This famous French bean stew is ideal for warming the soul on a cold winter's day. This dish takes time to prepare but isn't difficult and is well worth the effort. Serve cassoulet with a full bodied red wine, such as Syrah or Côtes du Rhône.
6 cups navy beans
4 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme
Chicken stock or water, as needed
1 onion, left whole for cooking the beans
4 carrots, cut into thirds
2 stalks celery, left whole
1 small ham hock
1/4 pound thick cut bacon, cut into 1 1/2 inch strips
4 duck legs
1 onion, chopped for cassoulet
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled, for baking dish
1 cup white wine
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme, for cassoulet
4 pork sausages, cut in half or quarters
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs, preferably fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Soak beans in cold water overnight.
To make bouquet garni: Add cloves, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns to cheesecloth. Tie with butcher’s twine or string. Set aside.
Drain and rinse the beans. Transfer to saucepan. Add enough chicken stock or cold water to cover the beans. Add bouquet garni, carrot, celery, onion, and ham hock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook beans until just tender, about 45 to 1 hour.
Remove ham hock from beans and shred or chop the meat. Set aside.
Drain the beans, reserving the stock and carrots. Set aside. Discard the onion and celery.
Add bacon to large sauté pan over medium low heat. Cook until lightly golden, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove bacon and drain on paper towel. Set aside.
Leave about 2 tbsp. bacon fat in pan. Add duck legs over medium heat and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Reserve the duck fat to add to the cassoulet. Set aside.
Add chopped onions and garlic to the pan with 1 tbsp. duck fat over medium heat. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from pan. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Rub the inside of a large Dutch oven or casserole dish with a clove of garlic. Leave the garlic clove in the pan.
Add duck fat to the pan. Then start layering the beans with all the other elements into the pan. It doesn’t have to be perfect or pretty as long as you get everything in the pan. Layer some beans, shredded ham hock, beans, duck legs, beans, onions, carrots, garlic, thyme springs, beans, bacon, beans, sausages and beans. Pour in white wine and the reserved bean liquid, just enough to cover the beans.
Cover and bake until all meat is cooked and duck is tender, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
For the bread crumb topping: Combine bread crumbs, olive oil, thyme, parsley, and salt and pepper in small bowl.
Add breadcrumb topping to cassoulet. Broil until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Variation: This recipe uses duck legs, but if you like, use duck confit, for a more traditional cassoulet.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.