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Cassoulet. Stew with history

Chef Eric Rousselot prepares the famous Cassoulet Imperial at Hostellerie Etienne, a family-run business since 1956. The brown crust is part of a good cassoulet. Furthermore, just a simple salad and a glass of wine - c'est tout - c'est bien! / © Photo: Georg Berg

Chef Eric Rousselot prepares the famous Cassoulet Imperial at Hostellerie Etienne, a family-run business since 1956. The brown crust is part of a good cassoulet. Furthermore, just a simple salad and a glass of wine - c'est tout - c'est bien! / © Photo: Georg Berg

This southern French stew is so famous that, despite the intense summer heat, tourists can be seen sitting in the alleys of the Carcasonne fortress with their foreheads covered in sweat. But it is worth trying the hearty stew of the Occitanie region, regardless of the season. Like so many typical dishes of the country, cassoulet was originally a poor man’s food. The list of ingredients is very manageable: white beans, duck, sausage, bacon. The stew is cooked in the cassole, a hand-pottery mold.

Castelnaudary behind the basin of the Canal du Midi / © Photo: Georg Berg

Regional ingredients, from the bean to the broth

Castelnaudary is one of the few regions in France where beans are grown. The white Lingot bean is prized for its perfect cooking and thrives in the Aude region. In yield, this variety is less attractive, but for real cassoulet it is a must. The long cooking time in the oven gives the hearty stew its intense flavor. The white beans are soft at the end and have soaked up duck fat and poultry broth. On the surface, the beans are crispy brown and full of roasted flavors. Further down in the cassole are sausage and parts of a duck’s breast and leg. The meat broth is usually prepared the day before.

Castelnaudary white beans are the main ingredient of the cassoulet stew. The elongated Lingot bean takes 90 days from sowing to harvest in the fields around Castelnaudary / © Photo: Georg Berg

Cassole from the Poterie Not

Poterie Not is located on the Canal du Midi. The soil here is heavy and contains a lot of clay. This is good for pottery, but also for the beans grown in the region. Since 1883, the potter’s wheel has been turning in the Not pottery, mainly for the cassole. Not only does it give the cassoulet its name, but its conical shape allows the fat to rise better and thus contributes decisively to the taste, explains Jean-Pierre Not. Pots in the classic shape are produced here for restaurants, for cassoulet factories and also for tourists. Around 1960, there were still eight potteries in the region. Today, the Not family business is the only remaining pottery. One reason for this is the conversion of the industry, which is focused on efficiency. Due to space constraints, many cassoulet businesses work with straight casserole dishes. Thanks to the work of the brotherhood, an annual cassoulet festival and a tradition-conscious restaurant, the pottery craft can continue at Poterie Not. Jean-Piere Not is an ambassador for the Aude region and a visit to the pottery is worthwhile.

Cassole is a ceramic mold in which cassoulet is prepared. Cassoulet is a community meal. The size for 8 people is popular. Forming a cassole takes about 10 minutes. Handles are put on and the company stamp is placed. / © Photo: Georg Berg

Big feast with cassoulet

Since 1956, the Hostellerie Etienne has been serving cassoulet de Castelnaudary to good-humored people at long rows of tables. With Eric Rousselot the owner and chef, everything from the clay pot to the bean is regional. Rousselot is focused on the task at hand, because at lunchtime, excursion groups as well as office workers and farm laborers alike flock to his restaurant. The stew stews in the oven for at least two hours, or better yet, three. During the long cooking time, the brown crust is to be broken and repeatedly basted with fat from the stew. According to the rules of art, this should be done seven times. Since this stew of beans, duck meat and the fat from the duck and pork fat is extremely rich, the steaming cassole is accompanied only by a simple and sour leaf salad.

Chef Eric Rousselot prepares the famous Cassoulet Imperial at Hostellerie Etienne, which has been a family-run business since 1956. Guests sit close together at Restaurant Etienne, even on a weekday in November. Eric Rousselot pours some more boullion before the next cassoulet goes to the table / © Photo: Georg Berg

La Fête du Cassoulet

The hearty stew is the winter dish par excellence. But long before it was served to tourists in the midday sun, it was already available in summer. For the harvesters, cassoulet was an invigorating meal that kept them strong. According to history, the stew was created during the siege of the 100-year war against England. Out of sheer necessity, all the leftover meat and poultry were thrown into a pot with beans. Today, cassoulet has a completely different status and is a matter of regional identity. Every year in August, in the middle of the summer vacations, La Fête du Cassoulet takes place in Castelnaudary. In just four days, some 40,000 portions of cassoulet make their way into the bellies of festival-goers while live music plays. If you can’t make it to the big festival, Castelnaudary has good addresses all year round.

Industrial production of the Castelnaudary cassoulet. In Castelnaudary there are several factories that produce canned cassoulet for all of France. At Escourrou, the stew can also be bought in the traditional cassole. / © Photo: Georg Berg

Region Aude and Canal du Midi

From Castelnaudary you can take houseboat trips and bicycle tours along the famous Canal du Midi. Since 1996, the Canal du Midi is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

More information at Castelnaudary Tourisme

Castelnaudary behind the basin of the Canal du Midi. In the foreground the houseboat fleet Le Boot, whose boats can be rented / © Photo: Georg Berg

La Fête du Cassoulet takes place every year for four days in August. The dates and the recipe are on the festival website Fête du Cassoulet

Fortified town of Carcasone / © Photo: Georg Berg

The region of Aude is also called the land of the Cathars. Especially worth seeing are the city of Carcasonne with its famous fortress and the old Roman city of Narbonne.

More information at Aude Tourisme

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The research trip has been partially supported on site by the French Tourism Federation

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