Here it is, the recipe for the best dish I’ve ever cooked. It is that good.
I guarantee it will be one of the best you have ever cooked as well, if you take a little time and do it right. You must taste this before you die.
As I mentioned in the original post, cassoulet is great because there are many variations… you can make substitutions with what you have on hand (chicken replacing duck, for instance) and still have a wonderful meal. It is also worth a try because although it takes a little time and has a few steps, each step is pretty easy. It’s hard to go wrong.
THAT SAID… after preparing and enjoying all kinds of variations, the recipe I’ve come up with is hands down the best I’ve ever eaten, even at favorite restaurants. If you will invest a little time and follow this recipe, you are in for a world of pleasure, taste and sensation.
This recipe serves 8-10. You could halve it, if you are cooking for less. But it freezes beautifully before for the last cook so I say make the full batch and have some in the freezer to enjoy later.
Note: If you want a version of the recipe without pictures, click here.
FINAL COOKING VESSEL
While a large dutch oven will suffice, I highly recommend getting a cassole, a dish designed specifically for cassoulet. The shape of the clay pot is designed to maximize the heat when cooking as well as create a larger surface for cassoulet’s signature crust. I ordered two “feeds 4 people” cassoles and fed 10 people… with no leftovers. I ordered them from Savoir Vivre, lovely people who delivered sturdy, perfect cassoles. I will be using these for years to come.
NOTE: This is a big recipe for 10, requiring large pots. If you are cooking for 4-6, halve the recipe.
FOR THE DUCK CONFIT
4 duck legs, preferably Moulard (see note below)
4 cups duck fat, melted
40 or so cloves of garlic, peeled
a handful of black peppercorns
10 bay leaves
FOR THE CASSOULET
12 links of high quality sausages (see note below)
1 lb pork belly, cut into 2 or 3 manageable pieces
2 pork chops
6-8 oz prosciutto, torn into pieces
2 medium onions, chopped fine
4 carrots, chopped fine
4 ribs celery and leaves, chopped fine
20-30 sprigs thyme (a carton)
4 rosemary sprigs
1 28 oz can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, drained
1 bottle chardonnay
3 cups dried beans (I prefer cannellini)
2 heads of garlic
8 qts. homemade broth (see note below)
1 lb good quality bacon (not Applewood smoked!)
Note on duck legs: make your own confit, even though you can find pre-made. Duck confit is extremely easy to prepare, making your own will add more flavor to your cassoulet, and you will be left with wonderful fat for all kinds of future cooking. I ordered mine from dartagnan.com. They were gorgeous and tasted divine. Get them here.
Note on sausages: the better the sausage, the better the cassoulet. I ordered duck sausages from frenchselections.com and they were outstanding, everyone commented on them. I used 2 types, toulouse and canard… you could even use 3 types. The ingredients make the difference in the cassoulet. You can order here.
Note on broth: a roasted homemade broth makes all the difference. Homemade roasted broth will infuse your cassoulet with more flavor than store bought. Also… if you follow my recipe (as you should) you will soak your beans in the broth. For the best broth possible, check out my blog post on broth. Or, even easier, follow the instructions below.
While you can do a proper cassoulet in 3 days, I like spreading it over more days, for ease and fun. A 3 day cassoulet is a lot of work. With little preparation, you can do the work over more days. This will payoff big time.
Preheat oven to 350.
In a large roasting pan, toss together:
1 lb chicken wings
a few meat bones (if you have them… even last night’s left over T-Bone)
3 onions quartered (leave the peel on!)
4 carrots and 4 ribs celery, roughly chopped
1 head of garlic, cut in half (leave the peel on!)
1 large tomato, quartered
10 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs rosemary
3 bay leaves
Roast for an hour or so, tossing a few times, until the wings and vegetables are browning and starting to caramelize. Dump everything into a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Slowly simmer 10-12 hours. For ease, I leave it at the lowest simmer overnight but you can do it during the day as well. Skim the foam from the top during the 1st hour or so.
When the slow cook is done, strain the stock of the meats and vegetables. I use a large pasta pot when I do stock… it makes draining the meat and vegetables very easy.
After straining the meats and vegetables, strain the liquid one more time, through a colander lined with cheesecloth, for a very pure stock. Let the stock cool, then refrigerate or freeze until needed. I made my stock over a week in advance, froze it, then thawed it the night before I needed it.
Heat oven to 250.
Place the 4 duck legs in a large baking dish. Scatter the remaining ingredients over the legs, then cover with the melted duck fat. If you need more fat, melted lard and/or butter is perfect. For this recipe I used all three, duck fat, fresh lard and butter, and will always do so when I make duck confit from now on.
The skin should be covered but if a leg end or two is sticking up, or a little skin showing here and there, you are ok.
Transfer to the oven and bake for 3 hours, until the duck is very tender.
Lift the legs from the fat and put into a container that you can keep in the fridge. Remove the rest of the ingredients from the fat with a slotted spoon, then pour the fat into another container that will keep in the fridge. You will use some of this fat in the cassoulet. Whatever is left over is heaven sent. You can saute or fry anything in this fat, which will keep in the fridge for months.
