In recent weeks, we have not had much free time. Not enough to put our culinary skills to task and make something good and tasty, anyway. Then suddenly we were faced with Snowzilla 2016. Even if we weren't expected to get a whole lot of snow, we decided to take advantage of the situation and cook. Really cook. "Project cooking."
What's project cooking, you wonder? It's when you decide to make a recipe that is really involved. One that takes time. One that has lots of ingredients and lots of steps. One that maybe takes...three days to make? Yep. A recipe that is, in a word, a project. Does it seem daunting at first? Sure! But like any project, with prior planning, pre-shopping and the blessing of some time in your schedule (like one whole weekend with nothing to do but wait for snow that never comes because it all fell on New York and Jersey) you will have accomplished something spectacular.
The perfect project this particular weekend was that something spectacular we call "Three Day Cassoulet." Cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole that originates in France and traditionally contains beans and meat, usually duck or goose confit and some type of pork.
And it is a project to make. However, in reality, the first two days' work is pretty light, especially if you do a little cheating, as we did. Use prepared stock and buy your duck confit - that will significantly shorten your efforts. Still, on the third day, the care and time spent on this recipe yields a hearty soulful dish, filled with spicy meats and creamy beans and a depth of flavor that is unmatched. So. Worth. It.
Three Day Cassoulet
Cooks' Notes: Try your best to find duck stock and duck fat, but if you can't, use chicken stock and unsalted butter instead. D'Artagnan makes an amazing duck confit that we often find at our grocery store for about $5-6 per leg. Finally, you can make this in one pot and serve it, but we like to make them in individual lidded dishes (it's fancier).
3/4 pound dry flageolet beans or small white beans
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic
6 stems of thyme
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
1 carrot, peeled and cut in half
2 ounces salt pork
1 quart duck or chicken stock
2 tablespoons duck fat or unsalted butter, divided
1/4 pound andouille sausage, diced
2 legs of duck confit
3-4 cloves garlic confit, smushed with a spoon
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup Panko-style breadcrumbs
1/2 tablespoon dried parsley
Place beans in a glass bowl and cover with room temperature water; allow to soak overnight. That's it!
Drain beans and discard the water. Place beans in a large soup or stock pot. Place the peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic cloves, and thyme in a cheesecloth and use twine to close it - a bouquet garni. Throw this into the pot, along with the onion, carrot and salt pork. Cover with the stock. The liquid should cover the beans by an inch. If there's not enough stock, add water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer uncovered until beans are tender. This could take up to 2 hours. Allow to cool entirely, then refrigerate the beans and liquid overnight.
Drain the beans, reserving the stock, but discarding the vegetables, pork and bouquet garni. Bring the stock to a boil and reduce by half; set the stock aside once it is reduced. Heat 1 tablespoon duck fat in a large skillet and brown the andouille sausage; set aside. Then heat the duck confit in the duck fat so it is warmed through and brown on both sides. Shred the duck with two forks and set it aside with the sausage. Whisk the smushed garlic confit, mustard and butter into the reduced stock. Add the beans, shredded duck and pieces of sausage. The mixture should be moist, so if it isn't, drizzle with additional stock or water. Heat the other tablespoon of duck fat in a clean skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and toast, stirring often, until browned. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley. Either leave the mixture in one serving pot, or divide into individual dishes, and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for additional 15 minutes until thoroughly hot and golden brown.