Our friend Bruno was complaining that it had been years since he had tasted a decent Cassoulet, that classic peasant dish from the southwest of France that engenders such constant disagreement as to what is, indeed, ‘classic’ or ‘traditional’.

A lot of fuss over what is essentially franks and beans, Frenchified.

Yeah, it is a casserole of white beans and protein; often sausages, often not, with duck or goose, lamb and pork, or not. Lately many folks have taken the essence of the dish (remember, beans and franks) and have begun to put in chicken and such. Well, I have no problem with these variants, but for me, the real key to the dish was making Bruno happy, so I was all about making this one thick, rich, unctuous dish of beans, sausage, pork, and duck.

Where to start? OK, there would be duck confit without question. On Wednesday evening I marinated six duck legs in thyme, parsley, sea salt, and shallots over night.

IMG_0450.JPG Thursday evening I slow roasted the legs for about two hours, let them cool, and put them into a plastic container to cool and allow the duck fat they cooked in to congeal. Other than the plastic tub, this was how French peasants would conserve their meats–in fat–two centuries ago, and yes–how folks still do it.


The same night I prepared the duck confit, I presoaked my great white northern beans. On Friday I got started on the actual cooking of the dish early in the day, as I wanted all those flavors to mesh well as I knew a day would allow for Saturday evening’s meal to have an extra notch-up in flavor.


I had a pound of pork shoulder cut into pieces, a slab of pork skin with a healthy amount of fat attached, a bouquet garni of herbs, a carrot in pieces as well as two onions with cloves.


Once the broth was finished simmering for an hour or so, replete with porky flavor and scented aromatic vegetables, I added the beans and cooked them for about an hour or more till they were mostly cooked.

Meanwhile, as this is a casserole, not having some browned bits would be close to sacrilege, so I took some fresh bread and using the chapurelle (sp?) form– fresh bread crumbs which absorb a lot more than dried ones. Food processors are handy devices, just let me say.


Finally, assembly. After removing the aromatics and the bouquet garni, remove the beans and cooked pork pieces to a bowl. Reserve the broth. With the pork skin, I scraped the fat off of the pork skins (you could reserve the skins for chicharrones possibly) and mix in with the beans. Rub a gratin or casserole dish with a garlic clove and layer half the bean mixture within. Nestle the duck confit, scraping away as much of the duck fat as possible (or not?) and then layer the rest of the bean mixture on top. Add the broth to fill up about. 2/3 of the way. Sprinkle your bread crumb mixture on top and bake for about an hour. When the crumbs have browned adequately, remove the casserole dish and gently mix the browned crumbs into the casserole…or cassoulet. Add more crumbs and repeat. I then added three thick lamb rosemary sausages which barely fit in the dish.

At this point I opted to stop, let the casserole cool, and I put it in the fridge where I would finish it off on serving day with one more hour and one more round of bread crumbs just before dinner.

Dinner was a resounding success, Bruno stating with some hyperbole that it was the best he had eaten in a helluva long time. I was ecstatic and pleased, and it was agreed that all the rest of the meal which included a cheese plate of La Tur, St Andre, as well as a terrine de fois gras (don’t ask) was one of the best meals they had ever had in our home.

Crusty Acme bread, a simple green salad of butter lettuce with a Dijon vinaigrette, roasted pears with a coconut butterscotch sauce, as well as a cocktail French 75, champagne, and a very suitable Bordeaux red filled us up more than adequately.