Quick and Dirty with the French 

Winter ain’t over yet folks, so let’s get cozy and make a cassoulet. This traditional country fare from the Languedoc region of France dates back to the 100 Year War when soldiers used all of their food reserves to create what is now a classic dish. Traditionally, cassoulet is made from Northern white beans, sausages of Toulouse, duck confit, pork rinds and goose fat, all of which is cooked slowly in an earthenware dish until the flavors of animal fat have penetrated the beans and the meat is tender.

While at Weather Up, a new bar in Prospect Heights, a gentleman claiming French heritage asked if I had ever made cassoulet. Self-assuredly, I told him that I had made the tried and true dish that very day. He looked at me with great suspicion.  “You made it today? Cassoulet takes days to make.” I bowed my head and mumbled under my breath that I had used canned beans, bacon instead of pork rinds and that the duck had not been properly “confited.” (A culinary technicality.) I think he lost interest in our conversation after that admission. Whatever. Try my “quick and dirty” version and tell me if you wouldn’t make it again.

Quick and Dirty Cassoulet (Serves 6)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 whole Muscovy duck (frozen or fresh)
1/3 pound slab bacon, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
3 leeks (white bits) cleaned, cut in 1/4 inch rounds
1 bunch carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4 inch rounds
5 stalks celery, cleaned and cut in 1/4 inch pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
1 bouquet garni
3 cans cannellini beans, washed and strained
4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons cold butter
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Remove breast, legs and  wings from duck. Clip the wing tips. Remove excess fat and the tenders from the breasts. (You can ask your butcher to do this for you.) In a large casserole dish, heat olive oil. Salt and pepper the duck on both sides and sear it in the casserole dish over medium heat until browned. Remove and set aside. Pour off the fat into an empty can. Add the bacon and cook until it begins to brown. Add the leeks, carrots, celery, onion, garlic and a touch of salt. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Cook until vegetables are tender, about ten minutes. Reintroduce the duck. Add the beans, the bouquet garni and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Once it starts to crust on top, it’s nearly done. Overcooking it will dry it out, in which case you can always add stock to moisten it. Serve steaming hot with the beans on bottom and the duck on top. Garnish with Italian parsley.

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