Sunday, February 22, 2009

A not-so-light but ever-so-good Cassoulet.

Sam and I have a new red pot. It is made of cast iron and enamel, and it matches our red tea kettle and our red spatulas. Naturally, the new red dutch oven deserved a special inaugural cooking, so we made cassoulet.

A cassoulet is, essentially, a really fancy French chili made with the very best ingredients. Now I am sure I just made some fabulouse dead French chef roll over in their grave for saying that, but it is true. A cassoulet is very simply a huge pot of meat and beans, cooked together to form a thick broth and a melding of flavors. It is delicious. Like, really really delicious. The kind of delicious that makes you feel guilty with every bite, but simultaneously sends you back to the kitchen for seconds, and perhaps thirds.

It is good. Melt in your mouth good. Meat falling tenderly from the bone good. I will go so far to say that this cassoulet is even eat-leftovers-out-of-the-pot-cold-in-the-glow-of-the-fridge-light-late-at-night-when-you-know-you-shouldn't-because-you-already-brushed-your-teeth good. And as we all know, that is about as good as it gets.

And what makes it so good, you may ask? First, it's made with the finest ingredients, including bacon, lamb, and duck. Second, it utilized each ingredient for its full flavor value. And yes, when I say full flavor value I am talking about the flavor of fat. To draw out these flavors, first you cook bacon
until crispy in your enamel pot. Then, remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and brown your lamb cubes in the bacon drippings. Then, remove the lamb and render the fat from your duck breasts in the lamb drippings. Then, naturally, fry your diced onion in the duck fat. Lastly, add in all of the cooked meats, plus sausage, and cook on a low temp under chicken broth for several hours. For a last step you fold in tender and earthy white beans, I suppose to provide some fiber and a counterpoint to the rich flavor of all the fats. All in all, you are left with the most delightful fancy French chili, er, cassoulet you have ever tasted.


from Cooking Light magazine, January 2009

This classic is the definition of heartiness. It's got creamy beans, luscious duck, spicy sausage, and plenty of garlic, all in a one-pot meal. It cooks for a long time, but a batch made over the weekend will last for days without complaints. Cassoulet serves a large gathering, and leftovers reheat well. Spicy precooked Italian sausage or Polish kielbasa are a close match to the lively garlic sausage from southwestern France traditionally used in this dish. Cassoulet can be prepared two days ahead and refrigerated. Top with breadcrumbs and finish in the oven before serving.


  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 6 (8-ounce) duck leg quarters
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 4 thick-cut bacon slices, sliced crosswise into (1/2-inch-thick) strips
  • 1 (3/4-pound) boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into (1-inch) cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup no-salt-added tomato puree
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 (15-ounce) cans organic Great Northern beans, drained
  • 8 ounces cooked spicy Italian sausage, diagonally sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs


1. Rub salt evenly over duck; cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add bacon to pan; cook 7 minutes or until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon from pan using a slotted spoon; set aside. Increase heat to medium-high. Add lamb to drippings in pan; cook 8 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove lamb from pan, and set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 300°.

4. Rinse duck with cold water; pat dry with paper towels. Add half of duck, skin side down, to pan; cook over medium heat 15 minutes or until golden brown. Turn duck over, and cook 10 minutes or until browned and fat under skin is melted. Remove duck from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining duck, reserving 1 tablespoon duck fat; set duck aside. Add onion and pepper to pan; cook 7 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomato puree and garlic; cook 1 minute. Return lamb to pan. Nestle duck into lamb mixture; add broth and 2 cups water. Cover and bake at 300° for 2 1/2 hours or until lamb and duck are very tender. Remove duck from pan; let stand until tepid. Remove skin from duck; discard. Cut duck legs in half through the joint. Return duck to lamb mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning, if desired.

5. Increase oven temperature to 375°.

6. Stir 2 cans of beans into lamb mixture. Add bacon, sausage, and duck; top mixture with remaining 2 cans of beans. Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over top. Cover and cook 1 hour and 10 minutes. Uncover and cook an additional 20 minutes or until browned and bubbly.

Wine note: Traditionally, a rustic red from the south of France—a wine with the requisite meatiness and earthiness to mirror the duck and beans—is served with cassoulet. The Cooking Light recipe editor Karen MacNeil loves the Perrin & Fils Gigondas "La Gille" 2005 (Gigondas, France), $28, which is seductively earthy and has wonderful flavors of cherry jam.

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