Carcassonne is a great place to get amazing food because we’re smack in the middle of so many different geographical regions. You have foie gras and magret de canard from the southwest. You find great agricultural produce as you move north and west along the Canal du Midi to Toulouse. There are cheeses to the south in the Pyrenees (as well as the Pays Basque southwest) and more goats than you can imagine in the Massif Central to the north. Don’t forget fresh sea food on the Mediterranean coast.
And in the middle of it all, we find Carcassonne rich in wine and cassoulet!
Cassoulet is a traditional bean casserole that is slowly cooked in a characteristic clay pot called a cassole. The exact ingredients vary depending on whether you’re eating a cassoulet from here or Toulouse (or somewhere in between). In Carcassonne, I tend to look for traditional cassoulet as it was served in Castelnaudary.
Cassoulet is a simple peasant dish in its origins. And like many folk recipes, it’s best when somebody’s mom makes it. But you can find some good cassoulet at restaurants too. You just have to be discerning.
If you’re between Carcassonne and Castelnaudary, look for a cassoulet with white beans, duck confit (sometimes goose), pork sausage, and bits of pork skin . I don’t usually go toward the cassoulets with lamb or more exotic meats. Also, if a restaurant has lots of different cassoulets on the menu, I tend to avoid ordering any of them. The best cassoulet is cooked at a low temperature for a long time. And it’s made in a huge cassole (rather than a single serving cassole which has a different surface area to volume ratio and heats too quickly). Unless the kitchen is big enough to have twelve different cassoles on a low flame, they shouldn’t have twelve different cassoulets on the menu. Better to make one good, simple cassoulet than several varying but mediocre ones.
The picture at the top of this page is the best cassoulet I’ve had since coming to Carcassonne. It was prepared and presented by the Confrerie du Cassoulet. That’s right, the Brotherhood of Cassoulet (with robes and funny hats and everything). They take it very seriously. It was prepared in the kitchen of l’Hotel de la Cité and served at their sister restaurant Chez Saskia. The brotherhood is based out of Castelnaudary, home of the cassoulet. But they often cater to places in Carcassonne like in this instance.
Confrerie du Cassoulet
Maison des Associations
1, Avenue Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny
+33 (0)4 68 23 66 73
Place Auguste-Pierre Pont
+33 (0)4 68 71 98 71
In the Cité, there’s another place that maintains its credibility in the eyes of cassoulet snobs like me. The Maison du Cassoulet is part of a chain of restaurants that have almost nothing other than cassoulet and salad on the menu. Normally I’d be suspicious of a restaurant chain. But these guys have high standards.
Maison du Cassoulet
6, rue du Grand Puits
+33 (0)4 68 47 61 03
I hope you have a great cassoulet while you’re in town.