January 28, 2009

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Serves 10

It takes time to make a good cassoulet, so be prepared to invest a half-dozen or so hours over the course of two to three days. Experts will tell you that anything speedier or with fewer ingredients will be beans with meat, not cassoulet. At the end of cooking, you'll need to brown the top of the cassoulet and crisp the duck. If your oven isn't large enough to accommodate the cassoulet and the duck, cook the cassoulet first, then broil the duck, skin side up, for 5 to 10 minutes or until hot.

2 pounds (4 cups) dried white beans, such as Tarbais, flageolet, or cannellini, soaked overnight in a stockpot
4 sprigs fresh parsley
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons duck fat or vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 pound thickly sliced bacon or pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 quarts low-sodium chicken stock
1 1/4 pounds garlic or sweet Italian (pork) sausages
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 prepared duck confit legs, drumsticks and thighs separated, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups panko or coarse bread crumbs
1. Drain the beans and return them to the stock pot.

2. Make a bouquet by wrapping the parsley, thyme, and bay leaf in a piece of cheesecloth; tie with kitchen string.

3. In an 8-quart flameproof casserole, heat 3 tablespoons of the duck fat or oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown the pork for 5 minutes on all sides. Remove the pork from the pan. Add the onion, carrots, garlic, and bacon. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until the some of the bacon fat is rendered. Stir in the tomato paste. Return the pork to the pan with the stock and herb bouquet. Turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 1 hour.

4. Meanwhile, add enough water to the beans to cover them. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the beans. After the pork mixture has simmered for 1 hour, Notes: add the beans. Continue simmering for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the beans and pork are very tender. (Total simmering time is 2 1/2 to 3 hours.) Uncover and leave to cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to two days.

5. Let the cassoulet come to room temperature. Skim off some of the fat on top, if you like. Discard the herb bouquet.

6. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the sausages and simmer for 8 minutes or until the meat is just cooked through. Transfer the sausages to a cutting board and when cool enough to handle, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

7. In a large heavy skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of duck fat or oil over medium-high heat. Brown the sausages for 3 minutes on a side.

8. Set the oven at 325 degrees. Have on hand a large baking dish (at least 10 by 13 inches with 3-inch high sides) with a 4-quart or more capacity.

9. Spoon the cassoulet into the dish. Bake, uncovered, for 1 1/4 hours or until heated through. Remove the cassoulet from the oven. Gently stir the beans and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper, if you like. If the beans seem dry, add a little more stock or water.

10. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees.

11. Set the duck, skin side up, in a baking dish. Heat the duck for 15 minutes or until the skin is crisp and the duck is hot throughout. Nestle the sausages into the top of the cassoulet, sprinkle with enough crumbs to lightly cover the top. Return the dish to the oven and bake 20 to 30 minutes more or until the cassoulet is bubbling and the crumbs are golden. Set the duck on top.

12. Spoon the cassoulet into large shallow bowls, giving each person sausage, pork, and some duck. Adapted from "The Cooking of Southwest France" and "Bistro Cooking at Home"