RECIPE TITLE "Cassoulet" recipe excerpted from Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes
Copyright © by Jennifer Mclagan
Serves 6 to 8 ---
This classic from southwestern France is a very contentious dish, and almost every town in the region has its own “genuine” cassoulet recipe. Some add lamb, others tomatoes. Some add both, and some believe that neither should be included. Then there are endless discussions on how to make the crust. As long as you begin with white beans and add fatty meats you’ll end up with a great-tasting dish. After all, it is just a bean stew.
Most cassoulet recipes serve 10 to 12 people. Maybe I am short of friends, but I think the best dinners are for 6 or 8. So I don’t have to eat leftover cassoulet all week, I’ve pared the recipe down. If you have more friends than me, or a big family, you can double it.
This is a rich dish, so I like to follow it with a spinach or watercress and orange salad topped with duck cracklings. You can, of course, sprinkle those cracklings over the cassoulet, too.
4 1/2 cups / 1 3/4 pounds / 800 g dried white (navy or Great Northern) beans, soaked overnight in cold water
3 cloves garlic, peeled
6 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1 fresh bay leaf
1/2 pound / 225 g pork belly, skin on
1/2 pound / 225 g boneless lamb shoulder
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup / 1 3/4 ounces / 50 g duck fat
2 garlic pork sausages (about 10 1/2 ounces / 300 g total)
1/2 cup / 125 ml dry white wine
4 plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 legs Duck Confi t (page 141)
1 1/4 cups / 3 1/2 ounces / 100 g fine fresh bread crumbs
Drain the beans, discarding the soaking water. Place the beans in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Cut 1 of the onions in half and skewer each half with a clove. Add to the pan with 2 of the garlic cloves, the thyme and parsley sprigs, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat, skim any foam from the surface, and discard. Simmer the beans, uncovered, until they are just tender, about 1 hour.
While the beans are cooking, remove the skin from the pork belly, cut into 1/2-inch / 1-cm squares, and set aside. Cut the pork belly into 1-inch / 2.5-cm pieces and the lamb into 1 1/2-inch / 4-cm pieces. Season the pork belly and lamb pieces with salt and pepper.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the duck fat in a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the pork belly and lamb and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate. Prick the sausages several times with a fork and add them to the pan. Lower the heat to medium and brown the sausages on all sides. Transfer the sausages to a plate and cut each sausage into 4 pieces.
Chop the remaining onion, add to the pan, and cook over low heat until softened. Add the remaining garlic and the wine and bring to a boil. Deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer until reduced slightly, about 10 minutes.
Remove the skin from the duck legs and set aside, then remove the meat from the bones in large pieces. Set the meat aside and discard the bones.
When the beans are cooked, drain them, reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer the beans to a large bowl, discarding the onion halves and herbs.
Preheat the oven to 300°F / 150°C.
Stir the reduced tomato and onion mixture into the beans and season with salt and pepper, remembering that the confit will add some salt to the finished dish. Put about half the bean mixture in a large Dutch oven or casserole. Now place the pieces of pork skin, pork belly, lamb, and duck confit on top, making sure the different meats are well distributed.
Cover the meats with the remaining bean mixture and push the sausage pieces into the top bean layer so they almost disappear into the beans. Pour in enough of the reserved cooking liquid to come up almost to the top of the beans. Cover the surface of the cassoulet with about half of the bread crumbs and dot with pieces of the remaining duck fat.
Bake, uncovered, for 3 hours or until a golden crust has formed over the creamy textured beans. Three or four times during the cooking time, break the bread crumb crust with the back of a spoon and sprinkle the cassoulet with a few more tablespoons of bread crumbs. Also make sure the cassoulet is not becoming dry, adding more of the bean cooking liquid if necessary.
While the cassoulet is cooking, use the reserved duck skin to make poultry cracklings (see page 133).
Serve the cassoulet straight from the dish, making sure that everyone gets a little crust and beans and some of each of the meats.
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