As the weather turned and we experienced the first chilly wet weather in the Cape, Commander J deemed it imperative that we partake of a hearty cassoulet. For those who have not yet had the joy of eating this dish, let me try to explain it. It is a bean stew with pork sausages, pancetta and confit duck. It is also a work of love and requires planning and a couple of days to make. There are a couple of regional variations in South West France where the dish originates from and each village swears that they make the original but if you stick to a few basics you can create the most delicious dish that demonstrates how caramelisation, building layers of flavour and slow cooking can create magic.
If you have the patience and inclination to make this you will need:
500g white beans
500g pork sausages
2 confit duck legs
100g pancetta chopped into lardons
2 carrots, peeled and chopped in large chunks
2 onions finely chopped
4 leeks finely chopped
1 rib celery chopped
2 fresh tomatoes grated
2L chicken or duck stock
250ml white wine
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
- Soak your beans in salted water overnight then drain and rinse.
- In a large casserole dish start by placing the duck legs in the dish and crisping up the skin under a grill. This will release beautiful duck fat for cooking the rest of the dish. Remove and set aside.
- Next fry off your pork sausages in the duck fat in the same casserole dish. Remove and set aside. This builds up layers of flavour in the pot that will infuse the beans.
- Now fry your pancetta lardons until the are crispy and then add the onion. leeks, celery and carrot
- Cook until the vegetables are softened and are just starting to caramelise
- Add the tomatoes, wine, stock, the beans, the garlic and the herbs and cook until the beans are soft. This will take up to 90 minutes.
- Now add the sausages and push them down into the beans. Taste the beans and add salt and pepper as required.
- Cook uncovered in the oven at 160C for 3-4 hours. If it dries out then add a little more stock or water.
- The cassoulet will form a crust from the gelatine in the stock. Every hour push it down to build up a thick crust. An alternative popular option is to top the stew with breadcrumbs while baking in the oven. These will absorb some of the fat and become golden and crispy.
- 30 minutes before you want to serve add the duck legs on top of the stew for the final cook
- I added a garnish of crispy guanciale pieces to serve for some extra porky flavour
- If you want to make your own confit duck, buy a whole bird and confit the leg quarters. Use the carcass for duck stock for the cassoulet. The breasts can be used in another recipe or cured as prosciutto.
- The stock needs to be rich in gelatine to create the wonderful flavour and texture of the stew. Don’t use powdered stock for this recipe.
- You can add a kick of umami by adding a little demi glace
- Serve with crusty bread and a crisp green salad
Commander J was satisfied with the result. To the point that she ate it 3 days in a row. Job done. Now for ramen 🙂