This is quite possibly the richest casserole I’ve ever eaten.
When I think of casserole, I think of 50s housewives in frilly aprons, pulling ‘all-American,’ easy-bake meals out of hot ovens. The stereotype in the US for casseroles (at least while I was growing up) is not at all appetizing. Tuna casserole is the first thing that comes to mind, blech.
Who knew casseroles are originally French? Or at least, the word has a French origin.
Cassoulet (CASS-OO-LAY) is a French bean casserole made with an assortment of meats like duck, sausage, pork, and/or chicken.
“Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba.”
You right, Julia, you right. Cassoulet doesn’t suit a standard dinner (it’s much too decadent), but would do well for special occasions or holidays as a centerpiece or side dish. Here’s what you’ll need:
1lb dried cannellini beans
2 medium yellow onions
2 stalks celery
6 cloves garlic
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp olive oil
1lb boneless pork shoulder
1 quart chicken stock
4-6 duck legs
1lb chicken thighs
1lb sausage (I used garlic sausage from a local meat shop)
4.5oz stewed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
TIP: If you can’t find duck or it’s too expensive, chicken will do just fine, but you may need to add some extra oil or fat (lard) to make up for it. Sorry not sorry.
Step One: Rinse your cannellini beans, cover with a few inches of water, and let them soak overnight.
Step Two: The next day, dice the onions, celery, and carrots. Peel and smash the garlic cloves with the side of a chef’s knife and divide the chopped vegetables into two parts.
Step Three: Dice the pork into bite-sized pieces. Then tie your thyme and bay leaves together with string to make a bouquet garni.
Step Four: In a dutch oven or large soup pot, heat the olive oil and add half the chopped vegetables. Cook until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are slightly softened.
Step Five: Add the pork to the pot, browning it for a couple minutes. Drain the beans and add them to the pot. Add the bouquet garni, cover with the chicken stock and water, and let everything come to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and simmer until the beans are softened, but not mushy.
Step Six: While the beans are simmering, salt and pepper the duck legs and chicken thighs. Then, in a cast iron or frying pan, brown the duck legs skin side down to render out the fat. Do this on both sides until nicely browned. Then set them aside, and do the same with the chicken thighs and sausage in the duck fat left in the pan. When browned, set both aside.
Step Seven: When the meats cool down, remove the meat from the bones, and chop into bite-sized pieces. If you’re impatient like me, leave some (or all) of the duck legs whole.
Step Eight: In the same cast iron or frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat and add the other half of the chopped vegetables. Cook for a couple minutes, then add the stewed tomatoes, bringing it to a boil to let some of the liquid evaporate.
Step Nine: Add the chopped meat into the pan with the vegetables and cook for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors combine. (We’re going to continue cooking everything in the oven, so don’t worry if some of the meat is still underdone.) Leave any whole duck legs aside for when we assemble the casserole.
Step Ten: At this point, hopefully the beans are done and there’s some liquid remaining (this will vary, but it’s good to have some liquid still in the pot so nothing dries out). Salt the beans to your liking and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a roasting pan, add a layer of beans, followed by a layer of the tomato meat mixture, followed by the whole duck or chicken pieces (if you have any, skin side up), followed by a layer of the remaining beans.
Step Eleven: Bake it all uncovered for approximately three hours or until a crispy, brown crust has formed on top. (I was again, a bit impatient, so mine could’ve stayed in longer. I’ve seen some cassoulets that are practically black on top.)
Step Twelve: When you can’t wait any longer, pop it out of the oven and let it rest for five minutes. Then, break into that crispy top layer and serve it hot, as is. It will need nothing else (except a glass of wine).