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Cassoulet

Cassoulet can be as quick and easy or as long drawn out and complicated as you make it. Ditto for the costs! Everyone makes it differently, below is my preferred method/mix. Confit duck legs are a traditional part ingreditent. If you want to confit them, recipe follows, but you need start 2 days to 2 months in advance. Apparently they improve with age. I’m a bit unsure about that, as I’m not sure of my skills at providing a cover fat cover thick enough to keep all mould at bay. So I would start about a week in advance. If you forget completely you can either buy confit duck legs (very expensive) or just slow fry them in their own fat for about 2h whilst you’re putting the rest of the cassoulet together.

I have to admit using tinned beans is much quicker & easier…

To make the enough confit duck legs for 2 cassoulets (takes 2 days): 4 large duck legs
50g rock salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4-6 thyme sprigs
5 broken bay leaves
10 crushed garlic cloves
750g extra rendered goose or duck fat (in a tin, I don’t bother though)
48h before you cook mix the above except for fat, rub into the skin & meat of legs of duck & put on a tray in the fridge for 24h, then remassage. After 48h scrape off the seasonings & put to one side.
Heat a frypan to moderate, put the legs in skin down & brown, then turn & brown. I then return the seasonings, turn them back on their skin (to render out the fat) & shallow fry in their own fat at a low heat with a lid on for about 2h, turning occasionally.
Alternatively after browning, put the legs in a preheated oven (150 deg C) with the extra fat & seasonings & cook for about 2h. To preserve them place in a large jar with lid, & pour over enough warm liquid fat to cover completely. Let fat go hard & cover with lid, keeps for months in the fridge. If you don’t have enough fat, smear them in fat & wrap in clingfilm

The cassoulet itselt:

2 confit duck legs
500g – 700g shoulder of lamb (or leg if you prefer), deboned & diced to about 3cm pieces
3 Toulouse sausages (or other coarse garlicky sausages
if you like 500g fresh pork belly in 3cm cubes (I don’t usually use it)
1 large onion chopped
6 garlich cloves, chopped
5 large tomatoes, chopped
150g breadcrumbs

The Beans:
600g dried beans soaked overnight (I use a mix with lima, haricot, borlotti, haricot is traditional)
1 large onion, peeled & stuck with 4 cloves
2 peeled garlic cloves
1 bouwuet garni (bay, thyme, parsley stalks)

Drain the beans, cover them with fresh cold water about 3cm higher than bean lever, add the other bean ingredients, bring to the boil & simmer until beans are tender but retain their shape (1.5-2.5h). Add a little extra water if they start looking dry, but allow the liquid to thicken & become saucy at the end of the cooking. Season, remove & discard the onion & bouquet garini.

Whilst the beans are cooking melt 2tbs of duck fat & brown all the meats one after the other, sausages last & set them aside separate to the other meats. Cut the duck legs into chunks & the sausages into 4 chunks. Then add the onion & garlic to the pan & cook on low until softened. Add the tomatos & a little water & simmer ~ 20min until you have a rich & pulpy sauce.

The cassoulet will be cooked in an around 3L crockpot (we’ve got an IKEA Le Creuset imitation), so if you think your beans & other ingredients won’t all fit in your pot, reserve some of the beans (you can freeze them for next time). When the beans are cooked stir in the tomato sauce & check the seasoning (don’t forget the meats are salty, esp. the duck), stir in the meats (except for the sausage). Sprinkle over a layer of breadcrumbs (no more than 1/3 of them) & then drizzle some melted duck fat over them & place uncovered in a preheated 140-150 deg oven for 2-2.5h. Check occasionally & break teh crust & add more crumbs. If the mixture becomes too dry, make a hole in the crust & pour in some water. Before the final layer of breadcrumbs (1/2h before it is finished, press the sausage chunks into the beans surface so they become crusty too, then add the last layer of crumbs. The beans should be melting & creamy & the meats tender, the crust deep, crisp & golden. Serve with a rustic red wine – something strong & tannic e.g. a nice ‘black wine’ from Cahors or Madiran would be appropriate.

I like to make servings slightly smaller & have heaps of broccoli on the side.

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