Saturday, 15 March 2014

Cassoulet with duck confit

Say what?! Only a couple of weeks ago the evening papers were full of lofty promises of the winter being over for good. No more snow, hello spring. But no such luck. Right now it's snowing. If (on top of UN, multinational companies and the goodwill and peace-loving nature of Vladimir Putin) you can't trust the weather man, who can you? 

On the other hand... I doubt I'm ready to start the annual (and each year as half-hearted) efforts to get into bikini shape either. Though this year I find consolation in the fact that the thigh I burned in the truffle-making endeavours in the run-up to Hanukkah/ Christmas/ Kwanzaa still hasn't fully healed so I finally have an actual excuse not to look good in a bikini!

And then there's the best of the flea market finds: a cast iron pot from Le Creuset which I've been dreaming of initiating in the form of a comforting, slow-roasting stew. And when, as I was making inventory of all the things I didn't even remember my freezer housed, I discovered some duck legs I didn't have to think twice. Cassoulet, bien sûr! The flea market finds and other additions to the staging prop arsenal get introduced to the  readers on the blog's Facebook page - do join! Your comments, feedback, ideas and requests are always welcome!

Like with any traditional, rustic dishes, there are as many versions of cassoulet as there are cooks. But in my opinion the best ones have duck in them. And in my opinion duck is best in confit. (if that's your thing by the way you have to check this rabbit confit Sevillan style!)

To save time you can of course buy the duck confit - they come in tins of about 6 legs.

The backbone of my cassoulet was this recipe by Williams Sonoma, though owing to the ingredients that had found their way into my kitchen, lack of patience and general carelessness I did make some detours. Be warned though: quick and easy this ain't. Unlike with Fabada Asturiana, I didn't even attempt to devise a short-cut and started off with soaking the beans and all. And since I made my own duck confit, this is a two-day process. So, you might want to double the ingredients and , with same effort, make a bigger batch and gather your friends and family (and some neighbours) to dig in!

Good thing about duck confit is that stored in the fat they keep in the fridge for up to a month, so I recommend you make a bigger batch. Broil them later to get that crisp skin and use the melt-in-your-mouth-succulent meat in salads or in dimsums!

I used 2 large legs in this, but if yours are on the small side (under 200 g) use 3.

Some recipes follow the traditional way of sprinkling some breadcrumbs on top of the cassoulet for the last 20 minutes of the last phase as they help give the dish a nice crust, but this is so rich already as it is feel free to skip it. This way it also stays gluten-free!

In case you have loads of time in your hands, you can rub the salt into the duck already the night before and let it cure in the fridge overnight.

Serves 4

Duck confit:

4 duck legs
4 large cloves of garlic
8 sprigs of thyme (or 4 sprigs of rosemary)
8 whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 litre canola oil

Rinse the legs and pat them dry. Rub salt all over them. Peel the garlic cloves and bruise them a bit with the back of a knife. Toss them into a pot (big enough to snugly accommodate the ducks in one layer) along with the rest of the ingredients and pour enough oil on top to cover the duck by about 3 cm.

Bring to simmer and keep cooking them in that way for 2-3 hours until they're done. Remove from heat and let cool in the room temperature. Transfer into a container, cover with the oil and store in the fridge.


500 g dry, white beans
1 small onion
1 small carrot
1/2 celery stick
1 bouquet garni 
(or 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs of thyme and 2 parsley stalks tied together with a kitchen string)
5 garlic cloves
8 allspice peppercorns

Soak the beans for at least 12 hours. Rinse and change the water a couple of times. Peel onion and carrot and finely cube them along with celery. Peel garlic. Drain the beans, pour into a pot along with the rest of the ingredients and pour in enough water to cover the beans by about 3 cm. Bring to boil and then lower the heat. Keep simmering over moderate heat until they're almost done and still firm - about 45 minutes. Drain and cool.


2 confit duck legs (3 if they're small)
6 slices of pork belly
1/2 kg good fresh sausage (mine were pork and packed with herbs)
7 dl chicken stock (or game stock)
1/ 2 dl tomato concentrate
1 tsp clove
1/4 dl fat from the duck confit
salt, pepper

Take a bit pot. Cut the pork belly into strips. Pour in the beans, tuck in the duck legs and rest of the ingredients and pour the stock on top. Bring to boil and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 1-1,5 hours.

Now heat the oven to 200°. Lift the duck legs and sausages out of the pot (by this point the duck will quite literally fall off the bone!). Pull into chunks of your desired size. Cut the sausages into thick slices. Take big, deep oven dish (or two), spoon in a layer of beans, then a layer of meaty chunks and then top that with another layer of beans. Season as you go along.

Drizzle some confit fat over the top (this helps form a nice crusty top), bake until the top is nicely browned and crisp (about 40 minutes -1 h). Add more stock if it seems to start drying out.

The taste is what you'd expect from comfort food: gentle, soothing and full of promise everything's going to get better again. We served ours with cranberry jelly (him) and Nordic Dynamite- relish (me) which, since I discovered it in Marc Aulen´s book, has found a permanent home in my kitchen. Next time I think I just might replace tomato concentrate with one of those two...!




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