The excitement of the holidays are over which makes me even more aware of how cold and dark the days still are. All I want to do is cook fatty, meaty, beany dishes for days and drink big dirty red wines. On a recent frigid morning at the farmers market I stumbled upon Seabreeze Farms and their giant cast iron cauldrons bubbling with beef stew, a la London’s Borough Market, lured me in. There were Toulouse sausage and duck confit and I thought, “done.” It was fitting to find out a couple days later that it was actually National Cassoulet week. Here is my rendition inspired by a recipe from Paula Wolfert. Note, Cassoulet is a labor of love so get a few bottles of Bordeaux and plan on 3 days of prep/cook time. What else do have to do during these short dark winter days?
- 1 pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
- 6 ounces fresh pork skin with 1/4 inch of fat attached
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
- 1/3 cup duck fat
- 2 carrots, thinly sliced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1/2 head of garlic, unpeeled
- 1 cup fresh chopped tomato
- 1 quart plus 1 cup chicken broth
- Bouquet garni: 4 parsley sprigs, 1 celery ribs, 2 thyme sprigs and 1 bay leaf, tied with string
- 2 duck confit legs
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 pound Toulouse sausage
- 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
Season the pork skin lightly with salt & pepper and refrigerate overnight. Cover the beans with a few inches of water and soak overnight. The next day, cover the seasoned skin with water in a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer until the skin is supple, about 10 minutes. Drain and cool. Cut the pork skin into 5 long pieces, roll each piece into a bundle and tie with string.
Dry the pork shoulder cubes with a paper towel. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, get the duck fat nice and hot. Add half of the pork cubes and brown all over then transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining pork cubes. Add the carrots and onions and cook until golden, then throw in the head of garlic and the tomato and cook for another minute. Empty in the quart of broth, bouquet garni, pork skin bundles and the browned pork with its juices and bring it all to a boil. Cover the pot and gently simmer the ragout over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Drain the beans. In a large pot, cover the beans with water and bring to a boil. Simmer the beans for a few minutes and drain. Add the beans to the ragout and simmer until the beans are just tender, about 2 hours. Let the ragout cool, then refrigerate overnight.
The next day, remove as much of the solidified fat as you can from the surface of the ragout, reserving 1/4 cup. Let the ragout slowly come to a simmer over low heat. Pick out the pork skin bundles and set aside. Remove the head of garlic and squeeze out the cloves, mashing them into a paste then stir into ragout. Check for seasoning and add salt & pepper to taste.
Heat the oven to 325F. In a baking dish, roast the duck confit legs just until heated through, about 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the bones in large pieces, cut the skin into strips and discard the bones.
Untie and unroll the pork skin bundles. Line the bottom of a 3-4 quart earthenware casserole with the pork skin, fat side down. Transfer half of the ragout to the casserole. Top with the duck confit in an even layer, then cover with the rest of the ragout and the remaining 1 cup of broth. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the reserved skimmed fat and bake the cassoulet for 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, in a saute pan, brown the sausages in the vegetable oil and cut them into 3″ pieces. Remove cassoulet from oven and reduce the oven temperature to 275°. Nestle in the sausages and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of reserved fat. Top with an even layer of bread crumbs and bake the cassoulet for 1 hour longer, until it is richly browned on the surface. Let rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.