The Joys of Canned Cassoulet

Cassoulet in a Can

Cassoulet in a Can, with Pork Confit and Duck Fat, from Castelnaudary. 4 Euros, 2 big servings.

Mr. English took me to Paris for my birthday, which, definitely, took the edge off of turning twenty-nine.  Next year, at this time, I’ll be thirty.  Pretty reductive concept from the outside I’m sure, but to me, it is nothing short of astonishing.  We did our usual circuit of St. Germain gems: Le Comptoir, Le Bistrot de l’Alycastre, Les Deux Magots.  I had gorgeous Breton razor clams broiled with herb butter and pain au levain for my birthday lunch at Le Comptoir, followed by their gorgeous “Salade Niçoise à ma façon,” which has the most delicious tuna, whole white anchovies, caper berries, potatoes, oil-cured black olives, deliciously limp haricots verts…it’s the best Niçoise in the world.  For dinner, at Bistrot de l’Alycastre, Mr. English and I both had Moroccan spiced rare-seared tuna and vegetables, and then I had calamari charred with cêpes in a light cream sauce.  And then, a little lemon tart with flickering birthday candles from Carlton bakery, as Mr. English sang me a happy birthday serenade in harmony with Maman over Skype.  A clarinetist played downstairs.  It was breathless.

Cassoulet CornerCassoulet Spread

Despite all the walking and shopping and eating on the Ritzier side of normal, I still found myself in the trenches: the basement of the 6th arrondissement Monoprix.  Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.  Mr. English and I went down there to buy a little padlock, to etch our initials in the metal and snap it onto the Pont des Arts, along with all the other couples whose locks dangle from the bridge over the Seine, into which we ardently threw the keys.  But while I was there, despite Mr. English’s tugging on my coat sleeve, I couldn’t help but snatch up a few key pantry items: Maille cornichons, caviar d’aubergines, and after this summer in Toulouse, a can of cassoulet from Castelnaudary.

If you read this blog with any frequency you will have read my over the top emotional diatribes on the cassoulets of Castelnaudary–there are no words.  I can call myself a writer, but in reality, I’m an eater, and at times, with my mouth full, words fail me.  In Paris, we were a long way from Castelnaudary and Toulouse and the Pyrenees from this summer.  So, when I saw the gorgeous hand-drawn label, informing me that I could buy real Castelnaudary cassoulet with either pork, duck, or goose confit, for 4 Euros, rest assured that I had all three cans in the basket before Mr. English pried away the duck and goose from my scraping, scrabbling grasp.

Saturday lunch was the perfect moment.  I opened the can, and heated it gently in a small covered pot over low heat.  I squeezed in half a head of roasted garlic, to emphasize that garlicky Castelnaudary punch that haunted me way past dinnertime all summer, and added in some fresh leaves of thyme.  The haricots blancs were creamy, the sausage and pork confit falling apart and perfect.  When the cassoulet was bubbling, I poured it into a shallow baking dish, and covered it with fresh breadcrumbs (3/4 cup to be exact) and a small handful of chopped parsley, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.  I baked it at 400 degrees until the crumbs were crispy golden brown, and then I covered it in foil and lowered the heat to 325 to let it get good and hotter.  I tore up some bread, and tossed a salad (you must always have salad with cassoulet!).  I brought it to the table, straight from the can, with a couple of added embellishments.  It was gorgeous.  I had had cassoulet two weeks earlier at a fancy London French establishment, and it didn’t touch Castelnaudary in a can.  The sausage was porky and garlicky, like Toulouse sausage should be.  The pork confit was lean, and firm, but falling apart with the nudge of a fork.  The beans were creamy, and so flavorful that Mr. English, carnivore that he is, told me he wished they sold cassoulet beans without any of the fixings.  Because wouldn’t that be healthier?

Sigh.  If only he understood about the duck fat.

How is it that French food can still be this good–from a can?  Canned food, to me, is hurricane emergency preparedness–eating baby corn from salty canned water with my fingers in a shuttered, August-hot powerless room.  But this, it was real food.  It was no wonder they named a whole dance the can-can.  Makes perfect and absolute sense.

Cassoulet PlateCassoulet Closeup

This cassoulet was made by La Belle Chaurienne.

Available from Monoprix.

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Categories: Finds, Paris, Voyages

19 Responses to The Joys of Canned Cassoulet

  1. Louisa Foti says:

    I couldn’t agree with you any more, tinned French food is amazing, unlike pretty much anywhere else in the World! We’ve recently moved to France and I often buy in tinned Cassoulet as a lazy treat, and it is soooooo good. This particular one from Castelnaudary is really really good though!. Love it! Louisa @ Chez Foti

  2. A gorgeous article…very enticing. Can we find this product in the States at all?

    • Kerry says:

      I WISH! I tried to find it online, but to no avail. Has anyone seen it anywhere?

    • I can easily find it here in Montréal, even in supermarkets. It is somewhat more expensive though.

      Tinned food is a French invention, for Napoleon’s army. And some of it from France is actually rather good.

      • Kerry says:

        I actually love jarred French vegetables. They are just slightly salty. White asparagus and haricots verts are my favorite. I bore my family to death buying them when I’m in France in the summers, and all the markets are brimming with the fresh stuff! But I just love them.

  3. Eric says:

    oh man, how lucky am i that after googling “cassoulet in a can” i stumble upon this article to see such a nice write up of the exact same can i just bought at the champs elysees monoprix. i now know what to do with it!

    sounds delicious. can’t wait!

    • Kerry says:

      Ha ha what a coincidence! Monoprix is where it’s at. Did you buy the pork, duck, or goose variety? The main thing is the roasted garlic–that really snazzes it up.

      • Eric says:

        the duck. but unfortunately no roasted garlic. im in a short term apartment so my kitchen is pretty sparse. just had it hot with some bread crumbs baked on top. still though, really really good… sort of can’t believe it was only 3 Euros.

        i’ll be buying it many more times while im here, im sure, so i’ll make a point of roasted garlic next time!

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  6. Mimi says:

    Bought some cans online a few months ago and finally was courageous enough to try this! Thanks for the suggestion. I added in panko crumbs, olive oil, salt, pepper, and some minced garlic on top. Mmmm cannot wait (it is in the oven right now).

  7. steph says:

    actually had this last night and googled it to share with a friend in new york. bummer that it doesn’t seem to be available in the states because this is the most divine thing i’ve ever had out of a tin! it also comes in glass jar versions. i’m in sydney, australia and a few places stock this here. french comfort food at its best – my french man agrees :)

  8. Ben says:

    Canned cassoulet can be found in Montreal at Jean Talon Market. Thanks for the article on its preparation.

  9. Kay says:

    I found your site when I Googled “How to heat up cassoulet”. I bought a tin of this same brand at Monoprix and it’s heating up right now. Looks like I got the good stuff!

  10. Crispy Wonton says:

    It’s not available in the states because it contains meat and that can’t be imported without some kind of license. I’m so lucky to live in the UK and just pop over the channel tunnel to get my cassoulet fix! :p