Dinner & A Book - The Raw And the Cooked - Culinary Travels
Cassoulet is a traditional French dish; it's basically a French stew. It stems from old-world France. There's a term called "provinciale", which "provinciale" is old country, old- world France where they did a lot of farm to table cooking. A traditional cassoulet is typically made with pork or chicken or confit duck fat, goose fat, things of that nature. You know, it's meant to be a hardy, filling dish. The name cassoulet comes from the term "cassoul" which is an old French term that describes an Earthy cooking dish, like a stew dish, something that you'd cook a stew in for long periods of time on an oven. It's got to be a substantial, hardy- the dish itself, the pot itself was called a "cassoul." And that's where "cassoulet" comes from.
I learned about cassoulets years ago when I was studying, you know, culinary arts, and, you know, doing my wine training and sommelier training. There are certain things that you have to learn how to make when you're studying to be a chef, or where you're learning culinary cooking. Obviously French cuisine is one of them. There are basic dishes that you learn right off the way. You have your five mother sauces that you have to learn how to make: your béchamel, your béarnaise, your hollandaise, all those things. And then there are certain dishes that you make: cassoulet is one of them, you know, Coq au Vin is another one, it's basically a chicken dish that's stewed.
We did a Dinner and a Book show not long ago about Jacque Pépin. And his daughter, Claudine, is actually a friend of mine from New York. And he always said in the book… And if you talk to any renowned- any chef worth his salt- any French chef, they'll tell you simple things like," If you can make the five mother sauces, if you can properly roast a chicken, if you can make a cassoulet, if you can make cocovan, those are your building blocks, your foundations for good cooking and good culinary arts," basically. So that's where the cassoulet comes from.
And since I don't eat meat anymore or dairy, and a lot of folks aren't, this was a really nice way to kind of take it and transform. You know, what we were talking about earlier, you really have to learn when you start adopting more plant based foods into your lifestyle, you can take traditional, classic recipes, and you can make subtle changes to them, and small changes. And you can actually make them still be hardy and filling and earthy, but healthy at the same time.
When I was in New York, we had some friends, and we would always make certain dishes. And I had a friend who's Haitian (a lot of their cooking, you know, Haitian and French cuisine is very similar). They do a lot of Creole things. And she would make a cassoulet that was- she had a Haitian twist on it where it had a little more of that spiciness to it.
And we'd pick a night, and we would all as friends make dishes, and we would all have kind of a cookout. And my friend, her name was Tracia, and she would make all these Haitian things. And I actually went to her house, and she showed me how to take a cassoulet and make a little Haitian twist on it. And some of that stuff gets a little spicy, you know, that Creole cooking. And it was just a lot of fun, back in New York when we were all young, aspiring culinary people, and actors, and Broadway people, and chefs, and bartenders. That was probably the last time- that was probably my most memorable part of it. And I've made it a few times since, but it's one of those dishes you kind of forget about. Because it is really simple to make it, it's a stew, and it's got a lot of really great things going on with it.