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Ken Krone

Alternative to Tarbais beans in Cassoulet

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I have been on a duck confit jag for the past few months; can't get enough of it. I have been thinking about making cassoulet, which, from my reading, is classically made with Tarbais beans. at $15/pound + shipping, they seem a bit on the expensive side. What are acceptable alternatives and is there a significant difference between Tarbais beans and any recommended alternatives? (Hope I don't set off a holy war between believers and the rest of the world...!)

Thanks

Ken K

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Canellini beans work beautifully and are available nearly everywhere in the US.

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We grew Tarbais beans here in California with a lot of success. We hope to offer them next year, if we can build our seed stock up enough.

They are a runner bean (Phaeseolus coccineus), like Scarlet Runner or Runner Cannellini. Regular cannellini may make a nice dish but they're very different. If you want something more traditional, I'd go with a runner cannellini or an ayocote blanco.


Edited by rancho_gordo (log)

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Thanks for the post. I just signed up for your newsletter and emailed you my email address in the event that you remember when you harvest the Tarbais beans.

Thanks

Ken K

SLO, CA

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Good old Great Northern beans work perfectly.

Tarbes & thus Tarbais beans are less than an hour away from where we live. Nobody here rates them all that highly. The locals mostly use plain lingots.

Tarbais beans are a great marketing ploy by the local farmers coop.

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I think there as many recipes and rules as there cooks.

I've spoken to a lot of regarded chefs and they are old over the map on Tarbais. Some insist on cocos. But to compare any of them to a Great Northern? I can tell the difference and I bet a lot of people can. And to go to all that trouble and expense and use an average bean?


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I have used Tarbais, and they were excellent.I purchased two kilos of lingots the last time I was in France, and my cassoulet was superb. I buy the scarlet runner cannelinis from Rancho Gordo,and I have to say I wouldn't trade them for either of the others, and I can (usually!)get beans from Steve without any angst in only a few days. Rancho Gordo is a wonderful source for quality beans--we are so lucky to have this source!

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I have used Tarbais, and they were excellent.I purchased two kilos of lingots the last time I was in France, and my cassoulet was superb. I buy the scarlet runner cannelinis from Rancho Gordo,and I have to say I wouldn't trade them for either of the others, and I can (usually!)get beans from Steve without any angst in only a few days. Rancho Gordo is a wonderful source for quality beans--we are so lucky to have this source!

I blush! Thanks. And check out Revival Meats in Houston. They just started carrying a lot of our stuff, including the posole. Handy for last minute bean needs!

I've seen Tarbais for as high as $35!

I didn't taste the seed we planted but the resulting beans were incredible. Maybe not 35 bucks a pound incredible but very delicious and different and I think "vale la pena". If we can produce them in California as well or better at a better price, all the better.


Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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Of course you can tell the difference.

The question is which are better?

The essence of a great cassoulet is in the meats & seasonings. Any decent bean that holds its shape during the long cooking process works fine, thus lingots in France, Great Northern's in the states will work fine.

No doubt the Tarbais beans are good, but worth huge amounts per pound? I don't think so. Believe me,I've used them. In fact I bought a kilo's worth at the same time I bought my cassole. They were OK, but nothing to write home about. & believe it or not I didn't pay a fortune for them. The French housewife would never waste her money like that.

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I have used Tarbais, and they were excellent.I purchased two kilos of lingots the last time I was in France, and my cassoulet was superb. I buy the scarlet runner cannelinis from Rancho Gordo,and I have to say I wouldn't trade them for either of the others, and I can (usually!)get beans from Steve without any angst in only a few days. Rancho Gordo is a wonderful source for quality beans--we are so lucky to have this source!

I blush! Thanks. And check out Revival Meats in Houston. They just started carrying a lot of our stuff, including the posole. Handy for last minute bean needs!

I've seen Tarbais for as high as $35!

I didn't taste the seed we planted but the resulting beans were incredible. Maybe not 35 bucks a pound incredible but very delicious and different and I think "vale la pena". If we can produce them in California as well or better at a better price, all the better.

