Monday, April 02, 2007

Cassoulet - Duck, Sausage, & Beans

For the past couple of weeks my husband has had a craving for cassoulet. Of course, he was really lusting after the delectable comfort-style dishes that we had in places like Thoumieux in Paris. I’ve struggled to find decent recipes. Most have led to less than satisfactory experiences – the beans were more like the refried variety; we had so much leftover that neither of us wanted to even think of beans or duck. And we have had similar disappointments at restaurants. The last one occurred a couple of years ago at Blue Talon in Williamsburg – the beans were crunchy to the point of being the dried, uncooked variety and the service was abysmal.

Despite previous setbacks, I remained undeterred. I began with searching for cassoulet on and found, lo and behold, a recipe for – you got it – Cassoulet. But this time, I resolved to not follow the actual recipe step by step. I read it and immediately began figuring out what to change. First of all, I wanted to reduce the size by half (enough for 4 – 6 people instead of 6 – 8 folks). I also decided not to use confit duck legs due to price and purchased duck legs from Tan-A. I used pork and fennel sausage links from The Belmont Butchery and also substituted fennel bulb for celery. Finally, my bread crumbs came from a Tuscan-style rosemary boule and I used pinto beans because I had them on hand.

Petit Cassoulet

  • ½ pound dried pinto beans
  • ~ 5 cups duck broth
  • ½ large sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 sprigs fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • 5 sprigs fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, chopped
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 can (14 ounce) diced tomatoes with juice, pureed
  • 2 duck legs (~ 1 pound)
  • ½ pound of sausage (usually the garlic-pork variety, I used a fennel-pork type, both available at The Belmont Butchery)
  • 1 cup course fresh bread crumbs from a nice loaf that you like (I used a Tuscan rosemary boule)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Make the duck broth – Take the skin and fat off of the duck legs, chop into ½ inch pieces, and set aside. Place the skinned legs in a 6 – 8 quart pot. Fill the pot with water. Heat water to boiling, turn heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for about an hour until duck meat is just falling off the bone. Remove legs and let cool. Set pot with duck broth aside.

Prepare the sausage - Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roast sausage uncovered for about 30 minutes. Once sausage has cooled, slice into ½ inch thick pieces.

Prepare the beans (quick soak method) – Place picked-over beans in medium pot. Cover beans with at least 3 inches of water higher than the beans. Boil the water and let beans boil uncovered for two minutes. After 2 minutes, cover pot and remove from the heat. Let the beans sit in the water for an hour. Drain the beans.

Cook the beans – remove the duck meat from the duck legs, shred the meat, and set aside. In a pot large enough to accommodate all ingredients, place the duck legs, beans, duck broth, onion, fennel, and ½ of the minced garlic. In a cheese cloth put in the bay leaf, thyme, parsley, and peppercorns and tie it into a bouquet garni. Place it in the bean pot. Let the beans come to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer uncovered until the beans are tender, but still hold their shape, about an hour. Taste the beans periodically to test for doneness.

Sauté the sausage and duck meat – In a small pan place duck fat and skin. Add about 2 tablespoons of water. Over medium heat cook fat and skin until the water has evaporated and the fat has rendered. Continue to cook until the duck skin is brown and crispy. Remove the crispy duck cracklings to a bowl. Add sausage slices and sauté until slightly browned. Remove sausage to a bowl. Add duck meat and heat through and remove to sausage bowl.

Once the beans are tender, remove the duck bones and bouquet garni. Add the pureed tomatoes along with the sausage and duck meat and salt and pepper. Simmer on low.

If oven is not on because you had roasted the sausage a while ago, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the bread crumbs – Heat any remaining duck fat in pan on medium heat. If there is not enough fat, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the rest of the chopped garlic and quickly sauté. Add the bread crumbs and stir to soak up the oil/fat. Add the chopped parsley, duck cracklings, and salt and pepper and briefly stir to incorporate.

Assemble the cassoulet – Place bean and meat mixture in a cast iron enameled pot. Spread bread crumbs evenly on top of the mixture. Bake uncovered for an hour.

This was definitely a weekend dish. It took a lot of time (but sparkling wine can make any labor extremely enjoyable!). I liked making my own duck broth for the beans and adding the broth, the legs, and the bouquet garni. These steps helped flavor the beans and I did not need to use an exorbitant amount of salt and pepper for seasoning. Sautéing the sausage in rendered duck fat toned down the sausage and helped the meat to meld into the entire dish. Because I only cooked the beans enough to make them tender, instead of cooking them with all the other ingredients for hours on end, the integrity of the beans remained intact. The can of tomatoes possibly added too much tomatoyness. My husband liked it; but I might use maybe 8 ounces next time. I liked the crunchy bread topping, and the topping did not completely take over the dish. I was very pleased with the outcome, and we had enough for last night and a round of leftovers tonight. And except for the splurge of great house-made sausage and the fennel bulb, the ingredients were relatively reasonable. And while this cassoulet still did not hold a candle to Paris bistro fare, I would make this again. We celebrated this culinary success with a bottle of Sass pinot noir.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm about to make cassoulet too, maybe in the next month or so before the weather gets to warm at least. I definitely will get my sausage from The Belmont Butchery..