Skip to main content

A Craving for Cassoulet

Mon, 01/22/2024 - 13:35
Sylvie Bigar, who wrote a book on the French one-pot dish cassoulet, will speak at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton, with a tasting of Jason Weiner's take on the dish.
Thomas Schauer

It was while Sylvie Bigar was testing recipes for the food writer Florence Fabricant that Michael Batterberry, the editor in chief of Food Arts magazine, planted the seed of an idea that would become a "culinary obsession" for Ms. Bigar.

Mr. Batterberry was planning an entire issue of Food Arts devoted to one-pot dishes, and Ms. Bigar dived headlong into her research, deciding after a trip to France that she would focus on cassoulet. But more than just writing about this tasty amalgam of poultry, sausage, pork, and beans, she discovered that she actually wanted to write "two stories woven into one" about both "a culinary obsession and my family's saga." 

Ms. Bigar was raised in Geneva. Her mother was a Holocaust survivor who had grown up in Paris; her Jewish father had assimilated into Swiss culture. She eventually moved to New York City, married, and raised her children here; she also lives part time in Bridgehampton.

Her earlier career included public relations work for the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall, but ultimately she found her niche as a travel and food writer for such publications as Town & Country, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Saveur, Bon Appetit, and National Geographic Traveler. 

She had been encouraged to tap into her family background to write about French cooking and on that research trip to France she met a chef who introduced her to the many varations on the theme of cassoulet, which led to a memoir, "Cassoulet Confessions: Food, France, Family, and the Stew That Saved My Soul," published in 2022.

The dish is revered in parts of France, even meriting a Universal Academy of Cassoulet, whose mission, in part, is to "promote the cassoulet, all the ingredients that contribute to its composition, [and] the culture and heritage associated with it," according to its website.

The academy notes that there are three epicenters of the dish, all in the south-central part of France: the cassoulet of Castelnaudary, "the Father," the cassoulet of Carcassonne, "the Son," and the cassoulet of Toulouse, "the Holy Spirit."

An authentic cassoulet recipe takes three days to cook, not unlike (this will be of interest to any readers who may be saying, "Wait a minute, that sounds a lot like  . . . ") cholent (from the ancient "chault" for hot and "lent" for slow), an Eastern European Jewish long-cooking dish prepared before the Sabbath, cooked before and during, and eaten the day after.

"I love the fact that the beans and the meats sort of dance together to create this caramelized crust," Ms. Bigar said. Many cooks add bread crumbs, which are unnecessary if the dish is prepared correctly, she added.

"Serving the cassoulet is an event," she said. "It takes a lot of time to make. And, when you take it out of the oven, when friends are there, everybody is in the mood: Conviviality reigns."

With help from Jason Weiner of Almond restaurant, she will present a dose of that conviviality at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton on Feb. 3 at 4 p.m. when she talks about her book with Sabrina Allan, president of Friends of the Hampton Library. Afterward, attendees will be treated to a taste of Mr. Weiner's version of cassoulet, prepared at his restaurant across the street, along with a glass of red wine. The event is a benefit for the library, where Ms. Bigar also wrote part of the manuscript. Tickets cost $35 and include a copy of the book as well as the wine and tasting. Tickets can be purchased on the library's website. 

News for Foodies 4.11.24

A distillery tasting in Sagg, new cider from Wolffer, wine classes at Park Place, Passover specials, a new menu from the Cookery, and more.

Apr 10, 2024

Quail Hill Announces Summer C.S.A.

Summer shares are now available from Quail Hill Farm, one of the country's original community-supported agriculture farms. Family shares, for households of two or more people, and single-person shares as well, run from early June through Halloween, with picking two days a week, including unlimited flowers.

Apr 3, 2024

News for Foodies 04.04.24

New ice cream flavor from Loaves and Fishes, a pizzeria on wheels heading to the Hamptons, and Quail Hill's summer C.S.A. opens up.

Apr 3, 2024

Chili for a Cause in Springs

The Springs Food Pantry's Chili Chowdown To-Go is set for Saturday from noon to 2 at the Springs Presbyterian Church.

Apr 1, 2024

Your support for The East Hampton Star helps us deliver the news, arts, and community information you need. Whether you are an online subscriber, get the paper in the mail, delivered to your door in Manhattan, or are just passing through, every reader counts. We value you for being part of The Star family.

Your subscription to The Star does more than get you great arts, news, sports, and outdoors stories. It makes everything we do possible.