Having spent last night in San Francisco enjoying the Nutcracker ballet and getting home late, today is the perfect day to re-run one of my favorite posts and recipes, a warm and comforting pot of Cassoulet!
Cassoulet (cass-oo-lay) is a French slow-cooked stew that usually contains pork sausage, duck, and white beans. Named for the original cooking vessel, these days Dutch ovens or slow cookers are your easiest options. As with all peasant dishes, this was made with whatever the people had on hand. If you don’t have duck, you can use chicken, any savory sausage will work, and while white beans are traditional, they aren’t an absolute requirement. If you can find duck confit or make your own, adding it to this casserole takes a mundane bean stew and elevates it to a gourmet dish.
To confit (cone-fee) something means to cook it very slowly in its own fat, creating the most succulent and luscious fare you’ve ever had. The most common form you find is duck confit, made with slowly cooked duck legs and thighs. You can find duck confit at some butchers and gourmet grocery stores, but I have included a recipe to make it yourself just in case it isn’t available where you live. Even the so-called quickie version requires a 24-hour prep time, so plan ahead.
Traditionally used in Cassoulet, duck confit is versatile and can be used in a number of ways. You can live high on the hog and eat it just as is or in a sandwich, but you can also serve it on tossed greens, as part of a noodle salad, or even in tacos!
When the confit is done cooking, make sure you save the excess fat – it makes the most unbelievable French fries! You will swear you’ve died and gone to heaven! Last spring at the IACP conference, we were served pizza made with leeks, onions, and potatoes cooked in duck fat. OMG, it was the most amazing pizza I have ever had! People were lined up waiting for seconds.
I have included both a quick weeknight version and the traditional method; if you want to do the whole shebang, go for it! Cassoulet is a perfect example of what the slow cooking movement is all about. Quality ingredients, cooked with care and love, and shared with family and friends.
Cassoulet calls for white beans made from scratch, but if you don’t have the time or inclination, go ahead and use canned. Just be sure to drain and rinse them well first. And of course, because they are already cooked, you really only have to warm them through. I will say though, that cooking them from scratch saturates them with a depth of flavor you won’t get with canned beans. Oh, and by changing the bean soaking water at least once you will greatly reduce the chances of ‘gastric’ distress!
If you plan ahead, you can start the prep for this on Friday night and serve for supper on Sunday. While this began as a peasant dish in France, it has been elevated to elite status and is often seen on the menus of some of the world’s finest restaurants. To me it is pure comfort food. It is the perfect winter meal – full of flavor and love!
- Duck Confit
- 1/4 cup table salt
- 1 large onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 6 med garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
- 12 parsley stems, with leaves attached
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 whole duck legs or 3 turkey drumsticks
- 4 cups duck fat (preferred) or canola oil
- Bean Stew
- Table salt
- 1 lb dried cannellini beans (about 2 cups), rinsed and picked over
- 2 med celery ribs
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1-1/2 lb fresh French garlic sausage, Irish bangers or bratwurst
- 4 oz salt pork, rinsed of excess salt
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1-1/2 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 large onion, chopped fine (about 1-1/2 cups)
- 2 med carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
- 4 med cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 4 tsp)
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 (14.5-oz) can diced tomatoes
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- Ground black pepper
- 4 large slices high quality white sandwich bread, torn into rough pieces
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
- For the Duck Confit: Process salt, onion, garlic, peppercorns, parsley, and bay leaves in food processor until a smooth paste with some small chunks forms, about 30 seconds, scraping down side of bowl as necessary. Massage duck legs with salt mixture and place in gallon-sized zipper-lock bag. Press out air, seal bag, and place in refrigerator 12 to 18 hours
- For the Bean Stew: Dissolve 2 tbsp salt in 3 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature, 8 to 24 hours. ** Drain and rinse well.
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300°F. Rinse duck legs under cold running water, rubbing off any salt mixture. Pat legs dry with paper towels. Heat duck fat in large saucepan over med heat until completely transparent (if using canola oil, it should register about 135°F on instant-read thermometer). Add duck legs, making sure they are completely submerged in fat. Transfer pot to oven and cook until meat offers no resistance when poked with a fork, 3 to 4 hours.
- Using kitchen twine, tie together celery, bay leaf, and thyme, and set aside. Place sausage and salt pork in med saucepan and add cold water to cover by 1 inch; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 5 minutes. Transfer sausages to a cutting board, allow to cool slightly, then cut into 1-inch pieces. Remove salt pork from water; set aside.
