he Coco Tarbais bean is one of the great exports of Southwest France, with a history as rich and wonderful as its flavor. These large white beans come from the plain of Tarbes and are grown within sight of the Pyrénées Mountains. Known as the best bean for the traditional cassoulet of the region, they’re also tremendous additions to summer salads, picnic foods, and season-agnostic appetizers. Plus, Tarbais beans are high in fiber and nutritional benefits as well. Richly satisfying, versatile, and not bad for you? Now that’s a tradition we can sink our spoons into.
Grown for Greatness
Tarbais beans were introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus, and they flourished in the sunlight of Southwest France, where they developed their own distinctive characteristics. They’re planted in early May alongside corn, and the two crops grow together, with the bean vines using the corn stalks as support. During the season, Tarbais beans are picked and sold fresh, but many are left to dry on the vines and are painstakingly hand harvested and sold dried. Just as true Champagne hails only from its namesake region, only beans grown and handpicked in the protected geographical French region may be called Tarbais Beans and are identified as “Label Rouge” on their packaging.
It would be impossible to talk about haricot Tarbais and not discuss the traditional Gascon cassoulet. This dish has ignited passions in the Southwest of France for generations, each town claiming their version to be the one true recipe for cassoulet. Whatever the recipe (we, of course, believe ours is the best), cassoulet is bean and meat dish that cooks low and slow for hours, and feeds a crowd, often for several meals. Cassoulet tastes even better the day after it is cooked, as some kind of alchemy occurs when it is refrigerated for 24 hours and then reheated.
To make a cassoulet, our French Coco Tarbais Beans - Label Rouge, of course - are the first place to start. The large, white bean has a thin skin allowing it to cook easier than other beans while still retaining its flavor and composition for the slow, mouthwatering stew. Beyond the beans, a cassoulet includes cured meats like Duck Confit; flavor-happy Duck & Armagnac Sausage, Garlic Sausage, and Ventrèche, or French pancetta; and a touch of Duck and Veal Demi-Glace and Duck Fat. We offer an easy-to-follow Cassoulet Recipe Kit, a perfect way to establish your own cassoulet tradition. Cassoulet makes a great holiday meal, and is best enjoyed with a few bottles of wine from the Southwest France (we like Madiran in particular).
Beyond the Bowl of Cassoulet
Aside from the slow-cooked Gascon stew, these versatile beans find their way into many dishes, most of which are quite simple to prepare. For a spicy, easy sausage dinner, we like to grill lamb merguez sausage and serve atop wilted spinach, Tarbais beans and a light mustard dressing. For an extra kick, stir some harissa into the dressing. Try our ground buffalo chili with Tarbais beans for a unique texture and flavor. Tarbais beans pair well with pork, so our recipe for porkchops with beans and escarole is a natural fit, and will likely become a go-to meal in your kitchen. Tarbais beans make for great appetizers, too. Puree them with Black Truffle Butter, and place atop a crostini; or puree with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley and serve with homemade oregano pita chips.
No matter the season, stewpot, or picnic occasion, Tarbais beans are a welcome addition to any table.