There are few dishes better for the winter chill than a crock of cassoulet, a classic and hearty bean casserole from southern France stewed with a symphony of various mixed meats. And yet it’s so rare to find a great version in the States that eschews any shortcuts and shows the full layering of flavors that come from each individual element being patiently crafted in advance, then married at the right moment for a deep and satisfying harmony.
The cassoulet mastered by Bistrot La Minette executive chef Kenneth Bush is an exception. Not only does Bush use authentic and creamy white tarbais beans as the anchor to the dish (but not so overcooked that they dissolve to mush), he drops a depth charge of bacon lardons and hunks of braised lamb shoulder into the tomatoey stew for extra savor before adding the finishing touches.
Fresh Toulouse-style sausage, scented with garlic and cloves, is shaped into little discs and cooked fresh to order, then tucked deep into the beans. A textbook duck confit — cured overnight with herbs, then slow-stewed for hours in its own fat to a melting tenderness — comes perched over the edges of the cassoulet’s rustic ceramic bowl. My favorite flourish, though, may be the pile of bread crumbs made from Minette’s excellent house baguettes that get toasted in duck fat and piled over that confit leg. Mix them in to absorb the soupy excess and add yet another layer of subtle richness.
Bush is switching out the lamb for pork shoulder in the stew for the moment in order to keep the cassoulet’s price in line with Restaurant Week’s three-course $35 menu dinner deal. But pork is just as traditional. And, as always with an outstanding version of this classic, the true satisfaction of a good cassoulet is greater than the sum of its many parts.
— Craig LaBan
Cassoulet, $31 for the regular menu lamb version, Bistrot La Minette, 623 S. Sixth St., 215-925-8000; bistrotlaminette.com