Cassoulet takes time to prepare. It’s a project especially when you make the duck confit from scratch, as we did a few weeks ago. No shortcut was taken. Going all out, I even ordered the iconic French Haricot Tarbais, the beans which enjoy protected status and the essential ingredient in any cassoulet recipe. Their delicate skin and sweet milky flesh will retain a crunchy texture during cooking. I haven’t made cassoulet for a while. When Cook-the-Book-Fridays put it on it’s calendar, I’m happy to try out David Lebovitz’s recipe in My Paris Kitchen. One word to describe the end result: superb!
I couldn’t wait to make cassoulet again — although everyday life and engagements often interfere with good intentions. The ingredient list is long. The process is lengthy. However, cassoulet is one of those classic dishes that’s worthy of the time and efforts we put into it. It was snowing the other day when I made the cassoulet; it ended up to be a perfect day. Peaceful and uninterrupted time spent in the kitchen. Plus an amazing bubbling potful of cassoulet to boot. What can be better? In the end, making cassoulet has a lot to do with investing in the process.
Here is a brief summary of the steps and some small changes I made to the recipe:
- Soak the white beans (2 lb/950 g) overnight.
- Cook the fresh ham hock (2 lb/950 g, a winner!) for about 2 hours until the meat is tender. Separate the meat from the bones. Discard the liquid.
- Cook the beans in cold water along with the ham bones, pork belly (160 g) or pancetta, and bouquet garni (carrots, onions, garlic, bay leaves and thyme). Cook until the beans are barely tender, about 50 minutes.
- Sear duck confit (4) and fresh pork sausage (450 g) over medium heat until just browned. Cut into chunky bite-size pieces.
- When the beans are done, remove bouquet garni and the ham bones. Cut carrots into cubes, put them back into the beans, along with reserved shredded meat from the ham hock.
- Puree the onion and garlic (in the bouquet garni) with some of the bean liquid until smooth. Stir the mixture back into the bean mixture.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- In a cast-iron Dutch oven, ladle a layer of the bean mixture at the bottom, then put half of the duck and sausage pieces evenly over the beans. Repeat with another layer of beans and the rest of the duck and sausage. Add the remaining beans on top and enough liquid so the beans are barely floating in the liquid.
- Toss the bread crumbs (I used panko) with the oil until throughly moistened. Spread the crumbs evenly over the top of the cassoulet. Bake for an hour. Lower the temperature to 250°F and bake for another 2 1/2 hours.
- Open the crust top from time to time to make sure the cassoulet is not drying out. Add some bean liquid if it seems too dry.
- Raise the oven temperature to 450°F until the crust is nicely browned in the final minutes of baking.