Eat at
#5: Cassoulet

Posted by: Joe at 11:51 pm on Jan 18, 2006

Based on a recipe by Richard Olney. Serves 12.

There are four main steps to this: First comes the duck confit, which can be made weeks ahead, or can be ordered ready-made from your butcher or from d’Artagnan ( Second, dried beans are cooked with a pig’s foot, salt pork, and sausage. Third, the bean liquid becomes the base for a pork (or lamb) stew. Finally, all these elements are combined and baked, using that flavorful liquid as a sauce. It takes time, but none of it is difficult, and it can be done in stages.

For instance, for a Saturday night party, soak the beans Thursday night, and simmer them with the pork products Friday night. On Saturday morning make the stew, drain and strain the liquid and while it’s reducing, have lunch. Assemble the casserole and put it in the oven for the rest of the afternoon. While it bakes, you have hours ahead of you to set a table, prepare a salad and open some wine.

This is a rich hearty dish, so accompaniments should be light and simple. A first course is not necessary, but it might keep people from over-indulging. Celery root remoulade is traditional, and so are oysters. Fresh figs, halved, topped with toasted walnuts and blue cheese and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette, are my favorite starter when figs are in season. The cassoulet should be served with crusty bread and followed by a simple green salad. Finish with fresh fruit or a fruit dessert.

A great cassoulet wine is a French Minervois, but any hearty red will do.

DUCK CONFIT: You’ll need 4-6 leg-thighs. See recipe below, or order from


2 lb. dried Lingot or Cannellini beans
1 pig’s foot, split
½ lb. or more lean salt pork, with rind
2 carrots, peeled and cut up
1 large onion, studded with 2 cloves
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Herb bouquet: Parsley, thyme and bay leaf tied together or wrapped in cheesecloth
6-8 Sweet Italian sausages without fennel seed, or other mild fresh sausage

Soak beans overnight.

Cut the rind from the salt pork and reserve. Place the salt pork, the rind and the pig’s foot in a large pot with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer a few minutes, skimming off any scum that rises. Drain and rinse under cold water. Return to the pot; add the soaked beans and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and simmer a few minutes, skimming off scum until it stops rising. Add the carrots, onion, garlic and herb bouquet. Salt very lightly (liquid will be concentrated later) and cook at a slow simmer.

Meanwhile, brown the sausage in a skillet. Add to the pot of beans just to cook through, about 20 minutes. Remove and let cool, then slice each sausage in thirds. Remove the salt pork after it has cooked about an hour. Let cool, then cut into thick slices. Cut the slices into 1” pieces.

Continue cooking the beans until just tender; don’t overcook because they will be baked again. Remove and discard the pig’s foot, pork rind, vegetables and herb bouquet. Drain the beans and save the liquid, which will be used later. Cover and refrigerate the beans, sausage and salt pork separately.

PORK AND SAUCE: (Lamb shoulder may be substituted for the pork)

2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. duck fat or oil
3 lb. bone-in pork shoulder, sawed into 3” chunks (have the butcher do it for you)
2 tbs. flour
1 cup dry white wine or vermouth
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Herb bouquet: same as for beans
3-4 Tomatoes, chopped
The bean cooking liquid

In a large skillet, heat the fat and brown the onions and carrots. Scrape out into a Dutch oven.

Dry the meat and brown it in the same pan, in batches if necessary, adding a little more fat if needed. Sprinkle lightly with salt just before turning. Add them to the Dutch oven.

Add the flour to the fat in the skillet and cook 3-4 minutes, stirring. Add the wine and scrape the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze. Scrape into the Dutch oven, along with the garlic, herb bouquet, tomatoes, and enough bean-cooking liquid to cover the pork. (Save any remaining liquid for basting, later). Cook gently, just below the simmer, for about 1½ hours, or until the meat is tender, skimming fat occasionally.

Remove the meat and set aside. Strain the liquid into a wide saucepan, pressing on the vegetables to extract the flavor. Place the pan over a medium burner off center so that fat, scum and skin will gather to one side as it simmers, where you can spoon it off easily. Reduce and skim for about 15 minutes to make the sauce. Taste and add more salt if necessary. By now, the flavor should be nicely concentrated.