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in an 8-quart Dutch oven over med-high heat until beginning to smoke. Add sausage pieces and brown on all sides, 8 to 12 minutes total. Transfer to med bowl. Add pork shoulder and brown on all sides, 8 to 12 minutes. Add onion and carrots; cook, stirring constantly, until onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Return sausage to Dutch oven; add white wine, using wooden spoon to scrape browned bits from bottom of pan. Cook until slightly reduced, about 30 seconds. Stir in diced tomatoes, celery bundle, and reserved salt pork.
- Stir in broth and beans, pressing beans into even layer. If any beans are completely exposed, add up to 1-cup water to submerge (beans may still break surface of liquid). Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until beans are tender, about 1-1/2 hours.
- Remove confit and stew from oven and increase temperature to 350°F. Using a slotted spoon, transfer duck legs to large plate and cool slightly. Once cool enough to handle, remove skin from duck legs and discard. Remove meat from bones, leaving meat in large pieces; discard bones. The cooked confit, covered with fat, will last up to one month in the refrigerator.
- Meanwhile, remove celery bundle and salt pork from bean stew and discard. (Alternatively, dice salt pork and return to stew.) Using a large spoon or ladle, skim fat from surface of stew. Adjust seasoning of stew with salt and pepper. Add duck meat and stir gently to combine. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
- For the Breadcrumb Topping: Meanwhile, pulse bread and remaining 2 tbsp oil in food processor until crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, eight to ten 1-second pulses. Transfer to med bowl, add parsley, and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Sprinkle 1/2 cup breadcrumb mixture evenly over casserole; bake, covered, 15 minutes. Remove lid and bake 15 minutes longer. Sprinkle remaining breadcrumb mixture over top of casserole and bake until topping is golden brown and beans are bubbling around edges of pot, about 30 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.
- Yield: 8 to 10 servings
- ** Instead of an overnight soak, you can “quick brine” the beans: combine the salt, water, and beans in a large Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans and proceed with the recipe.
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken or duck thighs
- 1/2 lb slab bacon, sliced into large lardons
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 cups cooked Northern white beans
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tomato, sliced very thinly
- Garlic Bread Crumbs, recipe follows
- 1 baguette, sliced, for serving
- Garlic Breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 slices slightly stale or dried bread, pulsed into crumbs in food processor
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- To make Cassoulet: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Rinse and dry the chicken well and season with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature 15 minutes.
- In a large Dutch oven, over medium low heat, add the bacon and slowly render the fat. Remove the bacon to a plate when crispy, leaving the fat in the pan. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chicken, skin side down. Brown the chicken on both sides and then remove to a plate. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, another minute.
- Deglaze the pan with white wine and reduce by half. Stir in beans, bay leaf, and thyme. Nestle chicken thighs and bacon back into pot. Add the chicken stock, cover, and bake in the oven for 35 minutes. During the last 15 minutes of cook time, remove the lid and cover the top with sliced tomatoes and the Garlic Bread Crumbs. Serve cassoulet with a baguette.
- To make Breadcrumbs: In a small sauté pan over low heat, add the oil and the garlic. Stir until the oil is fragrant, about 1 minute. Toss in the breadcrumbs and cook until the breadcrumbs start to turn golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from heat.
- 2 whole duck legs
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tbsp fresh)
- 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
- 1 bay leaf, crushed
- 1 cup (250ml) melted lard (use the kind that’s packaged for baking)
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) good quality canola oil
- Combine the herbs and salt. Rub the salt mixture into the duck legs. Place the duck legs in a large Ziploc bag, place in fridge and let marinate for 24 hours.
- Remove duck from bag, rinse and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Place duck in the bottom of a baking dish just big enough to hold the duck in a single layer, skin side up, covering the bottom completely. Cover with the lard and oil. The fat should just cover the top. If it doesn’t quite cover, pour in a bit more oil until it does.
- Put duck in oven and reduce the heat to200°F. Bake, uncovered at 210°F for 1 hour 45 minutes. Turn the oven off and let cool inside the oven for an additional 30 minutes.
- Remove duck from oven. Strain the legs and set aside to cool. Once cooled, shred it. If you are going to keep the confit for a while, press the meat into a small glass or porcelain container and then cover with a layer of the melted fat. If you’re going to use the meat straight away, don’t bother with this step. But in either case, keep the fat for roasting potatoes!
- Covered in the fat, sealed and stored in the refrigerator, duck confit will hold up to a month.
- Yield: about 1-1/2 cups of shredded meat