I just want to confirm the suggestion about Revival Market in Houston carrying Rancho Gordo beans. I've been in there a couple times now, and they do have a large suggestion of RG products.

It's also a pretty nifty (if small) meat market. The fellow owns a ranch/farm a little bit southwest of Houston and is raising his own pigs and lamb. There's a charcuterie room at the market, and it's also a great place to get the prettiest snowy white lard you ever saw. There's even a lunch counter with a few tables and chairs so you can grab a quick bite to eat there if you wish.

Nice little place.


I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Of course you can tell the difference.

The question is which are better?

The essence of a great cassoulet is in the meats & seasonings. Any decent bean that holds its shape during the long cooking process works fine, thus lingots in France, Great Northern's in the states will work fine.

No doubt the Tarbais beans are good, but worth huge amounts per pound? I don't think so. Believe me,I've used them. In fact I bought a kilo's worth at the same time I bought my cassole. They were OK, but nothing to write home about. & believe it or not I didn't pay a fortune for them. The French housewife would never waste her money like that.

Chicken is pretty close to duck. Is it ok to sub that? Hot dogs for sausage?

(Sorry- I'm being snarky but I think beans are THE essential part of the cassoulet.)

I'm not saying you must use Tarbais. I'm saying if you're going to all the trouble, why use a crap bean like a Great Northern, which are nothing like a Tarbais? Use a runner cannellini (very close) or a flageolet, which are creamier than a Great Northern yet have a thicker skin so they won't break down in a cassoulet the way a GN might.

My staff and I eat a lot of beans. The Tarbais are just plain different. And pretty incredible on their own.

We won't be charging $35 bucks a pound, by the way.


Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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Of course you can tell the difference.

The question is which are better?

The essence of a great cassoulet is in the meats & seasonings. Any decent bean that holds its shape during the long cooking process works fine, thus lingots in France, Great Northern's in the states will work fine.

No doubt the Tarbais beans are good, but worth huge amounts per pound? I don't think so. Believe me,I've used them. In fact I bought a kilo's worth at the same time I bought my cassole. They were OK, but nothing to write home about. & believe it or not I didn't pay a fortune for them. The French housewife would never waste her money like that.

Chicken is pretty close to duck. Is it ok to sub that? Hot dogs for sausage?

(Sorry- I'm being snarky but I think beans are THE essential part of the cassoulet.)

I'm not saying you must use Tarbais. I'm saying if you're going to all the trouble, why use a crap bean like a Great Northern, which are nothing like a Tarbais? Use a runner cannellini (very close) or a flageolet, which are creamier than a Great Northern yet have a thicker skin so they won't break down in a cassoulet the way a GN might.

My staff and I eat a lot of beans. The Tarbais are just plain different. And pretty incredible on their own.

We won't be charging $35 bucks a pound, by the way.

Grateful to be on eGullet and to find your website. Wow. Now I'm hungry!

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Haven't been on eGullet for a while so my apologies for not responding sooner.

As they say here in France "Chaque'un a son gout".

I'll bow to the bean merchant who I'm sure knows much more about bean than I do. Tarbais uber alles!

All I will say is that on over 20 years of making cassoulet with Great Northern, Tarbais, et al I find that in the states Great Northern's work just fine & that here in France lingots work fine as well. I haven't done a real survey, but I think most of the cassoulet's that I've eaten in this area also use lingots.

Never forget that cassoulet is a meat dish, not a bean dish. Its the meats & the seasoning that make the dish the delight that it is. Of course lousy bean can & will spoil it.

A final point. No less authority than Julia Child in her original 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' recommends great Northern's in her detailed cassoulet recipe. If they were good enough for Julia they're good enough for me!

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Of course you can tell the difference.

The question is which are better?

The essence of a great cassoulet is in the meats & seasonings. Any decent bean that holds its shape during the long cooking process works fine, thus lingots in France, Great Northern's in the states will work fine.

