Cassoulet, Leelanau Style

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by Heather Harris Brady

These are desperate times people. The snow has reached depths on my person that should obligate it to buy me dinner. The term “polar vortex” is now bandied about in everyday conversation in place of “partly sunny” or even, “partly cloudy”. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and desperate measures call for one thing – cassoulet.

I fell in love with cassoulet in a little restaurant in Saugatuck and all the versions I’ve had since (my own or others) pale in comparison – but I finally came oh-so-close with this one. It is the best savory thing I’ve cooked all year. It’s rich, complex and it will warm you from the inside out. It takes an effort, I’m not going to sugarcoat that part, but if you make the journey at the end you’ll be able to lean back and say “yes – this, this is one of the things that make life worth living” – polar vortex be damned.

I’ve named it after Leelanau because I’ve adapted the traditional ingredients and methods to suit my readily available sources. There are quite a few steps but you can do most of them while you’re doing other things, and a lot of the time is just simmering. If you have time it’s easier and more economical to buy a whole duck.

Cassoulet, Leelanau Style Makes 8-10 servings

1 lb. dried cannellini or flageolet beans
4 c. chicken or duck broth
Three carrots, diced
One medium onion, chopped
2 t. minced garlic
One head garlic
2 T. tomato paste
½ c. red wine
1 T. herbs de provence
Two smoked garlic kielbasa or fresh French garlic sausage, diced
Three diced pork loin chops
½ lb. salt pork or smoked bacon (I used both. . .)
Two duck legs/thighs
2 c. bread crumbs

Day One:
Remove the legs and thighs from the duck, season heavily with salt and pepper. Cover them and put them in the refrigerator. You can roast the rest of the duck for your dinner. Reserve all the fat and make duck broth from the remaining carcass. Soak the dried beans in water overnight.

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These are flageolet beans I bought from my friend Karen at Suttons Bay Trading.

Day Two:
Put the duck legs/thighs in a loaf pan and preheat the oven to 300. Melt the duck fat and pour it over the duck legs/thighs, adding olive oil if necessary so they are completely submerged. Put the head of garlic on top and drizzle it with olive oil. Bake for two hours. Spoon 2 T. of the duck fat into a frying pan and then slide the pan into the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.

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Brown the kielbasa and the pork cubes in the pan with the duck fat. Set it aside.

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Dice the salt pork. In a large stockpot or other saucepot, fry the salt pork until it is crisp. Without washing the pan, brown the onions. Add the minced garlic, then the carrots.

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Stir in the tomato paste, wine and then the stock. Drain the soaked beans and add them to the pot. Add the entire head of roasted garlic. Simmer for one hour or until the beans are just tender.

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Add the herbs and the browned kielbasa/diced pork chops. Simmer for 30 minutes. Cool and let sit in the refrigerator overnight or up to two days.

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Full disclosure – I quick-cooled mine (i.e., I put it outside in the snowbank with the cover on) and only let it rest for three hours, it was still good.

Final Preparation:
Remove the head of roasted garlic from the pan and extract the cloves. Smash them with a spoon and stir the paste into the ragout. Preheat the oven to 400. Remove the meat from the duck legs/thighs. Lightly grease a large baking dish. If you have a lovely large Le Creuset now is the time to use it. I sadly do not so I just used a 10″ baking pan.

Spoon half of the cassoulet into the baking dish. Put the duck meat on top and cover with the remaining cassoulet.

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Bake for an hour, turning the heat down to 300 after the first 30 minutes. Stir any crust that has formed on the top down into the dish. Repeat.

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Cover the top with the bread crumbs and bake until the crumbs are golden brown.

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Serve. Refrigerate any leftovers. This would be a great apres-ski meal, or but I wouldn’t blame you for just hoarding the leftovers for yourself.

One year ago: Cinnamon Chocolate Bread Pudding

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