Rinse and pick through 3 cups of your favorite dried beans. I prefer Cannellini but great northern or cranberry are fine. I love products from Bob’s Red Mill.
In a bowl or pot, soak the beans overnight. Most people use water. I have always soaked my beans in broth for additional flavor. Cover the beans by an inch with the liquid. If using stock, it is a good idea to put it in the fridge overnight. I cannot recommend soaking in broth highly enough.
DAY 3: (Your big day)
Drain your beans and rinse with water. In a large pot or dutch oven, place the beans, 5 cloves of chopped garlic, a few bay leaves, and some sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Don’t be shy. Cover the beans by an inch with broth.
Bring them to a boil, then simmer for about 90 minutes. If the beans are not yet tender, don’t worry, they will continue to cook in the main cassoulet. Drain the beans, RESERVING THE BROTH! KEEP THE BROTH!
As the beans cook:
Brown all the meats in 1/4 cup of the duck fat over medium high heat in a large pot or roasting pan. Don’t crowd the meats in the pan, you must be patient and go in batches. Get each piece of meat and sausage nice and brown on every side.
Avoid high heat so you don’t burn the drippings! You will use the drippings to create the ragout as soon as the meats are browned. Note: No need to brown the prosciutto, it is added in the next step. You will end up with a wonderful big bowlful of browned meats!
When every piece of meat has been browned:
In the fat in the pot, saute over medium heat the onion, carrots, celery and 1 head of garlic (the garlic cloves should be peeled but remain whole.) Saute until the onion and celery are soft and glistening. NOTE: I’ve never seen a cassoulet recipe call for celery, but I am from the south and cannot imagine this kind of prep without celery. You will be happy for the addition.
Add a bottle of chardonnay and the torn prosciutto… bring to a boil, then simmer until the wine is mostly reduced. Next add the whole canned tomatoes, (drained) and leaves from about 10-15 thyme stalks. Simmer a little more, pressing down on the tomatoes to break them up.
Add back the meats (not including duck legs) and the reserved broth from the beans with enough extra broth to equal 3 quarts. Simmer for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350. Remove the meats from the pot and, with an immersion blender, puree everything remaining in the pot. (If some prosciutto is left in the pot, that is fine.) Stop for a moment and have a taste of this heavenly liquid.
Add back in the meats (now include the duck legs) and the cooked beans. Place in the oven for about an hour. Remove the pot from the oven, cool, then cover and place in the fridge. Your big work day is done.
Let the cassoulet sit in the fridge, getting better and better. You can do this for 2 or 3 days, depending on your schedule. I did two this time around.
DAY 5: (The day you serve the cassoulet)
Remove the cassoulet from the fridge. It will have a thick layer of fat on the top:
Skim off as much of the fat from the top as possible. It’s ok to leave a little, but the dish is going to have plenty of fat so this top hard layer can go.
Then let it come to room temp. (If you are in a rush, put it in a 250 degree oven for about 20 min).
Preheat the oven to 375.
Now comes the fun part. Dig through the cassoulet and remove all your meats: duck confit legs, sausages, pork belly, pork chops… whatever you have browned and put in the dish.
Shred the duck confit legs from the bones, halve the sausages (you could slice them into coins if you like) and dice the remaining meats into bite-sized portions. Some people leave large chunks of duck meat but I like it to shred it pretty well so it almost cooks into the cassoulet.
Dump all the meats back into the bean mixture and mix well. You want all the meats spread evenly around the cassoulet. It should have liquid still but the beans and meat should not be floating in liquid.
Line the cassoles with the bacon. You can have it just on the bottom or have it drape up the sides as well. Into each cassole I then toss a duck leg bone and a pork chop bone. More flavor.
Ladle the meat and bean mixture into the two cassoles, or a large roasting pot/dutch oven if need be. You want the mixture to be at least 1/2 inch from the top as it will expand a little. NOTE: these pictures are a little too full. I removed a scoop from each after I took the picture and it was perfect.
At this point, anything you have left over that won’t go into your baking dish(es) is ready for the freezer. When you want to use it, pull it out, thaw it and pick up the recipe from here.
Place the filled cassoles in the 375 oven and bake for 2 hours.
Remove the cassoles from the oven. Turn the oven down to 300. Take a large spoonful of the duck fat and stir well into each cassole, going slow so you don’t mush up the beans. Return to the oven. Bake another 60-90 minutes. The cassoulet is ready when it is hot and bubbling and a beautiful crust has formed on top.
Remove from the oven. IMPORTANT: let the cassoulet sit for about 15-20 minutes. This will allow it to thicken and the flavors to meld even more.
It is ready to serve. I like to make sure every portion has a couple of sausages and plenty of the other meats. The pieces pork belly in particular are spectacular.
When I serve this dish, I start with a Kale Caesar (see here) and accompany the cassoulet with lemony green beans and a great loaf of bread. You really don’t need the vegetable side, though, everyone will basically ignore it. Wide soup bowls are perfect for serving but however you serve it, it will disappear amidst groans of joy.