Cassoulet: uncensored

As mentioned in my previous post “Guests in Paris”, I set myself an endpoint goal for a fat, meaty, poached-eggs sitting atop a mountain of goodness type of brunch.

Cassoulet breakfast in Paris

The path to this goal could have been simple, had I opted to buy the tried and delicious canned cassoulet sold here for no more than 8 euros. Instead, I made my house smell nice, had a glass of white wine in the making, and got a kick out of damage controlling the adventure for a decent end result.

As you may or may not know, making cassoulet (the right way) can be a little tiring; it requires one to soak and then cook the beans with aromatic herbs and veggies. Though I love to cook, there is something about soaking beans that discourages me. Then there is the whole duck confit part. That too requires a little bit of extra work.

Thankfully, it is possible to buy ready-made confit duck thighs for the occasional “partially homemade” cassoulet. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t find the premade confit duck thighs this time around, so I got the raw ones instead. These would have required being salted and placed in the refrigerator for a night, which was very inconvenient considering this was to be the night’s dinner… I was thrown off, and frantically Google searched alternative solutions.

I was in crisis management, and the only remaining certainty was that I wasn’t going to go back to the store at 7 PM to find something else. So I winged it.

In the end, all was delicious! So if you’re interested, here’s what I did – cheats and recommendations included.

Ingredients for a cassoulet

Ingredients:

  • 3 raw duck thighs
  • 5 or 6 sausages (I used the corner butcher’s fresh Toulouse and a few merguez sausages)
  • 1 leek
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cans of white beans – the larger kind of 796ml ( if your oven dish is big enough you can use 3)
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup or less of chicken stock
  • 1 little can of tomato paste/or double concentrated tomato sauce in France
  • 2 few sprigs of thyme
  • Bread crumbs and a bit of parmesan to top the dish

Preparation:

The duck thighs the right way:

If you’re using raw duck thighs, preparing them a day or two in advance is a good/recommended idea. I didn’t and they turned out okay, but the meat was a little tough.

Proceed by generously rubbing salt on the thighs (more than you would put for roasting), put them in a plate, cover with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator for 24 hours if possible, or at least a full 12 hours.

For the cooking/confit you’ll want to melt a good amount of duck fat in a good high edged pan or preferably in a stovetop pot. Once the fat is melted, remove the excess salt with your fingers and place the thighs in the pot. Cook on low-regular for about 50-60 minutes (until the meat is tender enough for a knife to go into it without much effort).

Once the meat is tender, finish the cooking in a stovetop pan over med-high heat for added colour and crispiness, and let rest until you’re ready to assemble the cassoulet.

Duck thighs the less-recommended cheater’s way:

I let the thighs get to room temperature and preheater the oven to 375 degrees farenheit. I rubbed them with a bit of salt and seared them in oil on both sides before placing them in the oven to cook for about 20 minutes.

Since the meat will be a little tough this way, I recommend taking the effort to pull the meat off the bone and tearing it into small pieces prior to adding the meat to the rest of the cassoulet dish. I also didn’t do this, but I wish I had.

Duck thigh preparation (the cheater's way)

Duck thigh preparation, the cheater's way

The rest of the cassoulet:

I find that pre soaked beans do the trick here – they save time while being cheap and good. Like making your own stock, though, soaking beans yourself with aromatic veggies will give your dish its own personal flavour.

In a heated stovetop pot set to low, add the rinced beans (if you’re using the canned ones), thyme, white wine and tomato paste. Let simmer.

White beans with tomato paste, Cassoulet preparation

Cassoulet uncensored

Meanwhile, chop your onions and leek. Heat a pan on medium high, add a dollop of olive oil and add the onions. Once the onions begin to sweat, add the leek. Cook until tender and partially caramelized and transfer to the pot of beans.

Use the hot pan to cook the sausages on medium-high heat. When they are properly roasted and mostly cooked, chop them into wedges and add to the pot of hot beans. If you’ve made the duck thighs the cheater’s way (like me), you can add the meat that’s been pulled off the bone to the beans. If you feel like your mix is too dry, add a little bit of chicken broth.

Cassoulet, the cheater's way, saussage

Set heat to medium-high and let simmer for 20-25 minutes until the sausages have cooked through. Preheat your oven to 275 degrees Farenheit.

Casoulet, the cheater's way, throw the sausage in

Take your favourite oven safe dish and use a spoon to put some beans on the bottom. Add the duck thighs (or not, for the cheaters) and then cover with the rest of the beans and sausages.

Cassoulet in the making

Sprinkle the top generously with breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Let cook until it smells good and finish the top off at broil for a few minutes (if you want it to be crispy).

Cassoulet in the making

Make a breakfast out of it!

In continuation of my search for brunch excellence, this makes for a really satisfying lazy morning. Set reheated cassoulet with toast and a poached egg. And remember Julia Child’s trick for perfect poached eggs: dunk the egg (in its shell) in your boiling water for 10 seconds prior to breaking it into the water. Also, you want to make sure that your water is at a strong simmer, not a rolling boil.

A thought for Tory Hoen’s great article on Hip Paris Blog. He writes a love-hate rant on brunch “au restaurant” in general, ie. the lineups, the price, and how the french really didn’t seem to care for it until now.

Perhaps brunch is a lifestyle best enjoyed at home.

Cassoulet and poached egg breakfast

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Categories: Food

Author:aalavoie

Aspiring food writer, serious traveler, media enthusiast and communications specialist from Montréal, Canada. www.facebook.com/LavoiealaBouche Follow me on twitter @aalavoie

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