Of all the classic French dishes, nothing is more comforting than cassoulet. From the southwest of France, this revered, slow-cooked stew is packed with duck confit, white beans and garlic sausage for a hearty, one-pot meal that's ideal for fighting off those cold, winter nights. It's also the perfect weekend recipe, because it takes three days total to complete. Friday night, you can cure your duck legs; Saturday, you can confit the legs, cook the beans and assemble the dish; then on Sunday, you can bake it off and invite a bunch of friends over to help you dig in (or keep it all to yourself).
Be warned that you're going to use, and also end up with, a nice amount of duck fat with this recipe, thanks to the confit duck legs. You'll reserve a little fat for the rest of your cassoulet, but the confit will leave you with a few leftover cups of fortified duck fat seasoned with a touch of thyme and garlic. Obviously, you can save this fat in the freezer for the next time you make duck confit, but don't feel confined to this dish. This reserved fat is great tossed with potatoes before roasting or rubbed on a trussed chicken before it hits the oven. Whatever you do, just don't throw it away.
To learn more, read "TT Culinary Institute: Cassoulet."
Cassoulet (Duck and White Bean Stew)
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus 2 days curing and chilling time
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours and 30 minutes, plus 2 days curing and chilling time
For the Duck Confit:
6 large (5½ pounds) Moulard duck legs
½ cup salt
10 thyme sprigs
4 garlic cloves, smashed
6 cups duck fat, melted
For the Tarbais Beans:
1 celery stalk
5 parsley stems
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 onion, halved
6 whole cloves
5 cups (2 pounds) Tarbais beans, soaked overnight and drained
1 pound salt pork
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the Cassoulet:
6 tablespoons reserved duck fat, divided
8 links duck sausage
1 garlic clove, smashed
12 ounces cooked French garlic sausage, sliced ½-inch thick
2 tablespoons chicken stock
For the Bread Crumbs:
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
¼ cup reserved duck fat
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
1. Make the duck confit: Pat the duck legs dry with paper towels and place them on a sheet pan. Toss the duck legs with the salt, thyme and garlic. Wrap with plastic and let cure in the refrigerator overnight.
2. The next day, preheat the oven to 300°. Using paper towels, wipe off the salt from the duck legs and place them in a medium Dutch oven. Cover the legs with the duck fat, making sure they are completely submerged. Cover the pot and cook in the oven until the legs are tender, 2 to 2½ hours. Let the legs cool in the fat, then transfer them to a plate. Strain the fat, reserving 10 tablespoons for the cassoulet and the rest for another use.
3. Meanwhile, make the Tarbais beans: Place the celery stalk on a cutting board and fit the parsley stems, thyme and bay leaf into the crease of the stalk, then secure with butcher's twine to make a bouquet garni. Stud each half of the onion with 3 cloves. Place the soaked beans in a large pot with the bouquet garni, studded onion, salt pork, garlic and carrots, then cover with water.
4. Bring to a simmer and cook, adding water as needed to keep the beans covered, until tender, 1 hour. Drain the beans, discarding the bouquet garni and onion. Remove the salt pork and set aside to cool, then roughly chop and reserve.
5. In a small bowl, whisk the stock and tomato paste until smooth, then pour over the drained beans and carrots. Season with salt and pepper, and stir in the chopped salt pork.
6. Assemble the cassoulet: In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the duck fat over medium-high heat. Add the duck sausage and cook, turning as needed, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
7. In a 4½-quart Dutch oven, rub 2 tablespoons of the duck fat and the garlic clove over the entire inside of the pot. Spread out a third of the bean mixture in an even layer, then top with 3 confit duck legs, 4 duck sausages and half the garlic sausage slices. Repeat this layering of beans and meat one more time until all the meat is used up, then top with the remaining third of the beans. Cover and refrigerate the cassoulet overnight.
8. The next day, preheat the oven to 325°. Bring the cassoulet to room temperature, then cook, uncovered, until a crust forms on the top, 45 minutes. Break the top and pour in 2 more tablespoons of the reserved duck fat and the chicken stock. Continue to bake until another crust forms, 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and raise the temperature to 400°.
9. Meanwhile, make the bread crumbs. In a medium bowl, toss the bread crumbs with the remaining ¼ cup of reserved duck fat and garlic, then sprinkle over the cassoulet. Return the dish to the oven and bake until golden brown and bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes, then divide between bowls and serve.