It’s been so cold this winter, and I wanted to make a warming, huge stew that Jon and I could eat all week. Usually we make some kind of beef stew, with red wine, tomato sauce and vegetables. In the past, these stews have been simple, throw everything in the pot and wait type deals. My yearly stew this year wound up not being so simple.
Instead of our beef mishmash, I wanted to attempt to make a cassoulet. Cassoulet is an originally southern French dish and is generally a stew of beans and meat. There are many variations on this classic dish and the meat component varies widely, from pork, to goose, mutton or duck. I chose to use primarily pork and duck in my version, and my beans of choice were great northern beans. Soaking the beans overnight is an option – debate varies on whether or not this is necessary. I did soak the beans, but you can also choose to not soak them and cook them longer on the stove instead.
I had never made cassoulet before but my friend and former co-worker Alexis has always been a big fan and she encouraged me to try to create a simple bite out of this complex dish. Her idea was what inspired and influenced the bite we created. Cooling the stew on our fire escape packed in snow worked amazingly (a bonus tip from our friend Bender, another cassoulet and cooking enthusiast at Mas). The recipe that follows is long and a bit daunting. But this was a fun project that Jon and I worked on together all day one cold, gray winter day. I will definitely try another variation of this next year. It warmed the house and our stomachs more than I can say.
(Makes a very big pot of stew and as many bites as you could want)
For the Duck Confit:
See previous post on Duck Confit.
For the Beans:
2 carrots, diced
1 stalk celery
¼ lb unsliced bacon, cut into 1” wide, long strips
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 ham hock
1 ½ lbs great northern beans
Small bunch thyme
5 bay leaves
½ cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1. Dice onions, celery and carrots. Mince garlic and cut bacon into large strips. You’ll eventually remove the bacon, so you want it to be in larger pieces that will be easy to pick out of the beans.
2. Render bacon in a large pot. Add garlic, carrots, onions and celery until lightly browned. Add hock and deglaze with the white wine, reduce to au sec.
3. Add beans, chicken stock, water and a sachet of bay and thyme. The liquid should completely cover the beans.
4. Cook on a low simmer, covered with parchment, until beans are tender but not completely cooked through. Remove hock and reserve, remove bacon and sachet.
For the Sauce:
½ lb bacon, cut into small lardons
1 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1” cubes
Duck fat from confit
1 large carrot, diced
1 large onion, diced
7 cloves garlic, made into a paste
Small bunch of thyme and sage
2 bay leaves
24 oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1. Render lardoons in duck fat until crispy. Use a slotted spoon to place on a paper towel and save for later – you’ll put the crispy bacon on top of the cassoulet at the end as a garnish.
2. In the same pan, brown the cubed pork shoulder. When nicely golden, add vegetables and cook until slightly browned. Add the tomatoes and herb sachet, and cook until tomatoes are thickened.
3. Add the cup of white wine and reduce by half. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook on low heat for an hour.
For the Sausages:
2 onions, made into a paste
10 cloves garlic, made into a paste with the onions
3 spicy Italian sausages
1 sweet Italian sausage
White wine, if needed
1. Make onions and garlic into a smooth paste.
2. Sear off the sausages in more of the duck fat, creating a golden brown crust on all sides of the sausage.
3. Add the onion and garlic paste, and cook sausages in the paste mixture on a low heat until cooked through. Use a small amount of white wine to deglaze if the pan gets dry.
To Assemble the Cassoulet:
Breadcrumbs, homemade if possible
Cooked beans, sachet and bacon removed
Duck confit, picked off the bone into chunks
Sliced sausages, mixed with onions and garlic
Sauce, sachet removed
Ham hock, picked and shredded
Once you have all the elements of your cassoulet prepared and cooked, you can assemble it. There are a lot of ways to make a cassoulet and create a crust and none is right or wrong. I chose to layer the components separately and use breadcrumbs for the crust. I started with a layer of beans, followed by a layer of sauce, then sausage, shredded ham hock and duck confit. I repeated this layered order until the top. Then I covered the cassoulet generously with breadcrumbs, drizzled the top with duck oil and baked it at 375° for 2 hours. For the last 5 minutes, I baked the cassoulet at 500° to create a browned, crusty top. Serve with baguette.
For the Bite:
To make the cassoulet bite, I toasted sliced pieces of baguette. I blended the beans with olive oil to make a white bean tapenade, which I spread on the baguette. I topped the bite with a slice of sausage and a piece of duck, and sauced it with some of the tomato sauce. Serve warm!
© 2011 Jonathan Meter and Jessica Hertle