Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France. The traditional homeland of cassoulet is just a few miles from my parents; the towns of Toulouse but also Carcassonne, and Castelnaudary, the town which claims to be where the dish originated. All are made with white beans haricot blanc (Tarbais beans), duck or goose confit, sausages, and additional meat as pork and mutton. The Carcassonne version is identical but doubles the portion of mutton and sometimes replaces the duck with partridge. The cassoulet of Castelnaudary uses duck confit instead of mutton. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, ''la cassole'', a deep, round, earthenware pot.
Soak beans for 4 hours max in cold water with a teaspoon of baking soda. Pick through the beans, sorting out any skin and other impurities; drain and rinse well. *Bouquet, half celery stalk, a couple of thyme sprigs and a dash of rosemary. For the bean stock, combine all ingredients with the exception of the beans for the first hour. Bring to boil and simmer for an hour. Add beans and cook for an hour, skimming off any impurities that rise. Beans wont be cooked through but that's fine. Drain, save liquid, pancetta and beans; discard remaining stuff.
Warm up duck legs confit and shred meat off the bones. Save bones for bean stock and meat for the stew. Cassoulet can be made without the addition of duck confit but it does add lots of flavors. (Watch duck confit video). Slice pancetta and cut shoulder into chunks and sausages in 2 or 3 portions. Heat up a cast iron dutch-oven or large pot, add 15g duck fat and sear the pancetta. Season with salt and pepper. Flip and sear the other side. Do likewise with pork shoulder and sausages. Remove meat from the pot, remove excess fat and stir in tomato paste with the minced garlic, cook until fragrant and deglaze with white wine. Add diced tomatoes and turn off the heat.
In a large pot or Dutch oven, arrange layers of beans, tomato mixture, duck fat, and meats; repeat. Cover with hot bean stock and bring to a boil and place pot in the oven. Cook uncovered for 2 hours at 325ºF/160ºC. During cooking process, break the crust that will form on the top a few times adding more hot bean stock if beans are drying out but do not over soak the dish. After 2 hours of cooking turn oven off and leave the cassoulet for 30 minutes more to finish cooking slowly. Remove from oven and serve immediately.
To get a crusty présentation, mix some finely chopped parsley with bread crumbs and sprinkle over the cooked cassoulet and place under the broiler (oven door ajar) for about 3 minutes or until golden brown. Insert extra seared duck legs confit if desired. Bon appétit!