No doubt the Tarbais beans are good, but worth huge amounts per pound? I don't think so. Believe me,I've used them. In fact I bought a kilo's worth at the same time I bought my cassole. They were OK, but nothing to write home about. & believe it or not I didn't pay a fortune for them. The French housewife would never waste her money like that.

Dave is spot on. Tarbais beans are by no means mandatory for cassoulet. Before they were pushed forward as a marketing item/endangered species/then luxury item back in the mid-90s, they were only used locally, which means that they were used in cassoulets made around the city of Tarbes, period. Other regions had their own beans. Cassoulet country is much wider than that. Tarbais are one of many local Sud-Ouest beans varieties, generally grown in association with corn fields, which are still used today (haricots maïs in Béarn, cocos de Pamiers...). Some grandmothers recipes I've read recommend Pamiers beans, or lingots de Vendée, or even lingots de Soissons which make a wonderful cassoulet when they're fresh enough. Technically you could make cassoulet with Greek gigantes beans or Lima beans, and be perfectly respectful of the tradition.

The bean principle for cassoulet is simply, as Dave states, any white bean that holds its shape after lengthy cooking and makes an unctuous gravy without melting into a mush. So no flageolets (which are green and a bit too flimsy), no pea beans, and in some cases that leaves out even the Tarbais since these tend to be too tender when they're young, they seem to need a little ageing. I've made cassoulets with expensive Tarbais beans which turned into soup. Which is why I now prefer lingots or Soissons as the old grandmas did. Cheaper stuff, too. (Dave's also right about the French housewife.)


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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Again, no one said Tarbais are mandatory.

But I completely disagree about flageolet. they're fine in a cassoulet because they have thicker skins, are incredibly creamy and are known for not falling apart or turning mushy. They're green when raw but turn tan after cooking. The Greek Gigandes I have do fall apart. And you lose me completely when you suggest limas. Lima beans have such a strong vegetable flavor, I can't believe anyone would use them in a cassoulet.

And for the record, tarbais are very different. They are a great bean and have an unusual potato-like texture without the flavor. Whether they're worth it or not, it's up to you.

My point is why go to so much trouble and use a crap beans? To me it's like putting an ice cube in good red wine. But vive la différence!


Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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Again, no one said Tarbais are mandatory.

But I completely disagree about flageolet. they're fine in a cassoulet because they have thicker skins, are incredibly creamy and are known for not falling apart or turning mushy. They're green when raw but turn tan after cooking. The Greek Gigandes I have do fall apart. And you lose me completely when you suggest limas. Lima beans have such a strong vegetable flavor, I can't believe anyone would use them in a cassoulet.

And for the record, tarbais are very different. They are a great bean and have an unusual potato-like texture without the flavor. Whether they're worth it or not, it's up to you.

My point is why go to so much trouble and use a crap beans? To me it's like putting an ice cube in good red wine. But vive la différence!

We may not be talking about the same thing when we refer to flageolets. In France flageolets are small, green dried beans with an elongated shape which are extremely tender and melting. Their particularity is that they are harvested unripe (hence the green; when they grow up they are called chevriers and are similar to Great Northern). They do not turn tan after cooking but remain green. They do not have a thick skin, quite the contrary: they have the thinnest skin of all dried beans (an effect of their unripeness). They are used on their own (they're the favorite garnish for roasted leg of lamb) or cooked with delicate stews like navarin d'agneau but they're not used in hearty, long-simmering dishes. They do fall apart after lengthy cooking. Nobody in France would think of using them in a cassoulet. I don't know what your flageolets are like but they do not sound quite like the same thing.

I still think that Tarbais are not the ideal bean for cassoulet because of their tendency to fall apart when you use them within a year's age (at least it's the case of the Tarbais beans grown in the French Southwest). Certainly not worth the outrageous price anyway. Now that the trend has receded in France and they're no longer quite as sought after as they were back in the 90s, people have since then gone back to the usual cheaper, sturdier varieties. At some point a pound of Tarbais was reaching some 15 euros and that's when customers started walking away, remembering that cassoulet, after all, is a poor peoples' dish. Now I hardly see them anymore in Parisian épiceries fines.

