Cassoulet with Confit Duck
“A car full of young adults, come in, come in!” – a tactful and charming greeting from our hosts in the Dordogne, France. Our teenage sons fell straight in love with the scenery, ancient history, our relaxed but precisely perfect B&B and of course the food. What teen would not adore confit duck – melting flesh, crispy salty skin, always served with chips? Life only got better when they discovered cassoulet – confit duck, and sausage, combined with baked beans? Heaven. This is a time consuming dish, but all the parts can be done well ahead, and also done while you are doing other things – the preparation itself isn’t that onerous, it’s the long slow cooking you have to leave time for. But on a wet weekend in November (having remembered to salt the duck the night before), get out the slow cooker, put the oven on low, challenge the family to a Monopoly afternoon, and let the Cassoulet cook itself, tempting you with friendly scents until you can all sit down together and reward yourselves.
You can serve the beans as a cassoulet without the duck and sausages, but with some vegetarian sausage for a vegan version, or just the beans in sauce with breadcrumbs on top. I sometimes do it for parties, in a meat-version and vegan alternative, and it goes down a storm.
Confit Duck: Timings - overnight salting, 4 hours slow cooking.
The night before you want to cook the duck, salt it. Just put the legs in a shallow metal dish – a baking tray is ideal, as you can use the same tray all the way through - and rub the salt all over the skin and the flesh. Prick the skin very well using a metal skewer, and rub the salt in. Leave the legs in the fridge overnight to salt, and let the juices run. In the morning, take the legs out, wipe dry with kitchen towel, clean out the baking tray and put the legs back in. Smear the goose fat all over the legs, cover the tray with cooking foil and put into the oven at 130°C for a long time – about 4 hours. You don’t need to pre-heat the oven. The fat will melt, cover the legs, and cook them gently until they are very very tender. Just check every now and then and maybe turn them over if the fat doesn’t completely cover them. Leave to cool in the tray.
At this point you can keep the duck in the fridge covered in fat for several days before using. Try to resist picking bits off. (you can’t) When you use the duck, scrape off the fat and keep it for cooking roast potatoes or other frying, it keeps in a pot in the fridge for a couple of weeks at least.
Beans in sauce: (vegan option, leave out the bacon and use Henderson’s Relish instead of Worcester sauce). Timings - 30 minutes preparaton, 5-6 hours slow cooking.
Fry the bacon pieces in fat until crispy and brown. Put aside. Fry the celery, onions, and carrots until softened in the same fat – about 5 minutes, stirring to avoid catching. Add the crushed garlic and oregano and stir to cook. Add the can of tomatoes and another half can of water, then add the beans, marmite, and a good dash of Worcester sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
Put the lot into the slow cooker on high for about 4 hours, or in the oven on 130°C (can sit alongside the duck) for 5-6 hours.
At this stage, the beans can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days, or frozen. They freeze beautifully and can be used as a vegetable or alongside other meals such as pork chops. They are technically not quite the same as home-made baked beans as they are more tomatoey and less vinegary, but gorgeous, and good for you, nonetheless.
To assemble the Cassoulet: Timings - 15 minutes preparation, 50 minutes in the oven
Preheat the oven to 200°C
Fry the sausages until browned, set into a large casserole dish. Fry the duck legs on their skin side until the skin is crispy and brown. Fight off the teenagers trying to eat all the skin. Put the duck legs into the casserole dish. Scoop in the beans in sauce to cover the meats – add a little more liquid if you need to, as the beans can absorb some sauce while they sit, if you’ve left them overnight in the fridge before assembly.
Top with breadcrumbs and put in the oven covered for about 30 minutes, then remove the cover and brown the breadcrumbs for 20 minutes to give a crunchy crust. The meat is all cooked, so the dish just needs warming through and to allow the flavours a final melding.
Serve as it is, giving everyone a sausage and a duck leg and a helping of the fragrant wonderful beans. I wouldn’t serve garlic bread or any other carb alongside, as it is already rich, but a simple lightly dressed green salad maybe with some bitter endive and rocket leaves either as a starter or after would be a suitable nod to the French origins and an enlivening palate cleanser.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.