French

A French Pork Stew That Cooks in Half the Time (but Doesn’t Skimp on Flavor)

Cassoulet gets a speedy, chef-approved update.

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February 20, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

We've partnered with Smithfield Fresh Pork to highlight one of our favorite cozy, cold-weather recipes that calls on a few chef-approved tips for maximum flavor.

I have always loved the idea of cassoulet, the hearty French classic of white beans, aromatics, and cured pork or sausage as well as fresh pork or poultry braised slowly in an oven and topped with a golden-brown crust. (Especially during winter, when turning on the oven is almost as good as wrapping myself in a soft, warm blanket.) I've never actually attempted a cassoulet, though, for one simple reason: It takes all. Darn. Day.

With most cassoulet recipes, you can plan on spending about five or six hours of your precious weekend in the kitchen (which is, quite frankly, longer than I ever want to wait to eat something, no matter how delicious); your oven will be on for at least four of those hours. So both my stomach and my gas bill are grateful for this clever recipe from Colby Garrelts, the James Beard Foundation award-winning chef of Rye and Bluestem in Kansas City. His riff on the traditional method offers the same rich flavor, soft-but-not-mushy beans, and tender pork, but slashes the overall cooking time by half.

Here are his tips for pulling off this speedy cassoulet, which is of course, best served with crusty bread and a bottle (or two) of your favorite wine.

1. Let the beans soak overnight

If you're thinking this is a step you can skip, or if you're planning on using (gasp!) canned beans here, in a word, don't. "I think definitely soaking the beans overnight is a big one," says Garrelts. You want to start with dried beans and let them soak overnight so that they can rehydrate, which cuts down on the overall cooking time. And while opting for canned beans might seem like a smart shortcut, you should avoid them because they'll actually break down a little too quickly in the oven and get mushy.

2. For the quickest cook time, use fresh pork loin

While a traditional cassoulet recipe typically calls for a tougher cut such as pork shoulder or ribs, using fresh pork loin instead significantly cuts down on time in the kitchen—especially when you pre-cut the loin into one-inch cubes, like Garrelts does here. Pork loin typically takes no more than 20 minutes to cook whether you're roasting or grilling it, he explains. "But it still has got a little bit of forgiveness where you can cook it a bit longer and it still stays tender and juicy," he says. (Whatever you do, don't mistake tenderloin for pork loin, because according to Garrelts, the delicate cut would become tough and dry using this type of method.)

Photo by James Ransom

3. Pick out the best cut of meat you can find

The tastiest, most flavorful dishes all begin with good ingredients. In this recipe, that starts with the cut of fresh pork loin you buy, according to Garrelts. When picking out a cut, "You just want to make sure that it's got a great color and it's not too opaque," he says. Opaqueness might signify that it's been frozen, he explains, so the right cut should have a super-pink coloring and some nice marbling.

4. Brown the meat in batches

Properly searing the pork loin is one of the most important steps in this cassoulet recipe, but you shouldn't brown all the pieces at once, says Garrelts. "You want to do it in small batches so you can really get the caramelization," he explains. "If you overload the pan, then all the juices leach out and the meat gets dryer, faster. You really want to cook it hot and fast."

Photo by James Ransom

5. Keep time in the oven to a minimum

While most traditional cassoulet recipes call for a few hours in the oven to let the liquids reduce and develop flavor, most of the reducing in Garrelts' version happens on the stovetop in a fraction of the time. "You really want that sauce to reduce [about 15 to 20 percent] so you get the right consistency and you're building the flavors," says Garrelts. Once the pork loin and beans are added back to the pot, it only needs to bake for about 15 minutes to get the panko crust nice and golden brown. With this method, you also don't need to crack the crust frequently to allow the steam to escape (as you do with other recipes) since it won't be in the oven very long.

What's your favorite cozy winter dish? Tell us in the comments below!

Who says a cassoulet has to take all day? With help from our partner Smithfield Fresh Pork, which offers several versatile cuts of all-natural, hand-trimmed, fresh pork (like the pork loin used in this recipe!), we're excited to share more delicious recipes that any home cook can conquer.

2 Comments

Bri L. February 20, 2019
Indeed—cassoulet without confit de canard??? (FYI Melissa Clark has a great instant pot version of duck confit)....but cassoulet this is NOT!
 
Smaug February 20, 2019
Does anyone, other than pork sellers, actually think of cassoulet as a "pork stew"? Not a bad recipe, though.