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Lazy Girl's Cassoulet (plus Roasting a Whole Duck and Liquid Gold)

Traditionally named after the vessel it is cooked in (a deep, earthenware pot with slanted sides), a Cassoulet consist of beans and meats that have been slow cooked into glorious, comforting harmony.  From its peasant food origins comes a history of containing tougher cuts of meat and offal and pantry staples such as dried white beans.  Like most dishes, it has evolved over the years and in different regions

Legend has it, that once a pot of  your stew was finished cooking, you would then deglaze the pan to get a good base for your next pot of cassoulet.  Over time the offal and mutton were replaced by duck, sausages, and perhaps partridge.  And eventually people began to include pricier meats like pork, goose or even duck confit.  Today you can even find version of cassoulet that use lamb or even seafood.  But no matter the version, they are all rooted in the same tradition.

So, a traditional cassoulet is cooked for long period of time allowing tough meats to turn tender and dried beans to become plump again.  Hours of lazy bubbling draws flavor hidden deep inside the bones and develops thick, rich juices that coat your belly just as well as they coat the meat and beans.  But often we don't have to wherewithal to foresee a sudden urge for the comfort that comes from hours of waiting.  Too bad, you say?  Perhaps. But perhaps not.

While it may not be traditional, it is possible to have a belly pleasing, soul satisfying cassoulet in less time if you have a few things at the ready in your kitchen.  After all, isn't that what our ancestors did?  Used the ingredients available to them...create meals without encouraging waste?  Of course it is.
It all began with a duck.  A simple duck.  A simple roasted duck.  You see.  I wanted to roast this duck so that I could gather the glorious fat that is left in the bottom of the pan as a result.  Duck fat is amazing, and otherwise known as liquid gold. Dare I saw it is the best thing to toss with potatoes and herbs before throwing them into the oven to roast?  Indeed I do.  

So, I began by removing that big flap of skin that hangs in what was once the neck area.  Then I set the bird on a rack inside a roasting pan.
Place the pan in the oven and let it roast in a 325° F oven for 3 hours, breast side down.  

Flip the bird breast side up and cook it for another hour.  

Then raise the heat to 450° F and give it a final 30 minutes to crisp up nicely.  (I learned this method from Nigella.)  

Then I set it aside to cool a bit.  When I was able to remove the rack and the duck, I then poured the gorgeous golden duck fat into a jar.
Once the bird was cool enough to handle, I picked all the meat from the breast, legs and what there is of a thigh...and saved the remainder of the carcass for making stock.  So.  Mission accomplished, yes?  Actually...yes.  I now had my beautiful duck fat plus the roasted meat to boot.

Enter the nasty cold/flu/ick bug.  Oh yeah.  I was out of commission for a good two days solid.  Ugh.  Sleep.  Sleep.  More sleep.  That's all I could manage.  But on the third day, when a bit of energy began to creep back into my weary bones and my muscles seemed to be at least functioning again, I knew that I needed to use my duck meat.  And right away!
Oh yeah.  This is where the Cassoulet finally comes into play.  Remember, though...a quicker version.  While cassoulets traditionally employ only white beans, I had some cooked light red kidney beans that I also needed to use up.  So, added to some white butter beans, those became the beany portion of my base.  Obviously I would use my duck meat...but I also had some Italian sausage (although loose, and traditionally link sausage is used), so I had my meats.  I knew I wanted to add some healing veggie power to the mix.  Take all of that and some of the glorious golden duck fat...and what do you get?

Lazy Girl's Cassoulet

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 50-60 minutes
Keywords: entree soup/stew duck legumes beans sausage

Ingredients (serves 8)
  • 2 Tbs. duck fat
  • 14 oz. roasted duck meat
  • 8 oz. loose Italian sausage
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced
  • 4 carrots, 1" chunks
  • 1 bunch kale, chopped
  • 1 c. Basic Tomato Sauce
  • 2 (~14.5 oz.) cans diced, fire-roasted tomatoes w/ their juices
  • a few fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ~1½ c. cooked butter beans
  • ~1½ c. cooked light red kidney beans
  • ~1½ c. beef stock
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • crushed red chiles, to taste
Instructions
Heat the duck fat in a large dutch oven (or cassoulet, if you have one) over medium-high heat.

When it is hot, add the sausage and cook for a minute or two, breaking up the sausage.

Throw in the duck and continue cooking, stirring once in a while until sausage is cooked through and the outsides of both meats are browning nicely, ~10 minutes.

Remove the meat to a separate bowl, shredding the duck meat apart a bit with two forks, and set aside
Add the garlic, onions, scallions, carrots, and kale to the fat remaining in the pan, reduce heat a bit and cook, stirring, until veggies just begin to soften.

Add the tomato sauce, the canned tomatoes w/ their juices, the herbs and the reserved meat to the pot.
Season with a bit of salt and pepper to taste.
Add the beans (drained if in liquid) and 1½ c. beef stock to the pot and bring the whole thing to a boil.
Partially cover and allow to simmer gently for 20-25 minutes.

Check the cassoulet from time to time, making sure that it has enough liquid.

If it seems to be to low, add in a bit more stock.

Once it has finished cooking, taste and adjust seasoning, adding a bit of crushed red chiles to taste.

Pull out thyme stalks and bay leaves before serving.

I'm pretty sure that a few hearty bowls of my Lazy Girl's Cassoulet is what helped me to finally shake what was left of my ailments.  So.  Maybe it doesn't actually deserved to be called "lazy girl's" ...but I do think it has a certain ring to it.  And it sounds much more appetizing than "sick girl's cassoulet".  Plus, it's really just a play on the fact that it didn't take me hours to develop a cassoulet that brings comfort and satisfaction.

This is my entry into The Iron Chef Challenge: Duck which is presented by Amy of A Latté with Ott'A (and sponsored by Maple Leaf Farms Duck this month). *Update 2/1/11: I am honored to have been picked as the winner for this round of the Iron Chef Challenge. Yay!
ICCduckOttA MapleLeafFarmsDuckChallengeWINNER