3 days, mostly inactive
This weekend, I had some of my closest friends over to share a meal that I have been talking about for months! Nico’s parents sent me duck confit last Christmas, and I have been hoarding it and planning to make a Cassoulet. Finally, the weather turned and it was time to cook my cassoulet!
When I was inviting friends to dinner, I had to explain what Cassoulet was to our non-French friends. The best description I could come up with was “pork and pork and pork and pork, duck and duck fat bean stew.” Cassoulet involves 8 different type of pig and duck meats/products. It is an incredibly rich and warming meal, perfect for the change of the weather. The complex flavor is developed by slowly stewing and roasting ham hocks, pork shoulder, pork skin, prosciutto and pancetta and made further complex by the use of duck fat and duck confit. The Tabais or cannellini beans disperse the meatiness to create what tastes like chili for the gods.
For best results, plan 3 days to prepare this dish. You can do the work on day 1 and day 2 a few days in advance, prepare to spend about 3 1/2 hours finishing the dish on the day of. Most of the time is slowly roasting in the oven.
Cutting the pork shoulder down yourself? Have about 4 pounds of pork shoulder left over? Try my Stuffed Pork Shoulder with Olives and Anchovies recipe for another night!
Seems a bit heavy right? Start your meal with something right. We served a beautiful Crudités Platter as a first course and followed up with a Baba au Rhum with a Marscapone Whipped Cream for dessert!
- 4 ham hocks, I used smoked but fresh is generally used
- 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
- 5 ounces fresh pork skin with a bit of fat attached. I used the skin that was on the pork shoulder
- salt and pepper
- 2 pounds dried Tarbais or cannellini beans,
- 2 ounces salt pork
- 1/3 cup duck fat
- 4 carrots, thinly sliced
- 2 medium onions, medium dice
- 4 ounces pancetta, small dice
- 5 ounce piece of prosciutto
- 1 head garlic, unpeeled
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 14 ounces canned peeled tomatoes
- 10-12 cups chicken broth
- bouquet garni: 4 sprigs parsley, 2 thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 3 sprigs oregano, 2 sprigs sage
- 6 duck confit legs
- 1 pound french style pork sausages, pricked with a fork
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/3-1/2 cup bread crumbs
- DAY 1: Put ham hocks, pork shoulder cubes, and skin in a large dish and season with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.
- In a large bowl (they will expand), cover the beans with at least a few inches of water. Soak overnight.
- DAY 2: Next day, cover the salt pork and seasoned skin with water and boil for 20-30 minutes. Drain and allow to cool a bit. Cover and place the salt pork in the fridge.
Cut the cooled skin into long strips about 4 inches wide and roll them up into cigars. Tie with kitchen string.
- Dry the ham hocks and pork shoulder cubes.
In a large Dutch oven, heat the duck fat. Add the pork cubes (you might need to do this in several stages). Brown on all sides and set aside on a plate.
If you are using fresh ham hocks, make sure you brown them as well. Set aside.
- Add carrots and onions to the duck fat and frond, cook for about 7 minutes until softened and a bit golden.
- Add pancetta and brown a bit.
- Add the prosciutto piece, the whole head of garlic (not the 4 peeled cloves) and the tomatoes. Stir until well combined.
- Deglaze a bit with the broth if needed. Add 8 cups of broth. I use 8 teaspoons chicken broth concentrate and add water. I find this to be the best flavor.
Add the bouquet garni, skin rolls, browned pork and ham hocks and the juices that accumulated in the plate.
Cover lightly with a lid and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally, make sure that it is on a low simmer.
- Drain the beans that have been soaking and add them into the pot,
careful as it will be reaching the top. I use a 7 quart Staub, it barely fits the stew.
Simmer on low for another 2 hours. Stir occasionally. You may find you need to add a cup or two of broth if it becomes too dry.
- DAY 3: Remove any solidified fat that you can from the surface. It is not a huge deal if fat is still in there, perhaps even better?
Sit the stew on the counter and allow it to come to room temperature.
- Pick out the ham hocks, and prosciutto. Tear or cut them into bite sized pieces and remove the bones from the hocks (save them to make a bone broth!). Discard the skin and gristle as well.
- Discard the bouquet garni.
Fish out garlic and pork skin wraps, reserve both.
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Bring the meat and bean stew (or ragout) to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, squeeze out the garlic from the cooked head of garlic.
Mash to a pulp add the fresh garlic and salt pork and grind in a food processor to create a smooth mixture. If you don’t have a food processor, grate the salt pork and mince the fresh garlic.
- Stir into the stew and keep simmering for a bit longer. Maybe 10 minutes to allow the flavors to saturate.
Return all of the meats back to the stew. Turn off heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, set aside.
- Place duck confit legs onto sided cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.
Remove the meat and skin off the bones and set aside. Pour off any duck fat and reserve for another use. Reserve bones for bone broth.
- Turn heat down to 325°F.
Unroll the pork skins and line the bottom of a 7 inch Dutch Oven or oven safe cooking dish with a large surface area.
Top with half of the stew.
Add the duck confit.
Top with remaining stew.
Add remaining 2 cups of chicken broth at this time. Stir it into the surface a bit.
- Bake for 1 1/2 hours or so.
In the final 20 minutes, add the pork sausages to a pie dish or cookie sheet and bake them as well on a separate rack. You can also cook them in the frying pan,
but I hate the way they splash grease everywhere!
- Allow the sausages to cool lightly before slicing into bite sized pieces.
- Reduce the heat to 275°F.
Add the pork sausages and stir in a bit.
Sprinkle with the bread crumbs, enough to make a bit of a crust.
Bake 1 additional hour.
Allow to rest before serving. I leave mine in the turned off oven with a pilot light on, this keeps the dish at the right temperature for at least 2-3 hours.