A long time ago, before this 30×30 list was even on my radar—before my 30th birthday was even on my radar—someone asked me if there was any dish that I would never bother making at home. I instantly had two replies – Phở and cassoulet. Phở because I can get a huge bowl of it for $6, at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant (and it would cost me way more to buy the ingredients for what could be a sub-par version) and cassoulet. And you know what? After actually tackling cassoulet, I’m going back to my original thought—I will never again make cassoulet at home.
It’s not that this didn’t turn out fantastic and homey, and everything this classic French dish should be, because it did. It’s not that this was hard to make, because it wasn’t. But the ingredients! Oh my, the ingredients. And the time! SO MUCH TIME. Because I am the master at not reading recipes thoroughly before making them, I original thought the Anthony Bourdain recipe I had my eye on would take two days (which is long enough, if you ask me). But, alas, it was a 3 day process. I don’t have three days in a row off work, Bourdain. So I kept putting it off and putting it off and then I figured I better hurry up and make it, or we’d be eating a meaty bean casserole in 95 degree weather, and nobody wants to do that.
So one day while picking up some things from the butcher, I asked if they carry pork belly, which is in Bourdain’s recipe. Oh yes, we do, and it’s great, they assured me. Fabulous, I thought. Now I know where to get my pork belly when I finally tackle this thing. The next weekend, I send husband to get the pork belly and guess what? The pork belly is not there. It’s a special order. So I call two other butchers and the same thing.
At this point I had duck confit, pork sausages, and a random jar of duck fat in my possession (did you know Williams-Sonoma sells duck fat?). Plus, I had already soaked the beans. I should also mention that Bourdain’s recipe (as well as Julia Child’s) also call for pork rind and…really? Do people sell pork skin just…like that? I mean, I suppose they do, but I sure as hell do not know where to find it, so that was out.
The cassoulet making was not going well. I was one day down and two major ingredients too few. So, I did what any red-blooded American would do and I chopped some bacon and called it a day.
I definitely didn’t follow Bourdain’s recipe, but I did end up drawing inspiration from it. I also used components of Daniel Bouloud’s recipe (based on notes from the Amateur Gourmet), which worked out well because I was able to make this in a mere two days and with a breadcrumb topping, rather than a pork skin topping. I love pork, but this sounded better to me, anyway.
This makes a lot of food, even though I only made the equivalent of about half of what the Bourdain recipe would have yielded (that one allegedly serves 4. Um, no.). Thankfully, it tasted great. I cooked the beans along with a pork blade steak for a little pork flavor without going overboard and buying even more food. They absorbed all the great pork flavor, as well ase the flavor from the duck confit/duck fat…which, of course, is one of the best tastes on the planet. This does take a lot of time but most of that is probably tracking down ingredients and inactive prep or baking time.
2 duck legs confit (instructions below or you may find them in some specialty stores/butcher shops already confit)
2.5 cups dried white beans
1 pork blade steak or ham bone (optional)
1 onion, quartered
1 sprig parsley
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 lb. bacon, chopped
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
3-4 pork sausages, cut in half or thirds if very large
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. chopped parsley
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
Make the duck confit if you are making it yourself (see below). It would actually be better to make this the previous day (day 0?) but day 1 works.
Cover the beans by 2-3″ with water and soak overnight.
Drain and rinse the beans and place them in a large pot. Add the pork steak/bone, sprig of parsley, thyme, and bay leaf. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour. Drain the beans, but reserve the cooking liquid. Discard the herbs and onion. Dice the pork into pieces and mix with the beans. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350. Heat a Dutch oven over medium high heat and then add the bacon. Cook until the bacon has rendered its fat. If there is more than 2 Tbsp. of fat in the pan, drain it off until you get about 2 Tbsp.
Cook the sliced onion alongside the bacon until tender and stir in the tomato paste. Add the sausages and the garlic. Brown the sausages on all sides. Add the duck confit (you can choose whether or not to remove the bone; I didn’t bother.) Finally, stir in the beans.
Add enough bean cooking liquid so that the beans are covered completely. Season to taste with salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a boil.
Place in the preheated oven and cook for about 1.5 hours. Check during cooking to make sure you don’t need to add any additional liquid.
Mix together the bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, and butter. Sprinkle half the mixture over the cassoulet and bake for about 10-15 minutes. Add the remaining breadcrumbs and bake another 10 minutes, or place under the broiler for a few minutes. Serve!
2 duck legs
freshly ground pepper
1 cup duck fat
4 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 garlic clove
Rub the duck legs with salt, place in a shallow dish and cover with plastic. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375. Render the duck fat in the sauce pan until clear. After seasoning with freshly ground pepper (not too much), place the duck legs in a clean, ovenproof casserole dish, nestled alongside the herbs. Pour the duck fat over the legs to just cover. Cover the dish with foil and cook for about an hour, until the skin at the “ankle” pulls away from the “knuckle.” The meat should be tender.
Allow to cool and then store as is in the refrigerator, sealed under the fat. When you need the confit, you can rewarm the whole dish or dig them out of the cold fat and scrape off the excess.
30 by 30: Cassoulet