I hear you about gigantes (the ones exported from Greece are usually not as good as the ones grown and cooked locally, these do stay whole) and actually gigantes are not exactly the same variety as Soissons, though they do look alike. Soissons are marvellous beans that keep their shape after lengthy cooking while being very melting inside with a nice chestnut taste. They have always been considered the ultimate beans for cassoulet but rarely used because of their high price. They are particularly popular towards the North of the cassoulet region, i.e. Agenais, Périgord.

And regarding the Lima beans, well - before haricot beans were known in Europe, cassoulet was made with broad beans (fava). It is certainly one of the oldest peasant dishes in France, dating back to long before foods from the New World were brought here. Haricots were adopted into cassoulet probably because they taste better, but fava bean cassoulet did not completely disappear during later centuries. I hear some people still make it. There is no reason not to make a cassoulet with Lima beans, however they taste.

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Once again I'm amazed and impressed by the depth of knowledge possessed by Ptipois.

I'm also gratified when she happens to agree with me. (She's taken me to task when I've been wrong on more than one occasion)

my take as stated before is that Tarbais beans are a perfectly fine bean to use in a cassoulete, but they are by no means THE Bean nor are they any better than several of the alternatives.

Given their price, particularly in the states, I'll always used another variety.

I've been making the dish for over thirty years, first when I lived in France, then back home in the states (making my own comfit & sausage)and now for the past ten years back in France. Thus, although I wouldn't claim to be the ultimate expert I'm pretty experienced. My finest hour was when our local village housewives asked me for my recipe.

Based on this I said Tarbais beans are fine, but just not worth the price.

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While I appreciate the French tradition, cassoulet is well known to be different from one area or France to the next.  The reason being: you use what you have.  The French have Tarbais beans and ducks...Americans have Great Northern beans (or Cannellini) and Chickens.  If you're going to follow the tradition, you would use what you have.  I do have access to ducks, so I use them...but I have heard using chicken confit in duck fat is outstanding for cassoulet and few can tell a difference.

 

I have made cassoulet for dozens of people each year the last 10 years.  I once paid up for Tarbais beans and found they added nothing to the dish over Great Northern.  When you combine all those flavors, the taste of the beans is lost...confit, pancetta, sausage, and other flavors dominate.  So ever since I've used Great Northern and saved the huge money it costs to get Tarbais.

 

If I could find Tarbais at a local store and if the price was reasonable, by all means I'd give them another try.   But buying $50-60 worth of beans for 30 people is silly in my opinion.


Edited by RyanK (log)
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This was such a frustrating thread to me. I really disagreed with him on almost all aspects of the beans and I've since become friends with some serious cassoulet makers and they wouldn't agree with his bean stance. But I felt like I could only go so far after making my point. I didn't want to be rude. Or ruder. 

But he was a lively character and I loved reading most everything else. 

Our tarbais are called Cassoulet beans, out of respect from the farmers in Tarbes. There's a real terroir issue with beans and they should be called Tarbais only if they're from France, it seems to me. Ours are in the ground now and we're hoping for a good harvest and we should be able to offer them again late fall. 

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Cycling through France with my tent for a month I always looked forward to mid-August when you would find Haricot-Demi sec in the veg area of the supermarket, they would cook in 2o minutes on my Trangia and were delicious .

I would hull loads and stagger back to Englanland to cook and freeze them.

 

Are Tarbais beans a different thing?

 


Martial.2,500 Years ago:

If pale beans bubble for you in a red earthenware pot, you can often decline the dinners of sumptuous hosts.

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Let me know if this is too commercial and I'll delete it. Or you can with no offense taken. 

I interviewed Kate at Georgeanne Brennan's NorCal estate where they spent the day making cassoulet. I'd like to say I helped, but I didn't. 
I had a lot of technical problems with the film but Kate was so interesting, I felt like I had to carry on. 

 

 

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