OHIO TERROIR CASSOULET
Making cassoulet is a project that requires planning, a lot of attention during the cooking process, and a willingness to invest time in the project. It’s much more than a recipe. It’s a process.
Cassoulet is a complex and involved version of a simple classic like pork and beans. There are many possible combinations of meat that can be included, which allows you to create a personalized version of the dish, much like any Italian family will have its own version of a family sauce.
You can combine lamb, pork, sausage, duck, and goose as the base, and enhance the flavor with additions like pig’s feet or skin, stock, and aromatics and seasonings. Smoked meats are not used in making a cassoulet. However, you can change that rule if you choose. It’s your cassoulet, after all.
Several months ago, I made two versions of cassoulet. In one I used pork, duck, Toulouse-style sausage, and duck stock. I buried a whole head of garlic in the beans. In a second version, I buried a pig’s foot among the beans and I included duck confit, lamb shoulder, and sausage with a combination of lamb stock, chicken stock, and three large garlic cloves minced.
The next time I make cassoulet I predict it will be somewhat different, and that’s the nature of cassoulet. Every version is correct. There is always an opportunity to add your personal touch.
- 2 leg-thigh portions and 2 breast portions from a whole duck for confit
- 2 pounds of beans
- 1 pound lamb shoulder cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
- 1 pig’s foot or 6 ounces of pancetta or pork belly, diced
- 1 piece of pig’s skin about 6 inches square
- 1 pound of garlicy sausage like Kielbasa (fresh, not smoked) or Toulouse-style sausage
- 1/2 cup carrots, finely diced
- 1/2 cup onion, finely diced
- 3–4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced finely
- 4–5 cups pork, lamb, or duck stock (or a combination)
- 3–4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
- Salt and pepper to taste
ABOUT COOKING BEANS
Spread the beans over a tray to create a single layer. Carefully sort through the beans to remove broken pieces and any foreign matter. Rinse the beans under cold water and then place them in a large bowl with plenty of cold water. The water should be 2–3 inches above the beans.
Soak overnight or at least 4 hours.
Remove the beans from the soaking water and rinse them again under cold water. Place the beans in the cooking pot and cover with cold water. Place the beans on high heat. When the water boils, remove the pan from the heat and strain the beans. Wash again under cold water.
Clean the pot. Return the beans to the pot and cover with cold water. Return to the heat. When the water boils, skim several times to remove foam. Lower the heat to medium and cook the beans until they are soft, but not thoroughly cooked.
The beans can be prepared 2–3 days in advance, cooked and refrigerated until ready to use.
PLANNING YOUR WEEK
Here is a workplan for making a cassoulet. You can shorten the process by one or two days by baking the cassoulet longer each day. Working from weekend to weekend is a good game plan. Do most of the preparation work on Saturday and Sunday. Start assembling and doing the first baking on Monday or Tuesday. You can let the cassoulet rest one or two days in the refrigerator during the week. Plan to do the last baking the next Saturday or Sunday for the festive celebration.
- Soak the beans overnight.
- Prepare the duck for making confit.
- Cook the beans.
- Make the duck confit (see recipe below).
- Prepare the lamb pieces by arranging the pieces in a single layer in a dish. Season the pieces with salt, pepper, and bit of dried thyme.
- Allow all cooked elements to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate everything overnight.
- Assemble the cassoulet (see recipe below).
- Cover and bake at 350° for about 3 hours.
- Allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight.
- Remove fat from the top of the cassoulet, which has cooled overnight, and bake, covered again, for 2 hours.
- Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight.
- Throughout the cooking and cooling process it is important to remove the fat that comes to the surface. The goal is to remove as much fat as possible.
- Remove the fat and bake again for 3 hours.
- Uncover the pan. Using a ladle, remove liquid fat. Do not disturb the top or surface of the cassoulet. Cover the top of the cassoulet with a layer of bread crumbs.
- Bake uncovered for 1 hour to create a crust on top.
PREPARING DUCK CONFIT
- 1 whole duck
- 1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 8 swipes on the grater of fresh nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 grinds of black pepper
Remove the leg and thigh pieces and the breast portions from the duck just as you would when butchering a chicken (you can have your butcher do this part for you). Remove the first 2 parts of the wing and leave the joint that is attached to the duck breast. Place the leg, thigh, breast, and wing pieces of duck skin side-down in a shallow pan. Distribute the garlic, thyme, nutmeg, salt, and pepper on the surface of the duck pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
After preparing the confit, pull all the fat from the carcass including the skin from the neck. Place the fat in a heavy-bottomed pan, and cover the fat with water. Place over medium-high heat and cook to render the fat. The water will evaporate. Do not cook to the point where the pieces of fat become dark. This will give a burned flavor to the fat. Strain and set aside.
Chop the wing bones and the carcass, and use these to make duck stock.
To finish the duck confit, use your fingers to brush the garlic and thyme from the duck pieces. Place the duck pieces, skinside up, in a shallow baking dish that will hold the pieces close together. Place all the rendered duck fat over the pieces. If you do not have enough fat to cover the duck pieces, add some lard. The pieces should be completely covered.
Bake at 300° for about 1 hour and then remove the breast portions. Continue baking the leg and thigh pieces for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the leg and thigh portions from the pan and save the fat.
When the pieces have cooled, remove the skin. If you are not going to assemble the cassoulet at this point, place the duck pieces in a container and pour the fat over them. You can refrigerate the pieces for several days. Remove the confit from the refrigerator a couple of hours before you plan to use it. This will make it easier to remove all the fat from the pieces.
When ready to use, remove all the skin from the duck pieces. Cut the breast portions into 2 pieces each. Separate the leg from the thigh.
ASSEMBLING THE CASSOULET
Lay the pig skin, fat side up, on the bottom of the roasting pot. If you are using pancetta or belly fat instead of the pig skin, scatter the pieces on the bottom of the pan. If you are using a pig’s foot, place it on the bottom of the pan near the side. Cover with a third of the beans. Sprinkle half of the garlic, carrot, and onion over the beans. Add salt and pepper. Cover with the pieces of lamb. Sprinkle the lamb with salt, pepper, garlic, carrot, and onion. Cover the lamb with another third of the beans, and repeat with the other half of garlic, tomato paste, carrot, and onion. Finish this layering process with the duck and a final layer of the remaining beans.
Dissolve the tomato paste in the stock and pour it over the cassoulet. The liquid should nearly cover the beans. Place a lid on the baking pot and cook at 350° for about 3 hours.
Remove the pot from the oven and cool. Remove fat that has come to the top. Place in the refrigerator overnight.