It is winter out here in the Midwest and we all turn to comfort foods this time of year. One of my favorites is Cassoulet which is a French dish which simply means Caserole in English. There are a lot of ways of making this dish in France. Every region has a different version but the Gascony and Toulouse regions seem to be the most accepted versions. Simply put this is a bean casserole with some incredible ingredients which take more than a few steps and authentic ingredients to faithfully reproduce.
My mom made a great bean casserole when I was a kid that consisted of hamburger, Liptons onion soup, ketchup, brown sugar, pork and beans, plus a few other odds and ends such as dry mustard that resulted in what my father used to call white trash cassoulet. I still love it today but true Cassoulet is a once a year treat we make for the New Year.
Simply put authentic Cassoulet is the best bean casserole you have ever had in your entire life but it takes a little time and money to put together which makes it a great traditional choice for the holidays and special occasions when it is cold outside.
Cassoulet My Way
Two Pounds Dry French Tarbais Beans (You can also use Cannellini Beans, Great Northern Beans, or Flageolet Beans.)
Crushed Garlic Cloves
2 Smoked Ham Hocks
8 Confited Duck Duck Legs (Make them yourself or get them pre-made from Grimaud Farms or D'Artagnan.)
1 Pound French Garlic Sausage (Available fresh from D'Artagnan or make your own see below.)
1 Pound Duck and Armangac Sausage (Available from D'Artagnan or Sweet Italian can also be used.)
12 Ounces Smoked Duck Breast
1 Lb Ounce French Pancetta (Bacon works just as well)
2 Tbs Tomato Paste
8 oz Lb Plum Tomato
8 0z Lb Duck and Veal Demi Glace (You can also use chicken broth)
Two Cups Bread Crumbs
Duck Fat (You could use rendered Pork Fat if you wish but you can get Duck fat inexpensively from Grimaud Farms. Duck fat is the real deal.)
1. Soak beans in a 4-qt. bowl in 7 1⁄2 cups water overnight. Heat 2 tbsp. Duck fat in a 6-qt. pot over medium-high heat. Add half the garlic, onions, and carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add ham hocks along with beans and the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer beans until tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours.
2. Transfer ham hocks to a plate; let cool. Pull off meat; discard skin, bone, and gristle. Chop meat; add to beans. Set aside.
3. Heat 2 tbsp. Duck fat in a 5-qt. dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add remaining garlic, onions, and carrots; cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Fry bacon or Pancetta 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 demi-glace; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, uncovered, until liquid has thickened, about 1 hour. Discard herbs; set dutch oven aside.
4. Brown sausages in the fat, about 8 minutes. Sear Garlic Sausage and Slice Smoked Duck Breast.
5. Heat oven to 300 degree's. Mix beans and and all ingredients stew in Caserole. Cover with bread crumbs; drizzle with remaining duck fat. Bake uncovered for three hours. Raise oven temperature to 500 degrees and cook crust till golden.
6. Sear Confited Duck Legs in tbsp in Duck Fat until Crispy. Serve with Duck Legs on the side of the crispy Cassoulet.
Cassoulet is heavy so serve with a light salad, marinated olives, and toasty French Bread. you could also do some potato wedges fried in Duck fat on the side if you wish.
Home Made French Garlic Sausage
3-lb medium ground pork butt
2-lb medium ground beef chuck
2-tsp white pepper
1 1/2-tbsp salt
10-cloves pressed garlic
4-tbsp liquid smoke
Combine all ingredients, mix well & stuff into hog casing.
Smoked Duck Breast
Remove the bone and skin from the duck breast halves. Rinse well.
1/2 quart of Apple cider
1 Cup Armangac
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1 bay leaf, crushed
1 clove of garlic
Mix the ingredients, making sure the salt is completely dissolved. This will be enough brine for up to 1 and 1/2 pounds of duck breast halves. Soak the duck in the brine at least two hours, and overnight if possible.
After brining, give the duck a quick rinse and then pat dry with paper towels. Coat each breast half with melted Duck fat or bacon grease.
Place the duck breasts into a 225 degree Fahrenheit meat smoker for one or two hours, depending on the size of the breast sections. Use a small amount of apple, cherry, or pear wood for the smoke.
Duck is ideally eaten medium rare, but if you prefer well done, take them out when the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees.
They can be eaten right away or vaccum packed and frozen for later use.