There are many versions of cassoulet in Southwest France in the same way that there are lots of versions of bouillabaisse in the South of France. Every village thinks its way is the correct way. This is my own version which I think is closer to a Toulouse cassoulet than others. I bought the duck confit rather than do it myself. Work backwards from the day you wish to eat it to figure when to start. These qualities are the quantities I made for 8 of us but they were easily enough for at least 10. The leftovers were delicious the next day for lunch. Also there’s no need to be exact with any of these quantities. For this amount you’ll need a large flameproof casserole dish.
- 1 kg boneless pork shoulder trimmed of excess fat and cut into 8-10 large chunks
- 2 fresh ham hocks, not brined or smoked (ask your butcher)
- 500g pork belly skin with a layer of fat attached (ask your butcher)
- Salt & pepper
- 1 kilo dried white beans (haricot or cannellini)
- ⅓ cup duck fat
- 2-3 medium onions, peeled and chopped
- 2-3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
- 5 cms wide piece of pancetta or spec
- 2 whole heads of garlic plus 6 cloves, peeled
- 2 tbsps tomato paste
- 2 litres chicken stock, preferably unsalted
- Bouquet garni – tie together with cotton string 2-3 small sticks of celery, 2 bay leaves, 4 sprigs of parsley, 3 sprigs of thyme
- 1 Toulouse sausage per person (if they’re thin you may want more) or any coarse textured sausage
- 6 whole duck confit legs, each cut in half by separating the drumstick and thigh
- 4-6 tbsps fresh breadcrumbs
- 2-3 tbps walnut oil
Finely chopped parsley as garnish
1. Two days in advance lightly season the pork shoulder pieces, hocks and pork belly skin and place in a bowl in the fridge overnight. Also soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water.
2. The next day remove the pork belly skin and simmer it in water for 10-20 minutes until it softens a little. Drain and cut it (including the attached fat) into large cubes.
3. Next make the ragout. Heat the duck fat in a large flameproof casserole dish. Dry the chunks of pork shoulder and brown on all sides. Add the onions and carrots and cook till soft and lightly brown. This will take a few minutes. Add the hocks and whole piece of pancetta or spec. Brown a little if you can. Add the 2 heads of garlic and tomato paste then stir. Add the stock, cubes of pork belly skin and bouquet garni. Bring the ragout to the boil, cover and simmer.
4. After the ragout has been on for about 1 hour, drain the beans and put them in a large pot. Cover with water and bring them slowly to the boil. Skim and simmer for a few minutes. Then drain and immediately add the beans to the ragout. Continue cooking the ragout for up to 2 hours or until the beans are tender. Allow it to cool to room temperature (this will take a while) and skim off any fat that comes to the top. Reserve it till later (in point 8). Cover the casserole and put it in the fridge overnight so the flavours develop.
5. The next day bring take the casserole out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature. Pick out the pork shoulder pieces, hocks, pancetta, cubes of pork belly skin, heads of garlic and bouquet garni. Cut all the meat off the hocks and discard the skin and bones. Cut the pancetta into very small cubes discarding any extra fat. Set aside the cubes of pork belly skin. Squeeze all the pulp from the heads off garlic and discard the skins.
6. Take the duck confit out of its preserving fat wiping off the excess duck fat. Set these pieces aside with the pork shoulder chunks, hock pieces and pancetta cubes.
7. Discard about half the pork belly skin. Cut the skin off the remaining pork belly cubes so you’re left with the fat. Discard the skin. Cut the fat into small cubes. Put in a blender with 1 cup of water, the garlic pulp and the 6 cloves of fresh garlic. Add this mixture to the beans and simmer for about 30 minutes.
8. Now you’re ready to assemble the cassoulet. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Very gently add the meats back into the beans leaving the duck till last. Put the duck pieces on top and push them down gently so they’re covered in beans. Taste and season if necessary. There needs to be enough liquid left so that the beans are covered. If not, add a little chicken stock or water. There needs to be at least 2-3 cms to spare between the top of the cassoulet and the rim of the casserole as the mixture will ‘grow’. Drizzle with the reserved fat and sprinkle with a thin layer of breadcrumbs. Cover and cook for 1½ hours.
9. While it’s in the oven brown the Toulouse sausages and if they’re large cut them into 3-4 pieces. Take the cassoulet out of the oven.
10. Reduce the oven to 150°C. Gently stir in the breadcrumbs that will be looking browned on top. Place the sausages on top and gently push them in a little. Sprinkle with more breadcrumbs and bake for another hour. Remove from the oven and let the cassoulet rest for 20 minutes. Drizzle with the walnut oil just before serving.
11. Garnish each serving with a little parsley.
Bon Appétit!! As you can tell this is a very rich and filling dish but it’s really worth the effort at least a couple of times.