What baked beans are to Boston, cassoulet is to the southwest of France. Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Castelnaudary have competed for generations for the top honors as the city with the best cassoulet. Each town has its own special version of this legendary dish.
All versions of cassoulet contain beans as well as a combination of meats. Although made from scratch in restaurants, it is often seen as a way to use up leftovers in the home. I have made a number of changes that may be noticeable to those familiar with traditional cassoulet recipes. I have eliminated most of the fat by omitting the unsmoked bacon or salt pork normally used. I have also omitted the goose or duck fat that usually accompanies the traditional confit (Preserved duck or goose). The fresh duck that I use in the recipe can be skinned to remove all fat, if desired. The pork rind also found in other recipes has been omitted because it is not readily available in our markets. Also omitted are the bread crumbs normally added during the last hour of cooking to absorb the excess fat and to form a crust. Because I have omitted so much fat from the recipe, I have dubbed it maigre, meaning “thin.”
Although the purist may be skeptical of my omissions, I hope that you will consider the ease of preparation, the healthier, lowered fat content, and the wonderful flavors of the finished recipe when passing final judgment on my version.
The preparation of the cassoulet is divided into two procedures. The beans are actually the recipe for Harictos a la Bretonne and should be made a day or two in advance. And the cassoulet itself should be made one or two days ahead of time (an ideal dish for entertaining), because it tastes best when reheated.
- 1 duck (4½ to 5 pounds), rinsed and patted dry
- 2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
- 1½ pounds boned pork shoulder, cut into 1½-to 2-inch cubes
- 1½ pounds boned lamb shoulder, cut into 1½-to 2-inch cubes
- 2 pounds Hungarian, Polish, or any good sausage, cut into 2-inch pieces
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2/3 cup dry white wine
- 2 teaspoons Glace de Viande (optional)
- Haricots à la Bretonne, prepared 1 day or more in advance, at room temperature
1. Remove the legs and second joints from the duck and cut into four pieces. Remove the breast meat by cutting next to the bone. Cut each breast in half and remove any excess fat.
2. In a large skillet, heat the butter over high heat. Add the duck pieces, pork, lamb, and sausage and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. This can be done in as many batches as necessary. Season with the salt and pepper and remove the meat from the pan. Pour off the fat.
3. Deglaze the pan by adding the white wine and stirring to loosen the caramelized bits on the bottom and sides of the pan. Reduce the liquid over high heat by half, about 1 minute. Stir in the glace de viande. Add this liquid to the beans.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°.
5. In a large casserole, layer the meat and beans. Cover and cook until the meat is tender, about 2 hours. Adjust the heat, if necessary, so that the beans simmer gently. (The recipe can be, and is best if, made ahead of time. Let cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat in a 350° oven until the beans and meat are hot and simmering about 1 hour.)
Nutrtitional information is based on 12 serivngs, using a 4 1/2 pound duck. Nutritional Information does not include Glace de Viande or Haricots a la Bretonne. For nutritional information on Glace de Viande and Haricots a la Bretonne, please follow the links above.