Recipe: Classic Cassoulet
For a long time, one of the best invitations in the Napa Valley was Sarah Scott’s Christmas party and the inevitable cassoulet. Nowadays, everyone seems to be an expert on this classic French casserole of white beans and assorted meats, but Sarah has been making this dish for years. When we found Tarbais beans from France to use as seed in our California fields, my first thought was that I’d be guaranteed a place at Sarah’s Christmas table for life!
Sarah has mastered many dishes in addition to cassoulet, often working with the Mondavi family personally or professionally. Her ties to “wine country food” are long and strong, and she’s one of the reasons it’s good to live here. And, of course, you need to buy her book, The Wild Table, cowritten with another friend (and neighbor), Connie Green.
For the beans:
- 1 pound Classic Cassoulet or Flageolet beans, picked over and rinsed
- Bouquet garni of 1 bay leaf, 1 shallot, 2 garlic cloves, 3 fresh thyme sprigs, and 2 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
- 2–3 tablespoons kosher salt
For the pork:
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork butt or shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 3-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 4 tablespoons rendered duck fat
- 1 yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- One 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
- 3 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
For the broth:
- 4 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
- 1 smoked ham hock
- 2 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 large shallots
- 2 confit duck legs, skin removed
- 2 Toulouse sausages (about 10 ounces total)
- 1 cup rendered duck fat
- 1 1/2 cups coarse dried bread crumbs such as panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
- To prepare the beans, place them in a large pot and add water to cover twice the height of the beans. Put the bouquet garni ingredients on a square of cheesecloth, bring the ends together, and tie securely with kitchen string. Add the bouquet garni to the pot and place the pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the beans are tender, 2–2 1/2 hours.
- Turn off the heat, add 2 tablespoons of the salt to the water, and stir gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt if needed. Remove the pot from the stove and let the beans cool to room temperature in the cooking broth. Discard the bouquet garni, then drain the beans, discard the cooking broth, and refrigerate the beans if not using right away. (The beans can be cooked up to 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to assemble the cassoulet.)
- To prepare the pork, season the pork chunks with the salt and pepper. (Ideally, do this a day ahead of cooking the pork, cover the pork loosely, and refrigerate overnight.) Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- In a large sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the duck fat over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot and sauté until the vegetables are tender, 5–6 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a medium-size roasting pan, spreading them evenly over the bottom. Evenly distribute the tomatoes and their juice over the vegetables. Scatter the thyme sprigs and bay leaf over the layered mixture, then place the seasoned pork chunks in an even layer on top. In the sauté pan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons duck fat over medium heat. Pour the wine and the melted duck fat evenly over the layered contents of the roasting pan.
- Cover the contents of the pan with a sheet of parchment paper and then cover the pan with a sheet of aluminum foil, crimping it over the sides to seal. Bake until the pork chunks are tender, 21/2–3 hours.
- Remove the pan from the oven and discard the foil and parchment. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork chunks to a plate and set aside. Drain the vegetable mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, capturing the liquid in a bowl or other vessel. Reserve the liquid. Discard the thyme and bay leaves, transfer the vegetables to a food processor, and puree until smooth. Stir the puree into the beans. Skim off and discard any fat from the surface of the liquid.
- To prepare the broth, combine the chicken broth, ham hock, thyme, bay leaf, and shallots in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.
- Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Reserve the broth and the ham hock and discard the rest of the ingredients. Add the reserved liquid from cooking the pork to the broth.
- When the ham hock is cool, remove the meat and discard the fat, bone, and skin. Cut or shred the meat into small bite-size pieces. Add the meat to the reserved pork chunks and stir together gently.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- To finish, pull off the meat from the confit duck legs in large chunks, discard the bones, and set the meat aside.
- Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Prick the sausages with a fork 3–4 times. Carefully slip them into the boiling water, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and poach the sausages until firm and cooked through, 8–10 minutes. Remove the sausages from the water, let cool, and cut each sausage into 4 pieces.
- In a large sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the duck fat over medium heat. Add the sausage pieces and brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate and reserve.
- Put one-third of the beans in the bottom of a 3-quart cassoulet dish or a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish. Tuck the pieces of duck confit and pork into the beans. Add half of the remaining beans and tuck the sausages into this second layer of beans. Spread the remaining beans on top. Pour enough of the broth into the dish to fill to just below the rim.
- Place the bread crumbs in a bowl. In the reserved sauté pan, melt 1/2 cup of the remaining duck fat over medium-low heat. Pour the duck fat over the crumbs and toss to combine. Spread the crumbs evenly over the top layer of beans.
- Bake for 11/2 hours, then remove the dish from the oven. Using a large spoon, break through the surface of the cassoulet, turning under the top crust that has formed. If the broth has evaporated and the cassoulet seems dry, add more broth. Melt the remaining duck fat, drizzle it evenly over the surface, and return to the oven.
- Continue to bake until the juices are bubbling around the edges and a deep golden crust has formed on the surface, 11/2–2 hours. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15–25 minutes before serving.
Recipe from Supper at Rancho Gordo