Few dishes embody rustic, cold-weather comfort food as well as cassoulet. And in these raw March days when the cold seems to linger, it really hits the spot.
Modern French chefs have taken some liberties with the dish, which rose to popularity out of humble peasant beginnings, but variations on the slow-cooked stew always include three staple ingredients: white beans, sausage and duck or goose confit.
Rich and satisfying, with the welcome addition of toasted croutons on top that are softened and savory from the stew, which bubbles up over them as it’s cooking, cassoulet has evolved to a meal fit for the bourgeois.
Assembly can be painstaking, so we’ll leave the hard work to the professionals. Here are some of our favorite local restaurants for a warming bowl of the French classic.
Le Chateau, South Salem. New executive chef Marc Woll joined Le Chateau in November. His version of cassoulet is classic, with duck confit, garlic sausage, bacon lardon, tender lamb and a flavorful herb bread crumb gratin. Go: 1410 Route 35, South Salem, 914-533-6631, www.lechateauny.com.
Alain’s Bistro, Nyack. Chef Alain Eigenmann is a proponent of traditional cassoulet, which takes nose-to-tail cooking techniques to heart. He uses both duck and gizzard confit, plus white beans, garlic sausage and Toulouse sausage. Eigenmann says the trick to getting a luscious texture is to start with duck fat and cook down onions and leeks until they melt. Go: 9 Ingalls St., Nyack, 845-535-3315, www.alainsbistro.com.
Bistro Parisien, Eastchester. Recently opened in the former home of Jackie’s Bistro, chef and owner Stephen Kane will serve Jackie’s fans well. Also the proprietor of the popular BistroSK in City Island, Kane prepares elegant, homey French dishes like escargot, coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon. His cassoulet is a signature dish; the white bean stew features a savory medley of lamb, pork, duck leg confit and pork sausage. Go: 434 White Plains Road, Eastchester. 914-337-8447.
Encore Bistro, Larchmont. A classic bistro plucked right off a street corner in the Left Bank. With cheery yellow walls, vintage posters and a wonderfully simple menu, Encore is charmingly French through and through. Chef and owner David Masliah prepares cassoulet with all the traditional fixings: sausages, smoked bacon, duck confit and creamy white beans with just a hint of tomato for richness. Go: 22 Chatsworth Ave., Larchmont. 914-833-1661, encore-bistro.com.
Saint George, Hastings-on-Hudson. Cassoulet is not a regular item on chef Chris Vergara’s menu, but turns up occasionally as a special. Served in a large crock for two, this dish (and many others on the decidedly French menu) is an homage to traditional flavors, which means cassoulet as it’s meant to be. Go: 155 Southside Ave., Hastings-on-Hudson, 914-478-1671, saintgeorgebistro.com.