Sunday, December 11, 2011


Cassoulet! I've had this several times over the years but the most recent time that I had it in a restaurant, it was so good that I had to meet the challenge to make one at home. All I needed to spur me on was a crowd large enough to make it worthwhile the time and effort. As this was my first attempt I did get a fairly common task wrong but in the end the meal was still a success. (I'll make up for it next time!)

I looked around for a likely recipe and this one that I found on seemed closest to the approach I would typically take.  

1 pound dried great northern beans
10 tablespoons duck fat or olive oil
16 cloves garlic, smashed
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 large smoked ham hocks
1 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1" cubes
1⁄2 pound pancetta, cubed
4 sprigs oregano
4 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
1 cup whole peeled canned tomatoes
1 cup white wine
2 cups chicken broth
4 confit duck legs (optional)
1 pound pork sausages
2 cups bread crumbs

A couple of notes on the ingredients I used. I had about a cup duck fat left over from a dinner I made several weeks ago in the freezer. I purchased the duck legs, pancetta and pork from Marin Sun Farms in Oakland from free range ducks and heritage pork. I pulsed Acme whole wheat bread to make the bread crumbs. The oregano and thyme were straight from my garden. And the chicken broth was frozen from a batch I made a few weeks ago. I find that getting the best ingredients make for the best flavor and satisfaction from the meal.

Duck confit:
There are plenty of good recipes to check out if you want to use the duck legs. I just put the legs into a small baking dish with raised sides, filled to the top with melted duck fat and baked in a 225˚ oven for about 2 hours to prepare them.

Beans and ham hocks:
Soak beans in a 4-qt. bowl in 7 1⁄2 cups water overnight. Heat 2 tablespoons duck fat in a 6 quart pot over medium-high heat. Of the prepared garlic, onions and carrots, add half to the pot and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add ham hocks along with beans and their water and boil. Reduce heat and simmer beans until tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours.
Transfer ham hocks to a plate; let cool. Pull off meat; discard skin, bone, and gristle. Chop meat; add to beans. Set aside.

Pork and soffrito:
Heat 2 tablespoons duck fat in a 5-qt. dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork and brown for 8 minutes. Add pancetta; cook for 5 minutes. Add remaining garlic, onions, and carrots; cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Tie together oregano, thyme, and bay leaves with twine; add to pan with tomatoes; cook until liquid thickens, 8–10 minutes. Add wine; reduce by half. Add broth; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, uncovered, until liquid has thickened, about 1 hour. Discard herbs; set dutch oven aside.

Duck legs and sausage:
Meanwhile, sear duck confit legs in 2 tbsp. duck fat in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat for 8 minutes; transfer to a plate. Brown sausages in the fat, about 8 minutes. Cut sausages into 1⁄2" slices. Pull duck meat off bones. Discard fat and bones. Stir duck and sausages into pork stew.

Final bake:
Heat oven to 300˚. Mix beans and pork stew in a 4-qt. earthenware casserole. Cover with bread crumbs; drizzle with remaining duck fat. Bake, 

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