It's a southern classic that is – as all good dishes are – the subject of bitter local rivalry about who created it and exactly what the main ingredient should be.
But one thing is certain, nothing is more likely to fill you up and warm the cockles of your heart on a cold winter's day.
Although there are dozens of local variants, mostly based around goose or duck, Laura Tobin, an Italian who has lived in the French Riviera for seven years, here presents one of the most traditional ways of making the classic stew.
She says “cassoulet is a complete meal rich in proteins, carbs, fibres and vegetables and for the price you pay for the meat, a very successful homemade feast which will feed a crowd.”
Here's her recipe, which is guaranteed to wow your French friends.
600g of pork shoulder roast on the bone (palette de porc)
600g of pork belly (poitrine de porc)
4 Toulouse sausages equivalent of 600g
1 tin of preserved duck legs (confit de canard)
2 cuts of lamb shoulder
750g of Haricot Tarbais (any other type of white bean is not “traditional”)
1 stalk of celery
1 garlic head
1 bunch of parsley
200g of bread crumbs
1 small tin of concentrated tomato paste
2 laurel leaves
1 bunch of thyme
Duck fat or olive oil
Salt and pepper grains
1. Soak the beans
To cook a cassoulet you need to plan a day ahead of time, as the beans need to soak in water overnight.
2. Cook the meat
All the different meats should be cooked separately. Start by searing the pork shoulder with olive oil, salt and pepper and cook it in a hot oven (200 C) for 30 minutes (you will use this pan to make gravy too).
At the same time, but in a separate pan, cook the Toulouse sausages.
3. Prepare the vegetables
Chop all the vegetables and prepared two bouquet garni, using a leek leaf wrapped around a laurel leaf and some thyme.
4. Make the stock
In one pot sear the two pieces of lamb and stir fry some of the vegetables with olive oil. Then add 2 litres of water, 1 bouquet grani, 1 tbsp of salt and 4 pepper grains to make a stock. Let it boil for 1 hour.
5. Cook the beans
In a casserole dish, sear the pork belly, stir fry the rest of the vegetables and deglaze with the tomato paste. Cover with water and add 4 garlic cloves, 1 tbsp of salt, 4 pepper grains and the second bouquet grani. Cook it for 45 minutes.
6. Cooking the duck
Open the tin of confit de canard and pour it with its fat into a frying pan. Fry at medium heat for 15 minutes, turning it halfway through its cooking time.
The duck confit is not very appealing when you first open the tin, but it will change once the fat starts melting and the meat browning.
7. Prepare meat
Once the duck is ready, place it over layers of kitchen paper to drain the fat. As it cools down to room temperature, separate the meat, discarding the skin and bones.
By now, the beans should be half cooked. Discharge any extra water.
Once cooled to room temperature, cut all the pre-cooked meat into chunks.
7. Prepare the breadcrumbs and the stock
Grate the bread crumbs with 3 garlic cloves and plenty of parsley.
Deglaze the roasting pan where you cooked the pork with some water to make the gravy.
Remove the bouquet grani from the lamb stock and add the vegetables to the beans.
Heat the oven to 180 C.
8. Start the layering
Rub the casserole base with a clove of garlic, and lay the first level of beans.
Alternate the meat with the beans finishing with beans on the top. Pour the gravy and lamb stock into the pot until the liquid reaches the top level, but do not cover it completely.
Complete the topping with the flavoured breadcrumbs and drizzle with olive oil.
9. Cooking the Cassoulet
The cassoulet needs to cook in the oven for 3 hours, but every hour it requires some attention. After the first hour of cooking, take it out of the oven and push the breaded crust with a wooden spoon down into the beans.
Take this opportunity to check if the beans are too dry – if they are, add some of the stock. Do the same after 2 hours and after the third hour the Traditional cassoulet is finally ready to enjoy!
You can find out more about the traditional cassoulet and print the recipe from Tobin's blog, Your Guardian Chef, here.
All photos: Paul Oatway