Yesterday I was emptying my freezer in celebration of the Lent (which has already begun, but never mind) and here is what I found among many strange things you sometimes can find in your freezer: 1 duck leg, 1 chicken leg and a small batch of chorizo sausages. Does it ring a bell? For me it was a direct order to go and pre-soak the beans for a hearty cassoulet, which would be hard to beat in this cold, grey and wet Quebec weather.
Three cities in France are in parental competition for the birth of Cassoulet: Carcassonne, Toulouse and Castelnaudary.
Roughly, Castelnaudary claims to be the world capital of the version with duck or goose confit, while Toulouse and Carcassonne have their variations of lamb and pork ingredients.
The one I will never forget I tried in the port of Canal du Midi: was the duck confit variety, hence the Castelnaudary version appeals to me most and the duck leg became quintessential part of this dish to me. If you have any duck confit already prepared in your fridge, feel free to use it. Chicken legs would be an OK replacement for the student budget. Here is a classic recipe from the place of origin (sorry, its in French):
|via Wikimedia Commons
And now, here is my twist on the recipe. First, French it up by boiling the beans with the onion pierced with cloves. While the beans are cooking, brown the duck and chicken legs along with sausages (mild chorizo or Polish kielbasa are the best choices for this dish) with a head of a garlic halfed. Deglazing with wine adds a layer of taste. Mix the beans, meats and veggies and cover with broth and tomato sauce.
The herbs from Provence successfully complete the symphony and your dish is ready to go to the oven. Special note about the crumbs: in the classic recipe topping dish with the crumbs is a must and you have to press it dish down 7 times during cooking. In my version I skip it for caloric reasons, but you are still welcome to use it if you want. Once ready, serve hot with a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape or Cahors.
Since it is called an easy recipe (which I also tend to like leaner), I also skipped the lard, pork and pork rind ingredients. By the way, you can easily turn this recipe into completely vegetarian by omitting all kinds of meat in it, however, it will not be a cassoulet anymore, as the major flavor of this dish is coming from the combination of the meat ingredients and beans mingled during slow cooking. No matter how hard you will try to cut on fat or calories, Cassoulet is so rich that usually you will have some leftovers. One of the ways to re-use them next day is to turn them into some healthy burritos.
Get your favorite tortillas and few slices of cheese; give a quick stir to sliced green pepper, onion and garlic; make a wrap with all the ingredients and bake it in the oven for a few minutes. Add a little cucumber, radish, avocado salad and a choice of yogurt and salsa and, voila, a healthy, nutritious and balanced meal is ready!
1 lb white beans
1 onion pierced with 2-3 cloves
1 duck leg
1 chicken leg
1/2 lb chorizo sausage or kielbasa cut into 1/2” slices
1 garlic head cut in half
1/3 cup of white wine to deglaze
1 carrot coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk coarsely chopped
2 cups tomato sauce or coulis or 1 can (15 oz) of diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons dry thyme
1 teaspoon of dry sage
2 bay leaves
pinch of chilli peppers
1/2 cup bread crumbs (optional)
Soak beans overnight or 6-8 hours before cooking. Drain, rinse, cover with water, add a small onion pierced with a few cloves and salt and simmer for about 1 hour or until al dente. Discard the onion.
Preheat the oven to 300F
Season the duck leg, the chicken leg with salt and pepper and brown in olive oil for about 5 minutes each side, then add sausages and 1 garlic head cut in half and continue browning for another 10-12 minutes to almost ”done” state. Add a good splash of wine to deglaze, then remove from pan and put aside. Add carrots and celery to the dry pan and brown them slightly. In the meantime, cut the browned meat in coarse pieces.
Mix all the ingredients: beans, meat and veggies in the Dutch oven, add the tomato sauce, the chicken broth and the herbs. Cover the pot and place in the oven for 1hour. Remove the cover, sprinkle with bread crumbs (if using) and put back in the oven for about 1/2 hour or until the beans began to split and the broth has thickened. When ready, mix carefully discarding bay leaves and garlic head, and serve immediately.