Cassoulet is one of Kevin Youngs’ favorite things to eat. But the sous chef at Sardine understands why even savvy cooks may not want to attempt it at home.
“This is not peasant style,” Youngs said as he assembled slow-braised white beans, pulled lamb, garlic sausage and a leg of duck confit on a warm platter.
“Just understand that you have to be patient. Everything in it takes time. It takes days; you can’t rush anything. It’s not something you can do in an afternoon.”
Cassoulet has a bit of a cult following — one reason it will have pride of place on Sardine’s Restaurant Week menu. (Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Week runs Sunday, Jan. 20, through Friday, Jan. 25; Sardine will serve a prix fixe dinner only.)
Amanda Hesser called cassoulet “the most filling dish ever created … the perfect union of meat and bean, and as humble as bread.” Early in 2012, Mark Bittman joked that it is “a glorified version of franks ’n’ beans.”
“Cassoulet’s something you would eat in the winter, that would keep,” said Sardine co-owner John Gadau. “They’d season (the duck confit) so heavily because they’re trying to get all the moisture out of it. Then they’re able to store it in its own fat, in these big crocks … fat’s a preservative, it keeps the air out.
“There is no true recipe for cassoulet,” Gadau added. “You’re using braised beans and sausage, and that’s the least luxurious of cassoulet. It goes back to peasant cooking.”
For a home cook, Gadau and Youngs recommend making from scratch as many of the cassoulet ingredients as possible. Dried beans are cheaper than canned, and a package of premade duck confit from D’Artagnan costs $48.99 for six legs, plus shipping. (This seems silly for a “humble” dish.)
“Any of it can be done ahead of time,” Youngs said. “Cook your beans and maybe something else one day, and then have everybody over on Friday and just assemble it.”
Recipe by John Gadau and Phillip Hurley, co-owners of Sardine. Serves 6.
6 duck legs
2 tablespoons salt
1 orange, sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
3 cups melted duck fat (or canola oil)
Pat duck legs dry with paper towel. Heavily salt each leg. Lay legs in a 5- by 8-inch baking dish. Scatter orange slices, garlic, thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns over legs. Cover legs until submerged in melted duck fat.
Tightly cover baking dish and place in a 325-degree oven for two hours, or until meat begins to loosen from the bone.
1 lb. dry white beans (Great Northern)
6 thick slices of bacon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4+ cups chicken stock
12 ounces diced tomato in juice
Cheesecloth sachet filled with 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 6 black peppercorns and 3 bay leaves
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
Soak the dried beans overnight in cold water. Drain.
Heat olive oil in heavy-bottom pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until fat rendered. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender, about three minutes. Add tomato paste and cook two minutes. Add beans. Add tomatoes with liquid. Add chicken stock until there is an inch of liquid covering the beans and bring to boil. Add sachet, salt and pepper. Cover and place in 350-degree oven until beans tender (1-1.5 hours).
Braised lamb shoulder:
2 lb. lamb shoulder
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, roughly chopped
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons tomato paste
½ bottle dry red wine
4+ cups veal stock (or unseasoned beef broth)
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
In heavy-bottom pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add lamb and brown heavily. Remove lamb and add carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Sauté vegetables until slightly caramelized, 5-7 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook until paste begins to brown and stick to bottom of pan.
Deglaze with red wine. Add lamb back into pan. Add veal stock until lamb is completely submerged. Add thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns. Cover and cook at 350 degrees for 2 hours or until meat easily falls apart with a fork.
Remove lamb from pan and shred/cut into bite size pieces. Strain braising liquid. Reduce braising liquid by half or until it coats the back of the spoon.
3 links garlic Italian sausage
Sear and cook sausage thoroughly. Drain on paper towel. Cut each sausage in half.
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon each parsley, chives and tarragon, finely chopped
1 tablespoon walnut oil
Remove duck legs from fat/oil. Wipe duck legs with paper towels. Heat pan on stove over medium-high heat. Add two tablespoons olive oil. Add duck legs and sear on all sides.
Cassoulet may be assembled in a large casserole dish or individually in small bowls.
Place white beans into casserole dish. Add braised lamb, duck and sausage. At this point cassoulet may be tightly covered and kept warm until service time. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and herbs over the top of the cassoulet. Drizzle walnut oil over breadcrumbs. Serve.