An easy and festive winter cassoulet, and an homage to Jean Mayer and the Hotel St. Bernard
By Lucy Herrman
Welcome to Taos, where winter is just another excuse to enjoy life! Whether you like hiking, skiing or snowshoeing, Taos is the place to be during the colder months. And when you get home from the fun — tired and happy — you and your tribe will want to snuggle by the fire and recount the day’s adventures. Who wants to cook now? Yet there is nothing as wonderful as coming home to a home-cooked meal.
When writing this article, I thought about the late Jean Mayer, the French champion skier and founder of the Taos Ski School. For more than half a century, Jean Mayer was the soul of Taos Ski Valley, and he is greatly missed. He was also owner of the Hotel St. Bernard (now closed but with plans to be reborn in 2025.)
At the original St. Bernard, named for the patron saint of skiers and alpinists, Jean Mayer created the intimate atmosphere of a ski chalet in the French Alps. He knew how to make his guests feel appreciated with ski lessons, rustic but luxurious accommodations, and distinctive French meals served family-style.
So, inspired by this Taos legend, I invite you to try something a little different for your winter supper. Although the usual apres-ski menus of soups, stews and chilis are popular and convenient, a wonderful alternative is the iconic French dish known as cassoulet — a rich and luxurious white bean stew that is bursting with the complex flavors of Provence.
Although today, cassoulet is considered a gourmet treat, it has very humble origins. Born of frugality, cassoulet was a convenient way to use up leftovers from a week of family meals. A classic version might contain lamb stew, roast pork, white beans, duck confit, layered together in a cast iron pot known as a cocotte. Some families add leftovers to their cassoulet every day, presenting a wonderful melange of comforting flavors by cooking and recooking the additions.
Eventually, because cassoulet was so often requested by customers, French chefs created their own versions and elevated the dish to stardom. By cooking each ingredient separately, the chef could then combine them as needed for the final spectacular result. Sometimes, the chef even covered the thick rich stew with a crust of buttered breadcrumbs before baking.
Sound intimidating? Don’t despair. You don’t have to cook for a week to make my version. By using a few ingredient shortcuts (I won’t tell if you don’t!), and a slow-cooker, it is easy to make, and tastes almost as good as the “real” thing.
To simplify the preparation, I omit the duck confit and the lamb stew. Instead, I recommend pork shoulder to give the stew its complexity and richness. And no browning necessary. In the morning, before you head out the door, just throw all the ingredients in the slow cooker, set it on low, and enjoy a fabulous meal when you get home. (And for those looking for a New Mexico twist, adding a half-cup of chopped roasted green chile can be just the thing to make it your own.)
Accompany this splendid apres-ski dish with a crisp salad, some steamed and buttered green beans and a baguette or two. Et Voila!
Whether you’re simply feeding your family or friends after a day of outdoor activities, or making dinner for a holiday, cassoulet is sure to satisfy and impress. And you can take all the credit for serving a feast that would make any Frenchman proud.
Slow cooker pork cassoulet
- 3 pounds pork shoulder
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 15-ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juices
- 1 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup chopped green chile (optional)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 1 tablespoon dried herbs de Provence
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 2-3 branches each fresh thyme and fresh rosemary (optional)
- Garnish: Chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Place pork shoulder into a slow cooker.
- In a bowl, mix together all the remaining ingredients except the bay leaf, fresh herb branches and the garnishes. Spoon the bean mixture around the pork shoulder. Place the bay leaf on top of the pork. Arrange the fresh herbs evenly, if using.
- Cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 6 hours. Carefully remove the pork from the slow cooker and place onto a rimmed cutting board. Remove any chunks of fat and discard. Cut into slices or large chunks. Place on a platter and surround with the beans and juices from the slow cooker. Garnish with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese.
- Delicious served with steamed buttered French baby green beans, a fresh green salad and crusty baguettes.