The never ending Winter weather has provided one nice side benefit – I’ve not yet tired of comforting meaty stews and braises and casseroles. I’ve made Beef Bourguignon and Indian beef stews and lasagnas and hearty curries, all soul warming dishes meant for chilly nights. But my favorite dish made this season was cassoulet.
I’ve made it a couple of times before, but usually “cheater” versions that simply take a few hours to prepare. One easy way to save time is to forgo the classic ingredient of duck confit. You can use regular duck legs and they will be perfectly tender. Or you can buy duck confit online or from somewhere like Star Provisions. Or omit the duck altogether and use a lot of pork, which is the other usual animal involved in this caloric conquest – belly, sausages, and loin are all fine. The other primary ingredient, traditionally Tarbais white beans, can be replaced with canned cannellini or other white beans.
But I wanted to tackle the full monty, and so it began, using this recipe from Michael Lewis as my guide. Warning!!! Do not scroll to the very bottom of the recipe where the nutritional value is listed, else it may throw you from the path of cassoulet righteousness.
The photo above is the best I could find from the confit process. I cured the duck overnight, with salt and pepper and thyme and pink cure #2. The latter is not necessary, but I wanted to see how it would turn out, which resulted in a very pretty pink meat color, like ham. The confit was juicy and crispy and perfect like only duck confit can be. Blasted under a broiler, there may be no finer single bite of fat and meat in the animal kingdom.
Shredded and saved for later use.
Preparing pork and beans, the latter being the Rancho Gordo cassoulet beans.
Sausages searing. I went with a bratwurst as I thought it would lend the most clean (and not spicy) pork flavor of sausages readily available.
The duck “stew” with stock, wine, tomatoes, and other aromatics.
Removing belly from beans (attempting a near al dente) and chopping.
The next day – assembly.
That’s right, more beans.
Minced duck skin and parsley for the topping
Plus bread crumbs
Blasted in the oven. Ready for eating.
Really great. I could almost not have been happier. A few minor details I would do differently, and you really have to watch for those tiny duck leg bones, but I was not let down by the amount of time spent.
It’s clearly debatable whether or not it’s worth all this time, as compared to a version that may take four hours, but the amount of flavor and texture cannot be denied. I ate it for a week. Sorry, honey.