Cassoulet is a dish I make about once every two years. It needs the right weather (as cold as possible) and the right group of friends. Preparing it takes a lot of time and effort, so there's no point in making a small batch - this recipe feeds eight to 10.
Some cooks insist on adding mutton or lamb (which gives a richer, gamier flavour) to cassoulet, and/or they sprinkle breadcrumbs on top while it's baking, to make a crust and help thicken the sauce. I don't add these, but feel free to, if you like.
Cassoulet is usually made with haricots Tarbais - large beans from the Tarbes commune of France. They take a long time to cook and are delicious, but they are very hard to find in Hong Kong. Instead, look for small white dry beans, labelled "coco beans" or "haricot beans". The amount of chicken stock you need depends on the age and size of the beans.
For the confit de canard:
6 whole duck legs (leg and thigh attached), about 300 grams each
10 grams fine sea salt (adjust the amount of salt
if the duck legs are larger or smaller)
3 large garlic cloves, halved
A sprig of fresh thyme
2kg rendered goose or duck fat, or lard, or as needed
For the salted pork:
1kg well-layered, skin-on pork belly, in one piece
800 grams sea salt
200 grams granulated sugar
For the cassoulet:
1kg of white beans
About 50 grams goose or duck fat, or lard
1 large onion, about 250 grams, finely chopped
1 large carrot, about 250 grams, cut into 5mm pieces
2 celery stalks, about 150 grams, cut into 5mm pieces
200 grams cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
10 large garlic cloves, peeled
250 grams pork skin, in one piece
About 1.5 litres unsalted chicken stock, preferably home-made
8-10 mild pork sausages
Fine sea salt, if needed
Make the confit at least one week in advance. Sprinkle the salt over the duck legs, cover with cling-film and refrigerate overnight. The next day, put the legs in a pan that holds them snugly in one layer (it's fine if they overlap slightly, but if the pan is too wide, you'll need more fat). Lay the thyme sprig on top, scatter with the garlic, then add enough fat to completely submerge the legs. Heat over a low-medium flame until small bubbles appear on the surface. Turn the heat to as low as possible and cook, partially covered, until the meat is very tender but not falling apart - this will take several hours. Let the legs cool in the fat, then place them in a clean container and ladle enough fat over them so they're submerged by at least 1cm. Seal the container and refrigerate.
Four days in advance, make the salted pork. Thoroughly combine the salt and sugar. Dry the entire surface of the pork belly with paper towels. In a container large enough to hold the pork with about 5mm around the perimeter, spread about one-third of the salt and sugar mixture in an even layer. Place the pork over the salt/sugar, then spread the remaining mixture over the top and sides so it's completely covered. Wrap with cling-film and refrigerate.
The day before you want to serve the cassoulet, start preparing the beans. Cover the beans with cold water and leave to soak for a few hours. Drain the water. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the beans and simmer for a minute, then drain them and rinse with cold water. Repeat this process one more time.
Take the salted pork from the fridge, wipe off the salt and sugar mixture, then rinse it with cold water and pat it dry. Slice off 150 grams of the salted pork (wrap the remaining piece in cling-film and put it back in the fridge). Cut the 150-gram piece into thin, fine pieces.
Dry out the pot, place it over a low flame and add 50 grams of goose or duck fat, or lard. When the fat is melted, add the small pieces of salted pork and the onion. Cook until the onion is translucent, stirring often. Add the carrot, celery and garlic and stir to coat with the fat, then mix in the tomatoes. Add the beans and pork skin to the pot, then stir in one litre of chicken stock. Bring to the boil over a medium flame, then lower the heat and simmer until the beans are half-cooked (about 45 minutes for small beans; about two hours for haricots Tarbais). The beans should still be firm but not crunchy. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight.
Finish cooking the dish, starting about two hours before dinner (four hours, if using haricots Tarbais). Cut the reserved piece of salted pork into 16 pieces. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the pork and simmer for about 15 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water (this removes excess salt). Dry the pieces. Heat some fat in a skillet set over a medium flame and add the salted pork skin-side down. Cook until the skin is medium brown, then turn the pieces over and brown the other side.
Heat the bean mixture in a pot set over a medium flame. Remove the pork skin from the beans and cut it into thin strips about 3cm long, then stir the pieces back into the beans. Ladle half the bean mixture into a large, attractive casserole dish (such as Le Creuset or Staub). Lay the pieces of salted pork over the layer of beans, then cover with the rest of the beans. The bean mixture should be slightly soupy; if it seems dry, add more chicken stock. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Cover the dish with the lid and bake for an hour (three for haricots Tarbais). Check on the beans occasionally to make sure they're not too dry; if they are, add more chicken stock.
While the beans are cooking, prepare the other ingredients. Scrape away as much fat as possible from the confit then separate the thigh and drumstick by cutting between the joint. (Refrigerate the fat; it can be used for future batches of confit.) Put the pieces skin-side down in an unoiled skillet set over a low flame. Cook until the skin is well browned, then flip the pieces over and brown the other side. Put the duck pieces on a plate and pour off as much fat as possible from the skillet. Heat the skillet over a medium flame and brown the sausages.
Remove the casserole from the oven and taste the beans - they should be tender and sufficiently seasoned; if not, stir in a little more salt, and add more liquid if the mixture seems dry. Bury the sausages in the top layer of beans and cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Lay the duck pieces over the top and cook for another 30 minutes before serving.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
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