Cassoulet

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Complex

  • Serves

    12

Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

Any good cassoulet recipe is long and complicated, but please don't be intimidated: many of the steps are executed in advance, some as far ahead as a week. This will not only make the final preparation easier; it will actually improve the dish, since the flavors will grow stronger and deeper on account of mellowing.

Serve the cassoulet with a bitter-greens salad dressed with walnut oil and sherry vinegar.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds dried white beans, preferably imported French lingots (see Mail Order Sources) or Great Northern
  • ½ pound pork rind with ¼-inch layer of hard fat attached
  • ½ pound lean salt pork
  • 1 ham hock
  • ½ cup rendered duck fat from confit
  • 2 pounds meaty spareribs, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 whole large head of garlic plus 1½ teaspoons chopped garlic
  • ½ cup crushed, seeded tomatoes
  • pound Bayonne ham or prosciutto, in 1 piece
  • Bouquet garni (4 sprigs of parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 celery rib with leaves, and 1 bay leaf, tied together)
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 small onion, stuck with 1 clove
  • 2 quarts unsalted chicken or duck stock
  • 1 pound fresh garlic-flavored pork sausages, preferably mildly spiced
  • Quick Duck and Pork Confit
  • freshly ground pepper and salt
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup soft white bread crumbs

    Method

    1. Two days before serving, prepare Steps 1 through 4. Rinse and pick over the beans. Soak in cool water for a minimum of 5 hours.
    2. In a deep saucepan, place the pork rind, salt pork, and ham hock. Cover with cold water. Slowly bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, skimming once. Drain, rinse under cool running water, and drain again. Pat the meat dry with paper towels. If the pork rind is still brittle, repeat, simmering for 10 to 12 minutes, or until it is supple. Roll up the pork rind like a rug and tie it with string. Cut the rind off the lean salt pork and reserve the rind. Cut the salt pork into 4 even pieces.
    3. Make the pork ragout: Heat ¾ cup of the duck fat in a very large flameproof casserole, preferably 9 quarts. Add the ribs and brown lightly on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and onion and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring, until the onion is soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the ham hock and salt pork and let brown a little around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the rolled pork rind, salt-pork rind, head of garlic, crushed tomatoes, ham slice, herbs, orange zest, peppercorns, and the onion stuck with 1 clove. Pour in the chicken or duck stock, bring to a boil, skim carefully, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, or until the meat is almost tender.
    4. Drain the beans. Add them to the pork ragout. Simmer, covered, over low heat for 1 hour. Add ½ teaspoon salt and cook 15 to 30 minutes longer, or until the beans are tender but not mushy. Remove the casserole from the heat and cool. Discard the whole onion, the herb bouquet, the fatty part of the salt pork, and any loose bones from the ham hock and spareribs. Separate the rinds, meats, and beans. Remove all the gristle and fatty parts from the assorted meats. Strain the cooking liquid. Separately cool, cover, and refrigerate the cooking liquid, meats, rinds, and beans.
    5. A day before serving, prepare the cassoulet through Step 8. Skim the congealed fat from the top of the cooking liquid. Pour the cooking liquid into a large saucepan. Add the reserved ham hock skin and pork rinds and simmer for 1 hour, or longer if they are not fork-tender. Strain, reserving the liquid and meat separately. Measure the liquid and add enough water to make 7 cups.
    6. Scrape all the fat from the assorted pork rinds and discard it. Cut the rinds and ham hock skin into ½-inch squares, so they will easily disintegrate in the final cooking. Cut the ham hock meat into slivers. Finely dice the ham slice and the lean part of the salt pork, then mix all together with the meat from the ribs.
    7. Prick the sausages and cook them in 1 teaspoon of the duck fat in a nonstick skillet. Drain on paper towels; cut them into 1-inch pieces. Pour off the fat. In the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the duck fat. Sear the pork confit all over to brown lightly. Cut into bite-sized pieces. Set the skillet aside for later. Add the sausages and pork confit to the other meats. Season generously with pepper and taste for salt. Cool, cover, and refrigerate.
    8. Carefully remove the duck skin from the confit in large pieces. Add 2 tablespoons duck fat to the reserved skillet and heat until it ripples. Slowly crisp the duck skin on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Carefully remove the bones from the duck confit and discard. Divide the duck meat into 12 even portions. Generously season with freshly ground pepper and gently squeeze each portion into a ball. Cover with a piece of crisp skin. Arrange the portions on a plate, cover with plastic wrap to prevent drying out, and refrigerate.
    9. About 3 hours before serving, assemble the cassoulet. Spread the pork-rind squares all over the bottom of a 6- or 7-quart, wide, ovenproof serving dish—a large ovenproof pasta bowl is ideal. Cover with a layer of beans, then a layer of the pork and ham. Combine the chopped garlic, thyme, parsley, and ½ teaspoon pepper, and sprinkle half of the mixture over the beans. Repeat with the meats, herbs, and garlic, ending with a layer of beans. Reheat the cooking liquid and pour just enough over the beans to cover them. Be sure there is 1 inch of “growing space” between the beans and the rim of the dish. Reserve the remaining liquid to baste the beans during the final cooking.
    10. Place in the oven and turn the heat to 450°F. Sprinkle half the bread crumbs over the top of the casserole. Dot them with 2 tablespoons duck fat. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a golden skin forms on top of the beans.
    11. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Gently stir in the skin that has formed and baste the beans with a few spoonfuls of the reserved cooking liquid. Taste the beans and liquid for salt and correct. Continue to bake until another golden layer appears on the beans, about 20 minutes. Repeat 2 more times, stirring, basting, and baking the dish until a skin appears on the surface. Baste once or twice, using up as much reserved liquid as necessary to keep the beans from drying out.
    12. When the dish has baked a total of 1½ hours, break up the skin and press the reserved pieces of duck confit, skin side up, into the top layer of beans. The crisped duck skin should be just even with the beans' surface. Sprinkle the beans and duck skin with the remaining bread crumbs and the remaining 2 tablespoons duck fat. Bake until a well-browned glaze forms on top and the cassoulet is bubbling hot, about 20 minutes. Remove and let rest 10 minutes before serving.