Northside SF  

October '09

The Kitchenless Cook
A lighter but still satisfying cassoulet
By Bill Knutson

CassouletI recently returned from my first journey to Paris with my wife, Elizabeth, and being good tourists, we ventured to Pére-Lachaise cemetery to visit the final resting place of Jim Morrison. And, as tourists, we were not properly dressed for the weather, which is a polite way of saying we were freezing our butts off. So as we were exiting the graveyard, our first goal was finding somewhere warm and something warm and comforting to fill our bellies. Luckily for us, there was a very inviting brasserie right across the boulevard. Elizabeth wanted to be warmed by the memories of her first visit to Paris and ordered mussels with frites. I was looking for something a little more filling and ordered the cassoulet. As I dug into the steaming bowl of white beans and pulled up the little surprises of duck, ham and sausage, all I could do was grin like a little kid on Christmas morning. It was at this point I knew I had to make my own cassoulet as soon as I got home.


Bill’s Cassoulet

    2   pounds dry white beans
    2   tablespoons olive oil, divided
    6   chicken drumsticks
        (substituted for the duck)
    1   pound uncooked bratwurst
    1   medium yellow onion, diced
    3   cloves garlic, minced
    2   stalks of celery, diced
    1   pound ham, cut into
        1-inch cubes
    2   bay leaves
    1   quart chicken broth
    2   tablespoons butter
    1   cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
        Salt and pepper to taste

Soak beans in water overnight. Be sure the water level is a least two inches over the beans, as they will absorb a lot of liquid.
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the chicken and cook until browned on all sides (it will get fully cooked later in the oven.) Remove from heat and set aside. Cut sausages in thirds and brown in the same pan. Remove from heat and
set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In an 8-quart casserole pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and celery. Cook vegetables until tender and remove from heat.
Drain the water from the beans. Add a layer of beans over the vegetables in the casserole pan and then a layer of chicken, sausage and ham. Repeat until all the beans and meats are in the pan, making sure the beans cover all the meats. Add the bay leaves. Pour the chicken broth into the casserole. Add water if needed to just barely cover the beans. Cover and bake in oven for 90 minutes.
Ten minutes before the timer goes off, melt butter in a skillet and add the breadcrumbs. Toss until all the crumbs are coated. When the 90 minutes are up, remove the cover and spread the breadcrumbs over the beans. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the breadcrumbs are toasted, about 15 minutes. Serve, making sure each portion gets a little of each meat.

Many of you wrote asking for the Richard Gehman cassoulet recipe mentioned in last month’s column “The sublime cassoulet and the haphazard gourmet,” by Ernie Beyl. Here is Gehman’s recipe:

Cassoulet à la Richard Gehman
(from a letter written to Ernie Beyl)

First, buy yourself a good-sized earthenware casserole. You will need it if you are going to pretend to be a cook. Next, get two packages of either navy beans or Great Northern beans. Soak them overnight in water to cover.
OK, do this in the morning. This dish ought to simmer all day long while you dip lavishly into the cooking wine. Put the beans in a stock you make with a couple of ham hocks, and put them on the stove to simmer gently.
Let them simmer about two hours, accompanied by one whole onion stuck with a couple of cloves. Add a bay leaf, some parsley and a couple of stalks of celery, leaves and all. You may want to put in some oregano. Just a pinch, please. Or thyme. Or both. Just a pinch. Salt and pepper moderately.
Meanwhile, get one cut-up chicken and fry it in olive oil until it is nice and brown. Then set the browned chicken pieces aside somewhere.
At the same time, get at least two pounds of link sausages, the best you can find. Parboil them in water for about 10 minutes. Pour away the water and set them aside.
Now take that great big casserole you have just sensibly bought, and take a hunk of butter and grease the sumbitch. Inside, naturally.
Now spoon a layer of your simmered beans over the bottom of the casserole.
Next lay some chicken over that, and put some of the sausages there to cuddle up to the chicken. Put a layer of beans over that. Cover all the meat with beans.
Now take some pepperoni that you have cleverly purchased in advance and have sliced in coins, and lay that in.
Another layer of beans.
Put in the rest of the chicken and sausage.
Another layer of beans.
By the way, I like to use lamb in this, which is a lot of trouble, but you might as well go for it if you want to get the reputation (totally spurious, of course) of being a great cook. Get some shoulder or breast of lamb, fry it in oil with the chicken, or separately, very gently, until it too is brown all over. Did it occur to you that the lamb should probably be cut into chunks (like stew meat) and that it ought to be lean? Probably not.
I’ve lost 20 pounds on a diet and this is making me so hungry I’m half out of my mind.
Anyhow, the lamb and chicken should go into the casserole together if you are of the mind that you should use lamb as well. I would really advise it.
Well, moving right along here, keep alternating layers of all that stuff until you’ve reached the top and run out of beans, chicken, lamb, sausage, pepperoni, and whatever else you wish – but please no beef.
If you have simmered the beans with ham hocks, little hunks go in also in various layers.
On top, put about half a pound of bacon laid out in strips (raw bacon, please).
Now take the water you have cooked the beans in and pour it into the casserole. Add about a cup of dry white wine. Cover the casserole.
Put all of this into the oven – the whole shmear – and turn it up to 300 degrees and let it go that way for about an hour. Watch it carefully. Make sure the heat doesn’t dry it out. You ought to look at it every 15 minutes or so. If it seems to be drying out – that is, if you can’t see liquid bubbling at the sides – add another bit of wine and bean-simmered juice.
The bacon on top must be dry at the end and crisp, but there must be fluid bubbling beneath it.
Anyhow, after you have let it go for an hour at 300 degrees, turn the oven down to 250, and then you can let it go for two hours more (not absolutely necessary; it can go for two hours more, or one hour) while you get sloshed and unable to eat it.
Now there are two extra-added attractions to this.

Take one or two great tomatoes and slice them and put them on top of the casserole just before you serve it. Or make croutons and put them on top just before you are going to serve. But no more than 15 minutes before.
If you can get an honest-to-God goose instead of chicken or even a duck, that’s better. But I wouldn’t trust you with that. It’s tough enough for a real cook.
You serve this with salad and … my God I wish I had some now. I haven’t had a single good thing to eat for five weeks and I’m starving. 
E-mail The Kitchenless Cook at or Ernie Beyl at

Browse Column Archives

Bookmark and Share
Print Page

September 2011 Issue


Horse Shoe Tavern Amici's East Coast Pizzeria


Alfreds Alfred's Steakhouse

Bobos Bobo's

Franciscan The Franciscan


Getting to know the Reillys June Top Picks

Copyright © 2005 - 2008 NorthSide San Francisco