Cassoulet des Pyrénnées

Making cassoulet, the renowned dish of beans, duck, sausage, vegetables, and confit from southwestern France, is a culinary undertaking: You’ll need to start cooking early the day before your feast—and you must allow several hours of cooking time on the feast day itself. This spicy variation makes a luscious fall or winter stew that is best served straight from the casserole in which it is baked.


The tannic rusticity of a Madiran or Cahors matches the heartiness of this regional specialty; recommended producers include Château d’Aydie in Madiran and Château Lagrezette in Cahors.

  • 2 confit of Muscovy or Pekin duck legs
  • 4 pounds dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight in water to cover and drained, or quick-soaked as directed below
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds Spanish onions, diced
  • 4 vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
  • 2 quarts unsalted chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 pounds pancetta, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled/whole
  • 6 carrots, cut into 1¼-inch rounds
  • 6 celery hearts, diced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds Spanish chorizo sausage, cut into 1-inch rounds
  • 1 ounce whole morel mushrooms
  • 1¼ cups finely chopped parsley
  • 1 cup plain bread crumbs

The day before your cassoulet feast, remove the duck confit from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature so that the fat separates easily from the meat.

Meanwhile, place the cannelloni beans in a large bowl and pour in enough boiling water to cover. Let them soak for at least an hour until they have absorbed the bulk of the water and doubled in size. Drain the beans and discard the soaking water. Set aside.

Using a wooden spoon, separate the softened confit duck legs from the fat that surrounds them and spoon the fat into a 4-quart Dutch oven, reserving 2 to 3 tablespoons of the fat for later. Cover and return the duck legs and reserved duck fat to the refrigerator. Then, set the Dutch oven over medium heat, add the olive oil and Spanish onions and sauté, shaking the pan and stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened.

Pour in the chicken stock. Add the pancetta, garlic, carrots, celery, and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 90 minutes, until the vegetables are softened, making a ragout. Add the drained beans. Simmer for 3 to 4 hours. Remove from the heat and let cool. Skim the fat from the surface, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
The following day, remove the vegetable ragout and duck confit from the refrigerator and let stand for 1 hour.

Place the duck confit in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water and heat for 5 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Pull the meat off the bone and cut into chunks and strips.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Grease a 4-quart casserole that can double as a serving dish with the reserved duck fat or olive oil. Transfer the ragout to the prepared dish. Add the duck meat, chorizo, and morels. Stir to distribute the ingredients. Cover the casserole with its lid or foil and bake for 1 hour.

Remove the cassoulet from the oven and remove the foil cover. Skim any excess fat from the surface. Stir in the parsley. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the surface. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F, and return the cassoulet to the oven; bake for 1 ½ hours. A crust will form on top.

Remove the cassoulet from the oven, let it stand for 10 minutes, and serve in dinner bowls.

Published on December 17, 2009