Home Food DigiBites: A French Stew Made By Peasants – And Fit For Kings

DigiBites: A French Stew Made By Peasants – And Fit For Kings

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Friends –

I’ve returned from a fantastic trip to Spain, and am busily preparing for our departure to Provence and the Côte d’Azur on September 27.  Thought we would shift gears to Southern Country French and one of my favorites: Cassoulet (Duck and White Bean Stew).

As we prepare to depart for our 2018 Provence tour; which includes our visit the Julia Child’s former cottage next door to where we stay, I have made this dish several times in the past few days to practice for our time in France. We will be preparing this wonderful dish in the heart of Provence. Connect with us on Facebook to keep up with our adventures!

My recipe is a treasure to me, and I’m happy to share an iconic dish often described as the “ultimate French comfort food” with our readers. As winter approaches, this dish from the Southwest of France, is a revered, slow-cooked stew made with duck confit, sausage, bacon, cannellini (white kidney) beans, and topped with fresh bread crumbs.  Sourcing: fresh duck legs are available

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Berkeley Bowl and Mary’s are available fresh and frozen at better markets.  Alway suggest using dried beans – available in bulk at better markets.  Bacon and sausage can be your choice.  I use Hempler’s European-style bacon available at most markets and bulk sausage or conventional sausage removed from casings.  I prefer using Acme breads – that’s just a preference, but use what you like.

Cassoulet was originally a food of peasants – a simple collection of what ingredients were readily available: white beans with pork, sausage, duck confit, and cooked together for a long time. The dish gets its name from the vessel it is traditionally baked in, the cassole, the traditional, conical clay pot in which it is cooked.

According to Saveur, “Among the many mysteries surrounding cassoulet is the question of its exact origins. It is believed to have

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been born in Castelnaudary, but this has been disputed. More certain is the provenance of the dish’s name, which derives from cassole—originally cassolo in the Occitan language—meaning the dish in which a cassoulet is customarily prepared. This brick-colored earthenware bowl was, it seems, first fabricated in Issel, a village north of Castelnaudary once famous for its pottery. Today, a single enterprise continues to craft cassoles by hand: Poterie Not Freres, near the village of Mas-Saintes-Puelles.”

Based on an article from D’artagnan (an great source for duck products, “since its composition is based on availability, cassoulet varies from town to town in Southwest France. In Castelnaudary, cassoulet is prepared with duck confit, pork shoulder and sausage. In Carcassonne a cassoulet will typically have mutton, and the Toulouse version has duck confit, Toulouse sausage, and is breaded on top. In Auch, only duck or goose meat is used, and crumbs are never added on top. And each town believes they make the one true cassoulet.”  With that, you can see how controversial this dish can be!

Bon Appetit!

– Chef Charlie

Chef Charlie’s Cassoulet

4 whole duck legs (legs and thighs together)

2 tablespoons ground allspice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 cups chicken stock, divided

1/2 pound thick cut bacon, cut into 1-inch x 1/4-inch lengths

1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, crumbled

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 yellow onion, cut into 1/2 – inch dice

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 – inch pieces

2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2 – pieces

1 1/2 cups dry cannellini beans or 1 – 15 ounce can cooked beans, drained

1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley, 1 tablespoon reserved for garnish

1 – 2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water for a slurry (to thicken sauce, if necessary)

1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (crust a loaf of French bread, tear into small pieces, toss with olive oil and toast in the oven at 350˚ F until crisp).

  •  A night ahead, soak the beans in a stockpot covered with a liberal amount of water for 10 – 12 hours.  The next day, place the soaked beans over medium-high heat.  Add enough water to cover by 3 to 4 inches.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 – 1 ½ hours or until the beans are cooked to a preferred doneness.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature (do not drain).
  • Place the duck legs in a bowl, and season with the allspice, kosher salt, and pepper.  In a braising pan or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the duck legs, skin-side down in a single layer.  Reduce the heat to medium, and sear for 4 – 5 minutes until well-browned.  Turn the duck and brown the other side, another 3 – 4 minutes.  Add enough stock to cover duck legs; cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until all the fat has been rendered and the meat is pulling away from the bones, 20 – 30 minutes.  Remove the duck to a plate and remove the broth from the pan and set aside.  While the duck is cooling, in a separate skillet, brown the bacon, until crisp, but still tender.  Remove the fat from the pan and reserve.  Repeat with the sausage.  Drain the sausage, removing the rendered fat and set aside.
  • Return to the Dutch oven.  Increase heat to medium-high and add 3 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat.  Add the onions and bay leaves, and sauté for 2 minutes.  Sprinkle the flour over the onions, and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.  Add the wine to deglaze, scraping all bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
  • For the duck legs, remove the skin (and discard), and remove the meat from the legs into bite-sized pieces.  Place the duck bones back to the pan.  Add the carrots, celery, reserved and remaining chicken broth, and stir to combine.  Cover and cook for 10 – 15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
  • Remove the duck bones and bay leaves.  Add the duck pieces, bacon, sausage, and beans, and cover to warm through, about 5 minutes.  Check consistency and whisk in the slurry, if necessary.  Taste the broth, and adjust seasoning and add the minced parsley.  Serve topped with the bread crumbs and garnished with remaining parsley.

Serves 4 – 6
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  1. Looks yum! Just wanted to let you know that largely due to you and my attempting to make your recipes my beloved bought me a new Vitamix PRO and I’m going to put it through it’s first trial tonight!! Can’t wait!!! The thing is a beast!

    • Ha! We bought one, too – because it’s pesto night and because we do everything Chef Charlie tells us to do! Hopefully he’s getting some form of kickback from Vitamix ’cause he’s driving up their sales!

  2. Love French cuisine and agree that it tastes better in France! They care for their food there and I can’t remember having a bad meal while we were there. I read this recipe with interest and because my interest in French food doesn’t extend to duck we’re doing your corn and roasted poblano soup tonight — once the sun is down. Love the writing and insight and love your approach. And we had the Vitamix pro before your recommendation but agree it is a must have for the kitchen. I’ll let you know how the soup goes. Looking forward to it!

  3. Thanks, Matt, for your feedback! How was dinner? So much more to come with new repertoire after our visit to Provence next week!

    • Hi and good morning and thanks. The real chef in this partnership had your recipe printed out and on her recipe stand so we prefortified with some good Mexican beer and dug in and it was great. Waited for the sun and bugs to go away and ate outside. It was a pretty ideal California evening. Look forward to upcoming posts!!

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