November 7, 2022

Soup Season: A Southern Cassoulet

5.2 min read

{You can always count on beans}

When the weather cools down, Alabama cooking is all about the bean. A staple harvested during the long hot summer becomes winter’s go to dinner. Whether dried or canned, there are endless ways to serve this healthy legume when the temperatures dip. One of the humblest of Southern meals, pinto beans and cornbread also ranks among the most beloved dishes on the table. A long tradition here, simmered slowly in a crockpot with ham hock, beans and pork are arguably the most famous power couple in the southern cuisine universe. This beloved food tradition also has a storied history in France, but in that language, beans and ham takes on a more lyrical name: cassoulet.  A cassoulet is a dish made with beans and stewed meats, and that is the basis of the technique for the next recipe in our Soup Season Series. Surprisingly, Southerners have not invented an equivalent word, so cassoulet is a nice place to start if you want to learn more about various cooking techniques and expanded recipes that feature our beloved beans and pork.

(Christy Williams/Contributed)

{Pig in Sunshine}

The inspiration for our southern version of cassoulet lies not far from the busy travelers passing along Interstate 65 as it cuts a sharp path through thickets of lofty Alabama pines. A new roadside attraction in Evergreen, Alabama beckons passersbys with a familiar logo featuring a pig in sunshine. It’s in this tiny town, located in Conecuh County, that the Sessions family has quietly produced some of the best hickory smoked pork sausage since 1947. With the motto of “true Southern flavor”, the Conecuh Sausage brand has grown beyond smoked sausage, and now includes bacon, spice blends, hot dogs, and smoked turkeys and ham. Most cooks can find the smoked sausage in the neighborhood grocery store, but you’ll have to look a little harder to find the coveted bacon. All products are now sold at the flagship store recently constructed in Evergreen that is fast becoming a must visit stop for travelers headed to the Gulf Coast. You can find all the tasty sausage related information by visiting Conecuh Sausage online at https://conecuhsausage.com/.

{A matter of timing}

The recipe below, named in honor of the Sessions family creation, can be made as simple or complex as time allows. You may want to slowly simmer your own pot of beans for hours, laden with a ham hock, bay leaves and aromatics until each bean transforms into a tiny bit of creamy perfection. Or you can opt for the quick and the easy, with beans straight from a can. If you’re opting for ease, be sure to drain and rinse the canned beans before proceeding with the recipe. As with all cassoulets, a key point is cooking the dish in a gentle and slow fashion, coaxing all the fat and flavor from the meat. Here, the longer you simmer this dish, the more the smoky, complex flavor of the sausage develops. Conecuh County Cassoulet is an ideal meal for cold days spent feeding a crowd. We hope you enjoy and share your cassoulet creation with us on social media #soulgrownsoupszn!

(Christy Williams/Contributed)

Conecuh County Cassoulet with Cornbread Croutons

INGREDIENTS

Conecuh Sausage Company brand bacon, diced

One white onion, diced

½ tsp red pepper flakes

One-pound original Conecuh County Sausage link sausage, thinly sliced

2 cup chicken stock

2 cans Rotel brand diced tomatoes with chilis

1 can stewed tomatoes

One pound dried Great Northern Beans, slow cooked with ham hock or

3 cans canned Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed

Small pan of cornbread, cut into one-inch cubes

2 tbsp butter

Conecuh Sausage brand Pork, Poultry, Wild Game seasoning

Salt to taste, fresh ground pepper

Flat leaf parsley, chopped

{The Cassoulet}

  • Slow cook a one-pound bag of dried Great Northern beans according to instructions, using a ham hock for flavoring if available. Do not overcook the beans. Shortcut: use canned beans instead
  • Place diced bacon into a large dutch oven and fry until crispy. Remove and set aside.
  • Into the bacon drippings, add the diced onion and cook on medium high heat until transparent and golden in color. Reduce heat to medium and add the red pepper flakes. Allow flakes to toast a few minutes. Season to taste.
  • Add sliced sausage to the onion/red pepper mixture and cook until browned. There should be a nice coating of brown bits collected on the bottom of the dutch oven. Note: These brown bits are called fond. Where there is fond, there is flavor. Try to create fond whenever you can in cooking.
  • Pour the chicken stock into the dutch oven, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits. Turn heat back to medium high and cook until the liquid reduces by half.
  • Add the canned, diced tomatoes, the canned stewed tomatoes and the reserved bacon to the dutch oven and cover. Turn heat to low and simmer for at least a half hour, longer if you have time. If you do not have time, you may proceed immediately to the next steps, but the flavors will become more complex if you can simmer it longer.
  • Gently stir in the cooked or canned Great Northern beans into the Dutch oven and heat through. Do not overcook the beans. Adjust seasoning to taste. You may use additional chicken stock to adjust the consistency.

{The Croutons}

Heat 2 tbsp butter in a cast iron skillet on medium heat. Carefully add the cornbread cubes to the butter and gently toss them to coat. Sprinkle cornbread cubes with Conecuh Sausage brand Pork, Poultry, Wild Game seasoning blend and continue to cook until all sides are golden. You will need to keep a close eye during the cooking process, as the croutons can burn quickly if left too long.

{Serving}

Spoon cassoulet into a warm bowl and garnish with cornbread croutons. Chopped parsley adds a bit of color and vibrancy to the dish. Bonus points: a bit of mayonnaise sounds strange, but brings a rich element to the overall flavor, or a bit of hot chow chow is a nice way to add a touch of acid.

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