An 8-quart casserole
2 garlic cloves
4-6 leg-thighs duck confit
The cooked beans
The cooked pork shoulder
Freshly ground pepper
The sausage and salt pork pieces
The sauce
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
Large handful minced parsley
Coarsely cracked peppercorns
A few tbs. duck fat
A few cups leftover bean-cooking liquid, or duck or chicken stock, for basting

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Split the garlic cloves and rub them all around the inside of the casserole until they disintegrate completely, leaving a coating of garlic juice.

In a skillet, brown the duck legs on both sides in a little of their fat,or roast them skin-side up in the hot oven. Drain and cut each leg into thigh and drumstick. (if you only have four, cut the thighs in two to make twelve pieces) Spread out in bottom of casserole and cover with a third of the beans.

Arrange the pork shoulder over the beans. Season with ground pepper and cover with another third of the beans.

Arrange the sausage and salt pork over the beans, season with ground pepper and cover with remaining beans. Pour sauce over all to come just to the top layer of beans. (Save any remaining sauce for basting).

(Note: You can assemble the cassoulet ahead of time and refrigerate it, but stop short of adding the sauce. When you’re ready to bake, reheat the sauce before adding it to the cassoulet. Such a large casserole won’t cook evenly if it’s ice cold.)

Mix the breadcrumbs and parsley together and spread over the top. Sprinkle with the cracked pepper. Drizzle the duck fat over the top.

Place the cassoulet in the 425ºF oven until it begins to bubble. Reduce heat to 350ºF.

Bake at 350ºF until a crust begins to form, then break crust with a spoon and baste with some of the remaining sauce, bean liquid, or stock. The cassoulet should bubble gently the whole time. (Reduce heat if necessary.) Continue to bake, breaking the crust several times and basting, for about 3 hours total, letting a final crust form. Remove from oven and let sit at least 15 minutes before serving.

Break the crust at the table and serve from the casserole, making sure everyone gets some of everything.

NOTE: Richard Olney's original recipe (in The Good Cook Time-Life series and in his own book The French Menu Cookbook) uses a whole goose instead of duck legs and lamb shoulder instead of pork. His technique of re-using the bean liquid for the stew is unique; not a single drop of flavor gets wasted.


2 or 3 roasting ducklings, around 5 lb. each
Salt, pepper, allspice and thyme

Remove the whole legs from the ducks. Season generously with salt, pepper, allspice and thyme. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the wings and save with the bones and giblets for stock. Remove the breasts from the bone. Peel off and save the skin. (Use the breast meat for another meal.)

Remove any remaining skin from the carcasses and pull out any loose fat from the cavities. Cut all the skin and fat into narrow strips. Spread out in a glass baking dish and bake in a 350ºF oven, tossing occasionally, for 30 - 45 minutes, or until the cracklings are brown and crisp. Strain and save the fat. Let it cool, then cover and refrigerate with the duck legs.

(Drain the cracklings on paper towels. To serve them, reheat on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and season with salt, pepper and allspice. Sprinkle on salad like croutons, or munch them while you continue):

After the duck legs have marinated overnight, wipe them dry. Reheat the fat in a Dutch oven and add the duck legs. They should be just covered (add a little oil or lard if necessary). Poach gently, uncovered, on very low heat, below the simmer, for 2-3 hours, or until very tender when pierced. Don’t boil, or the meat will be dry.

Remove the duck legs to a clean bowl and immediately strain the hot, clear fat over them, leaving behind any liquid or residue. Let cool completely, then cover and refrigerate. As long as the duck is completely covered by the fat and left undisturbed it will keep for many weeks.

The jellied residue left behind, though salty, can be degreased and used like a meat glaze in sauces and stews. Add a little to the final cassoulet sauce if you wish.

(Note: If you don’t have enough duck fat to cover the legs you can poach them in what fat you do have in a wide skillet, turning often. You won’t be able to store the confit for more than a few days, but save the fat for next time.)