Cassoulet is a great winter bistro dish, a homey baked casserole from the south of France that is absolutely nothing like the bland casseroles of most American childhoods. (Unless you happen to have French relatives or have won the food lottery and grown up nextdoor to Paula Wolfert.) Walter Manzke makes a vegetable cassoulet at Church & State, but it's his cassoulet du Toulouse that's the stunner. It's a very traditional recipe, built with pigs feet and ham hocks and pork belly as well as Tarbais beans and duck confit and pork sausage. (Yeah, okay, but if you think this is a time-consuming recipe, you haven't read Wolfert's The Cooking of Southwest France, or have conveniently forgotten whole pages of it, like those involving fresh fava beans.)
Although Manzke makes his own duck confit, you can buy it. And remember that cassoulet is a peasant dish, and thus by its nature maleable. Although copper dishes are lovely, you can make it in whatever you have. If you don't have pigs feet, don't worry about it. "You need confit and white beans; you need sausage," says Manzke. "The rest of it, well..." But considering the weather and the season, you could do worse than hole up for the weekend with a giant Le Creuset pot and a sack of ham hocks and pigs feet.
Cassoulet du Toulouse
From: Chef Walter Manzke of Church & State.
Serves: about 8
Note: This recipe calls for beans that have been soaked overnight. Manzke cures his own pork belly and pork shoulder, and says that you can do it yourself by covering the pieces of uncured meat with salt in a large casserole, then refrigerating overnight. The next day remove the meat from the salt, rinse and pat dry. Manzke also makes his own duck confit. If you want his recipe, let us know. Tarbais beans are available at Surfas and Nicole's Gourmet Foods (you can use other beans). Duck confit and duck fat are available at both those stores, as well as Whole Foods. Pork belly and pigs feet are available at many Mexican and Asian markets. Manzke uses a stock pot for the first part of the process, then finishes the dish in a large shallow baking vessel (or sometimes in smaller dishes, like the one shown). Use what you have, maybe a cast iron Dutch oven. And if you don't have anything big enough, divide the cassoulet between 2 pots.
Preparation of the pork belly, shoulder, ham hocks and pigs feet:
2 tablespoons duck fat
2 onions, 1/2-inch dice
1 carrot, 1/2-inch dice
1 celery stalk, 1/2-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes
1 cup white wine
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1 gallon of pork or veal stock (or use chicken stock)
2 ham hocks
1 pigs foot
1 2-pound piece of cured pork belly
1 2-pound piece of cured pork shoulder
about 2 pounds of duck confit (purchased or homemade)
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat, add the duck fat, onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Sweat until lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes.
2. Add the tomato paste and continue to sweat for 2-3 minutes longer. Add the wine and reduce by half.
3. Add the tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, stock, pigs foot, ham hocks, shoulder and belly. Heat to a slow simmer, skimming the fat as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Cover the pot and place in the oven for 3-4 hours, until the meat is tender.
5. After 3-4 hours, remove the meat from the liquid, cool slightly and reserve. Strain the liquid and reserve. Dice the pork belly and shoulder int 1-inch cubes and reserve. Remove the bones from the ham hocks and pigs feet. Cut the meat into 1-inch cubes and reserve. Discard the bones.
Finishing the dish:
4 cups Tarbais beans or other dry white beans, soaked overnight
1 tablespoon duck fat
1 large onion, medium dice
1 carrot, medium dice
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
prepared pork belly, shoulder, pigs foot and ham hocks (recipe above)
2 pounds of pork sausage links
2 cups of bread crumbs
2 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped
1. Place the soaked white beans in a large pot, add fresh cold water and bring to a slow simmer. Cook, covered, for 1 hour. Drain the beans and reserve.
2. In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, add the duck fat, carrots, onion and garlic and sweat until translucent, about 6-7 minutes.
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3. Add the thyme, bay leaf, the reserved pork belly, shoulder, ham hocks and pigs feet, the duck confit, sausage, blanched beans, and the reserved stock to the pot. Bring to a simmer and season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Transfer the meat and beans to casserole large enough to hold them all, making sure all the meat is covered by the beans and stock. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the entire surface of the mixture (Manzke also sometimes puts some tomato slices on top; see the photo).
5. Bake in a 325 degree oven until the beans and meat are tender and a golden crust forms on the surface of the cassoulet, about 1-2 hours. (Note: some people break the crust during cooking.)
6. Sprinkle the top with the chopped parsley and serve family style.