About this recipe
First the confit is supposed to be simmered in melted duck fat. This is hardly a staple in most home kitchens. So if you don’t save duck trimmings, ask at a market like Roche Bros or a specialty store The Brown Jug to get some for you. Or order online from a place like D’Artagnan.com. Confession: we CHEAT and use olive oil. I know purists will howl that you don’t get the right texture, but the results are still excellent and, once you have the duck confit oil, you can freeze it and use it again and again.
Second, the secret to cassoulet is pigskin. It gives the beans an unctuous, creamy texture that you will start to crave once you have had it. The appropriate texture is impossible to create without pigskin. If you change everything else in this recipe keep the pigskin. How to find pigskin? In the market, pork shoulder or butt comes with skin on. Ask the butcher to trim it off and give it to you with the pork. Or call ahead a day or so and ask your butcher to save a pound of pigskin for you. Initially you’ll feel a little weird asking, but they like to help and should get what you need.
Third, other than the sacrosanct pigskin you can mix, match, add, and delete ingredients as you see fit. Don’t like lamb? Leave it out. Want hot sausage? Use it. Love garlic? Nestle some peeled cloves in the beans during step 4.
Soak beans in about 6 quarts of water for six to twelve hours. Drain beans and discard water. Place beans in a large pot (I use a 5-quart Le Creuset although a bigger pot would be better). Nestle the salt pork, pigskin, carrot, onion, garlic and bouquet garni into the beans. Cover with enough water to cover beans by about an inch. Bring beans to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer over low heat for one hour. Beans should be nearly cooked but totally intact.
While beans are simmering, sauté onions over medium heat in 1 Tbsp of duck fat or olive oil (use the oil from making the confit) until transparent but not browned. Remove onions and reserve. Raise heat to medium-high and, working in batches, brown the pork shoulder and lamb until mahogany brown on all sides. Add onions back to pan with all browned meat. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Put rack in lower middle of oven and preheat to 325 degrees.
Remove bouquet garni, carrot, and onion from beans. Don’t worry if veggies break up a little. Nestle the browned pork and lamb, garlic sausage, and duck confit among the beans. Add 1-1/2 cups of chicken stock. Place pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Place pot in oven and bake for 1 hour. (Be careful as your pot will be hot and full!) Remove pot and cool enough to handle comfortably.
Root around in the beans and remove all meats from the pan. Separately, remove beans and liquid to a large bowl. Untie pigskin roll (discard twine) and cut skin into small triangles. Cut lamb, pork shoulder, salt pork, confit (discard bones), and sausage into roughly similar size small pieces (don’t worry about being too precise). Wipe out pot. Line the bottom and, to the extent possible, the sides of the pot with the triangles of pigskin. Scoop a layer of beans into bottom of pot and smooth with the back of a spoon. Scatter layer of combined meats-pork, lamb, duck etc-in layer on beans. Add layer of beans on top of meats to cover. Repeat process with meats then beans in layers until all ingredients are in the pot. Stir tomato paste into liquid remaining from beans and add to pot. Add additional chicken stock if necessary, so liquid just comes to top of beans. Spread breadcrumbs on top of bean mixture. Drizzle with duck fat or olive oil. Place into 325-degree oven, uncovered, and cook for 1-1/2 hours until top is nicely browned. Carefully remove pot from oven. Serve in the same pot, using a trivet on your dining room table. Be sure to warn guests that the dish is basically as hot as the surface of the sun.
Wine Suggestion: There’s major depth of flavor going on here, so you need a wine that can hold its own. Try a Syrah-based wine that hails from the same region as the food (the Rhone Valley). We like one that has some funky, earthy qualities that match the delicious ruggedness of the dish. Example: Roger Perrin Cotes du Rhone Rouge, $14.99.