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Look What I Made: Cassoulet

 

Cassoulet ready for the oven and ready to eat (photos by Travis Awalt)

So last week, Lesley Mann Lynch wrote an amazing post about hosting a Christmas dinner, and it looked so good I’m just not even gonna go there. Instead, I’m tackling Christmas Eve dinner.

I like the idea of cassoulet for Christmas Eve for a couple of reasons. First, it has a French name, so even though it’s basically beans and meat, people will be like, “This sounds fancy, I should write this person into my will!” And second, you can feed a lot of people out of basically one large dish. People are impressed, well fed, and there’s not a ton to clean up. High-five handshakes all around.

Cassoulet may have originated with French peasants centuries ago, but given the fact that it’s loaded with rich meats… I don’t know, man; minus the plague and being French, the whole olden-times-peasant thing sounds like a lifestyle I could get down with. Now, if there’s one thing I learned while doing research on cassoulet, it’s that other than the basic framework of a white bean and meat casserole/stew, nobody really agrees on what belongs in a cassoulet. Most contemporary versions seem to call for duck and pork, or duck and lamb, or all three. Some recipes say to make it like a stew on the range; others say to layer it like a casserole and bake it. I believe I saw one recipe claiming that using anything other than goose was pure heresy. If only I had that big goose money… Single tear. I did, however, have enough money for a duck, so in my cassoulet, I went with duck confit and a garlicy, parsley-laden sausage as the meats, plus a little bacon to salt the beans. I must say, the result was pretty addictive. I will be seeking treatment on Christmas day. I think if I eat enough ham, I just might make it. Merry holidays and enjoy!

P.S. For a twist on the usual New Year’s fare, you could substitute black-eyed peas for the great northern beans. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly. 

Cassoulet

(5-6 servings)

1 lb cooked great northern or other white beans (see below)
duck confit, 2 legs (see below)
scant cup duck stock (see below)
1 lb garlicy sausage – I used a parsley and cheese sausage from Jimmy’s
1/2 cup buttered breadcrumbs
dried rosemary and thyme
salt

The stars of the show: beans, confit and sausage

1. The beans, confit, and stock can all be prepared days in advance. So, go ahead and make all that stuff. When you’re ready to start assembling, set your oven to 350.

2. Remove duck confit from its fat. Discard the skin, pull the meat from the bones, and chop it up. Brown the meat a couple of minutes over medium heat. Set aside.

3. Brown the sausage in the fat leftover from the duck, about 5 minutes on each side. Let it cool, then slice.

4. In a broiler-safe vessel (or multiple ramekins), stir together the beans, meats and dried herbs and a last pinch or two of salt. Pour in just enough stock to almost reach the top of your cassoulet. Finish with breadcrumbs and bake for about 45 minutes, until the cassoulet is very bubbly. Bring the heat up to broil for 3-4 minutes, just long enough to brown the breadcrumbs on top. Eat. Finally.

Beans 

1 lb great northern beans, rinsed and picked through
water
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 rib celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 bacon slices, cut into 1-2″ pieces

There’s a battle that rages over the need to soak beans before cooking. The truth is you don’t need to soak beans to cook them, but they will cook significantly faster if you do. Soak ‘em, don’t soak ‘em – I’m not the bean police. Take the cut-up bacon and render out some of the the fat over medium low heat. Don’t worry about getting it crisp; this bacon has a different purpose. When you’ve got a tbsp or more of bacon fat in the pan, add your veggies – onion, garlic, celery, carrot – and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the edges start to show some browning. Then add the beans and enough water to cover, bring it to a boil, and lower the heat. Simmer the beans, covered, until they’re tender, about 2 hours. Let them cool in whatever broth is left. Refrigerate if you’re doing this ahead.

Duck leg confit

Duck Confit

2 duck legs
1.5 cups bacon fat or other fat
salt

Allegedly, you can buy duck legs by themselves. I have yet to see this, even at Hong Kong Market Place on Walnut, and they have all things meat/seafood, so I just bought a duck and butchered it myself. I used the breasts for another meal* and reserved the wings, carcass, and organs for the stock. Place your two duck legs in a slow cooker skin side up, and sprinkle liberally with salt. Now, as the legs cook, their fat will start to render out, but they need some starter fat to poach in. I don’t have a gallon of duck fat lying around (I hope you’re reading this, Santa!), so I supplemented with about a cup and a half of bacon fat. You could use whatever fat you want, even olive oil technically, but I would go with something rich like duck fat or bacon fat. Set the cooker to low, cover, and let it go for about 4 hours, flipping twice. Let the legs cool in the fat and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.

Duck stock

Duck Stock

duck parts
water
salt
1/4 cup soy sauce

Note: this makes far more duck stock than you need for the cassoulet. Freeze whatever you’re not using within a couple of days.

You add a little stock in right before everything goes in the oven. Since I had the means, I figured a duck stock was in order. If you’re squeamish about duck parts, get a good chicken stock. I guess. Otherwise, take the wings, carcass, and organs of the duck, sprinkle with salt, and roast at 400 for about an hour. Dump everything into a pot, cover with water and 1/4 cup soy sauce, bring it up to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer about 4 hours, adding enough water to keep the parts covered as necessary. Drain through a sieve and refrigerate overnight, skimming the fat and such from the top before you use it.

*A little something I like to call “guy devours two seared duck breasts alarmingly fast”.