cassoulet. He slightly preferred the California Mourvèdre, which had a smoky, meaty quality that integrated perfectly with the cassoulet, while the wine’s ripe black cherry and mixed berry fruit created a nice counterpoint. I slightly favored the Côtes du Rhône, which emphasized the earthier aspects of the dish. Showing tart cherries and plums, as well as notes of stone, white pepper and herbs, the wine brought out similar notes in the food. The Mourvèdre was the richer pairing, whereas the Côtes du Rhône was the fresher match. You can’t really go wrong with either, so suit your taste and mood.
Pair with a Rhône-variety red such as Cline Mourvèdre Contra Costa County Ancient Vines 2016 (87 points, $15) or M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche 2016 (88 points, $17).
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 90 minutes (or more if you allow the multicooker’s pressure to release on its own)
Total time: 95 minutes
Approximate food costs: $39
1. Pat the duck legs dry with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper.
2. Set your Instant Pot or other multicooker to the sauté function and add a small amount of olive oil to the pot. Once it’s hot, add the duck legs skin-side down and allow them to brown and begin to render the fat, about 5 minutes. Flip and lightly brown on the second side for another 5 minutes. Transfer the duck legs to a clean plate.
3. Add the sausage to the pot and lightly brown for 2 to 3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with a little red wine vinegar (or red wine or stock), scraping up any browned bits. Add the mirepoix and sauté for about 7 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften. Stir in the garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Add the duck legs back in, then add the diced tomatoes, white beans, 3 or 4 sprigs of thyme and quart of chicken stock to the pot. Stir to make sure the beans are submerged in the liquid. Season with about a teaspoon of salt and a generous pinch of pepper.
4. Put the lid on your multicooker and lock into place. Program it to cook under high pressure for 60 minutes.
5. About 10 to 15 minutes before the stew is done cooking, spread the bread crumbs out on a small baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Pick thyme leaves off the remaining sprigs, then mix them into the bread crumbs along with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Bake in an oven or toaster oven for about 10 minutes, stirring once halfway through, or until the bread crumbs have begun to turn golden-brown. Set aside.
6. Once the cassoulet has finished cooking, let the pressure drop naturally if you have time, or carefully release the pressure manually. Remove the lid and taste, adjusting seasoning if needed. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs. Transfer the duck legs to a cutting board. The meat should be fall-off-the-bone tender. Use a fork to gently separate the meat from the bone and divide into chunks. Add the duck meat back into the cassoulet. Place in bowls and top with the bread crumbs. Serves 8.
Feeling up to a challenge? Try a more traditional and complex version of cassoulet from French chef Philippe Bertineau.