Cassoulet

It’s very rare that I feel the urge to immediately make a recipe from one of the several food magazines that the postman delivers on a regular basis. Typically I’ll either fold over a corner of a page of a recipe that strikes my interest, or add a post-it-not to it, and then set it aside for some mythical “day in the future” when I will remember that I have dozens of recipes similarly marked and that I should at least make one of them.

So it’s worth noting that when the latest issue of Saveur (Feb 2009) came out, and I sat down to read it, came to page 100 and saw the recipe for their Cassoulet, I knew that I had to make this dish as soon as possible.

I’m not sure why I had to make it. Perhaps it was the fact that I was in the mood for a stew type dish. Perhaps the fond memories of a Cassoulet I had at Place Pigalle some time ago had simmered up into the consciousness and I had to act upon that. Or maybe the recipe gave me an excuse to go buy another expensive dish that I would only use once or twice a year.

At any rate, when I saw the meat heavy recipe in the magazine, I simply had to make it.

Some notes to those of you with a similar desire.

One, you have to want to make this dish, as it is an all day affair. A person doesn’t casually make a cassoulet. This dish is best made with an obsessive desire.

Two, there are many different recipes for cassoulet, with different types of meats used, so if you’re not fond of this one, seek out others. My suggestion? Go for recipes that use darker, gamier meats. Rabbit and Duck in a cassoulet makes sense. Turkey and chicken? Not so much. Saveur’s recipe uses duck confit, which is one of the multitude of reasons I was drawn to it.

Three – This is one bean recipe where you would want to avoid canned beans, for fear of them ending up a collection of mashed bean paste. Spend the time on using dried beans.

  • 1 lb. dried great northern beans
  • 10 Tbsps. Olive Oil
  • 16 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 ham hocks, large
  • 1 lb pork shoulder, diced into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 lb pancetta, cubed
  • 4 sprigs of oregano
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 14 oz can (give or take) of whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 cup White Wine (I used a dry Pinot Gris that worked well)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 4 confit duck legs
  • 1 lb linked pork sausage
  • 2 cups bread crumbs

The night before making your Cassoulet, soak the beans in 7 1/2 cups of water and allow to set overnight.

The next day, in a large 6-qt soup or stock pot that has been placed over medium high heat, add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Add half of the garlic, onions, and carrots, and cook until lightly browned (about 10 minutes or so). Add the beans, along with the water they had soaked in, to the pot and add the ham hocks. Bring to a boil and the reduce heat to a simmer. Allow to simmer for about 90 minutes.

Remove the ham hocks from the beans, and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Then remove any meat from the hocks, chopping it, and then adding it back to the beans. Discard the bones and gristle.

Heat another 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large dutch oven (5 qt, at least). Add the diced pork shoulder, browning them (about eight minutes). Then add the pancetta, and allow that to render in the pot (about another five minutes). Add the remaining garlic, onions, and carrots, and allow to brown (again, at least another ten minutes or so). Toss in your sprigs of oregano, thyme, as well as your bay leaves. Also pour in the tomatoes, juice and all. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes before adding the wine. Bring to a boil and allow the wine to reduce by half. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about one hour. Remove the herbs and bay leaves. Set aside the Dutch oven.

In a large skillet, sear the duck legs on both sides in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for about six minutes a side. Remove to a plate and allow to cool as you fry the sausages in the skillet for about eight minutes. Also remove to a plate to allow to cool. Remove duck meat from the bones, and cut the sausages into 1/2″ slices. Add duck meat and sausages to the pork stew.

Heat your oven to 300 degrees F.

Mix the beans and the pork stew in a large 5 qt earthenware casserole dish. Cover with the 2 cups of bread crumbs and then drizzle remaining olive oil, as well as any fat/oil from the skillet on to the bread crumbs. Bake, uncovered, for 3 hours. Raise the temperature to 500 degrees F for the final 5 – 7 minutes in order to brown the bread crumbs.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for ten minutes before serving.

Serves 8