Cassoulet is the anti-Valentine’s day dish. It takes all the stereotypes about French food being refined, romantic and poised, and turns them on their head. It’s a pretty vulgar dish really. As many different bits of meat as you can find, bound together with beans and duck fat. So much duck fat. Horrifying amounts. By the time you finish making this dish, the very air in your kitchen will be greasy. This is not a dish you cook for a romantic date. A reasonable person will take one look at your red, shiny, duck fat laced face peering into a pot of bubbling meat, and run the other way. Cassoulet is the gastronomic method of letting yourself go.
It is also a meal you make when you have too much time on your hands.It really does take the guts of an afternoon to make. This is not the best dish to impress with because despite being very tasty to the casual observer, it looks straightforward. If that is what you want, try this Chorizo Stew. I prepared a few days in advance by making the chicken stock from the remains of Roast Chicken with Leeks and Dill or you could just buy some good quality stuff (not the cubes, not for this). This serves four people pretty comfortably, especially with bread for mopping up after, and a green salad.
- 350g haricot or cannelini beans, soaked in cold water overnight
- 750ml chicken stock
- 1 onion, peeled
- 1 head of garlic, unpeeled, plus 4 cloves
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 250g chunk of solid pork fat, or one small unsmoked ham hock
- 2 confit duck legs and their fat (about 6 tablespoons)
- 250g pork belly
- 4 garlicky sausages like Toulouse or Kielbasa, whatever you can find really
- 1 tbsp sun-dried tomato past
- 120g breadcrumbs
- Drain the beans well and put them in a large, ovenproof casserole.
- Pour in the chicken stock until it comes about 3cm above the top of the beans, then add the onion, whole head of garlic, herbs and bacon fat or ham hock.
- Bring it all to a boil, then cover and simmer for about an hour and a quarter, until the beans are tender but not mushy.
- Fry the duck, pork belly and sausages separately in plenty of duck fat until crisp and golden.
- Once they have cooled, chop the sausages into large chunks and pull the meat from the duck legs in as large pieces as you can manage.
- Remove the onion and herbs from the beans and discard.
- Pick out the pork fat and discard.
- Squeeze the garlic cloves from their skins and mash to a paste with four tablespoons of duck fat and the fresh garlic cloves.
- Stir in the sun-dried tomato paste. Preheat the oven to 160C.
- Drain the beans, reserving the liquid.
- Pour the beans, and meat into the casserole dish, together with the sundried tomato and garlic paste.
- Top it up with the stock from the beans until just covered.
- Fry the breadcrumbs in one tablespoon of duck fat, and top the cassoulet with a layer of them.
- Bake for about 1 and a half hours, until you have a thick golden crust, with bits of liquid bubbling through.