Cassoulet is a classic French dish that is a true labor of love, but the reward is a hearty dish that can feed a crowd. It is the ultimate comfort food meal. There seem to be many different variations of this recipe that try to minimize the steps. This recipe is following the classic, and long, multi-step technique. The recipe is assembled with three key components that each individual recipes. These components can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until you want to assemble the final dish. Otherwise, it will take 2-3 days to pull everything together.
- Prepare recipe for confit of duck.
- Prepare recipe for beans
- Prepare recipe for Ragu
Duck Confit Recipe – Step 1
4 Duck legs
½ cup kosher salt
1t black peppercorns
1t juniper berries
15 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cups duck fat
Place salt in a bowl and blend with sugar. Rub the sugar and salt mixture all over the skin and flesh of the duck. Pack the salted legs on top of each other, layering them with peppercorns, juniper berries, and thyme. Sprinkle some more of the salt/sugar mixture over the top and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 12 – 24 hours.
When the dug legs have finished resting in the refrigerator, unpack the duck legs and rub off any salt and spices from the legs with paper towels. Melt the duck fat in a heavy-bottomed pan just big enough to hold the legs. Add duck to the fat so that it is fully emerged in the fat. Simmer duck slowly for 1 ¼ 1 ½ hours or until the meat browns and shrinks off the bone and is very tender. Remove the pot from the heat and let the duck cool in the fat to room temperature. Transfer to a storage container, cover with fat and chill until ready to assemble the Cassoulet. You can make the confit of duck ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator. If you want to skip a step, it is possible to buy duck confit already prepared.
Prepare the Beans – Step 2
2 whole cloves
1 large onion, peeled and halved
1 ½ lb. Tarbais, corona, cannellini beans, soaked overnight, drained
8 oz. Pancetta – leave as one big piece or substitute bacon cut into pieces
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
1 bay leaf
Fresh ground pepper
Stick a clove into each onion half; it will make it easier to remove when the beans finish cooking. Place soaked and drained beans in a large pot with pancetta or bacon, carrots, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Pour in enough water to cover the beans by 2”. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and partially covered pot, skimming occasionally and adding more water if necessary to keep the beans submerged. Simmer beans until tender, but not falling apart. For cannellini beans, it should take around 45 minutes, and probably twice as long for the other varieties. When beans are cooked remove the pot from the heat, and remove onion, carrots, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. If using pancetta, remove from beans, cut into 1-inch pieces and add back to the pot. Reserve the bean cooking liquid for final assembly.
If doing ahead, cover and refrigerate and bring beans back up to room temperature.
Prepare the Pork Ragu – Step 3
1 ½ lb. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 “ cubes
1 ½ t kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 T olive oil
1 large onion peeled and chopped
1 large carrot peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves finely chopped
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock (low in salt if possible)
Cut pork into 1” cubes and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add half of the pork to the pot, turning to brown on all sides, which should take around 10 minutes. Remove browned pork and reserve. Add the second half of pork to the pan and brown. Remove when browned. Reduce heat to medium and add onion, carrot, and garlic to the pot, and cook for around 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned. Return pork to pot and add fresh thyme, bay leaf, tomatoes, and stock. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Partially cover, and simmer pork for 1 ¾ – 2 hours or until the meat breaks apart with a fork. When pork is finished cooking, remove thyme and bay leaf, and let the mixture cool. If making ahead, store ragu in the refrigerator, and bring it back up to room temperature when ready to assemble the dish.
Final Assembly of Cassoulet
1 lb. mild Italian pork sausage links
1 lb. garlic (garlic & herb) pork sausage links
3 cups medium-fine breadcrumbs
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
1 garlic clove, halved lengthwise
When ready to assemble the Cassoulet for baking, remove the beans and ragu from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature or slightly warmed on a burner.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
If you have been storing the duck confit, remove it from the refrigerator, and warm it so that the duck fat is liquid again. Remove the duck legs from the fat, and carefully remove the skin, and set aside on a plate, and pat dry with a paper towel. Pull the duck legs into 2” pieces, and discard bones.
With a slotted spoon, transfer cooked beans to the pork ragu and stir to combine.
Place a large 8 qt. heavy-bottomed pan or Dutch oven over medium heat and add the reserved duck skin. Cook, turning frequently until the skin is brown and rendered more of its fat. Remove crisp skin to a plat and wipe excess fat with a paper towel. Cut into small pieces and reserve for topping a serving of the Cassoulet.
Prick the pork sausages with a fork and add to the pot. Cook sausages in the duck fat for about 15 minutes so that they are browned on the sides. Remove from the pot and let cool. Cut into ¼” slices and set aside.
Add breadcrumbs to the pot, and stir constantly to brown the breadcrumbs. If there isn’t enough fat in the pot from the sausages, add some duck fat to the breadcrumbs. Keep moving the breadcrumbs around since the ones touching the bottom of the pan will brown quickly. Once the breadcrumbs look golden brown, remove them to a bowl and let them cool slightly. Add chopped parsley to breadcrumbs and stir to incorporate. Let the pan cool slightly.
Rub inside of the pot with the garlic cloves, and add a layer of 1/3 of the pork ragu and bean mixture to the bottom of the pan. Top with half of the duck confit and cooked sausage coins. Top with another 1/3 of the pork/bean mixture. Top that layer with the rest of the duck and sausage. Top with remaining pork and beans. There should be enough liquid to cover the top of the final layer of pork and beans. If not covered, add enough of the reserved bean cooking liquid to cover.
At this point, you could choose to refrigerate the Cassoulet for another day. Cover and chill if you want to save it, and bring it back to room temperature when you are ready to bake the final Cassoulet. The duck skin and breadcrumbs should be stored the same way.
Top Cassoulet with 2/3 of the breadcrumbs and place in the oven at 375 degrees. Bake uncovered in the oven for around an hour and a half total. During the cooking, check the Cassoulet over 20 minutes, and break up the breadcrumb crust and pushing down lightly to allow the breadcrumbs to absorb a little liquid. When there are around 20 minutes left, sprinkle the final 1/3 of the breadcrumbs over the top of the Cassoulet, and let it cook until the time expires and the breadcrumbs are brown on top.
To serve, spoon Cassoulet into a shallow bowl with the breadcrumb topping covering the serving. Top with browned duck skin and serve.
I like to pair this dish with a great French wine like Chateauneuf Du Pape.