Overnight Cassoulet – a Steaming, Delicious Jewish French Tradition

There's really no better way to cook beans than overnight with beef chuck, onions, carrots and wine; and when you add smoked duck into the mix, the aroma will be so arousing you'll find it hard to sleep.

Vered Guttman

Still on my quest to find the best Shabbat overnight stew (they’re all good, why choose?) I decided to check and see how will the French cassoulet will benefit from a night in the oven.

Cassoulet is a casserole from southern France made of white beans, pork sausages, marrow bones and sometimes duck or smoked meat. According to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks z”l, the Sephardi Shabbat stew called hamin travelled though France starting at the 13th century on its way to Eastern Europe, where it later became cholent, the Ashkenazi Shabbat overnight stew. The Jews of France adopted a version of this stew as well, called schalet. All three versions, hamin, schalet and cholent, usually consisted of beans and meat, seasoned with onions and slow-cooked overnight. According to Gil, there’s a good chance the French cassoulet is yet another version of the same stew.

Here’s what I’ve learned: cooking beans overnight must be the best way to cook beans. It’s always my favorite part of the cholent, since they absorb all the goodness (and fat) in the pot and become creamy and flavorful. Adding white wine and smoked duck to the cassoulet (which besides for these elements is really very close to the classic cholent) proved to be not only tasty, but filled the house with such a tempting aroma, it made it difficult for us to sleep. I served it with couscous, which is not necessary but was tasty and stretched the dish to serve even more people. A keeper.

Overnight Shabbat cassoulet

Serves 8
INGREDIENTS
3 lb. beef chuck roast or boneless short ribs
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 marrow bones
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup white wine
3 cups white beans, such as cannellini, soaked in water overnight
¾ lb. smoked duck breast or leg
2½ cups boiling chicken broth

DIRECTIONS
1. Oven to 225 degrees.
2. Wipe beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Put oil in a large oven proof pot over medium-high heat and sear beaf and marrow bones until nicely browned. You will need to do this in a 2-3 batches. Remove beef and bones to a tray.
3. Add onions, carrots and celery to pot and sauté for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomato paste and sauté 3 minutes longer. Add wine and beans and cook for a couple more minutes until the wine reduces to about half. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper and mix well. Remove from heat.
4. Arrange the bones at the bottom of the pot, so they will be surrounded by beans. Top with beef and smoked duck, making sure the top is leveled as much as possible. Put pot back on medium-high heat, add boiling chicken broth to pot and bring to boil. Skim foam, reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes on low simmer. Remove from heat.
5. Cover pot with aluminum foil - if the foil touches the meat put a piece of parchment paper first and foil over it. Top with a tight lid. It’s important that the pot remains sealed so wrap again with aluminum foil if you feel it is needed. Bake overnight. check in the morning and add a little boiling water if the stew seem too dry. Serve for lunch.