Thursday, July 09, 2009

Recipe: Duck Cassoulet

I know I've posted on this before but you've got to love when stews happen to good meat. A cassoulet is a French stew, a dish famous in the South-West of France. It translates as "bean pot stew" or "white bean stew" or even "meat and bean casserole". Its origin is not that clear; it resembles an Arabic tagine, so some people say it was created during the Hundred Years' War (14-15th Century).

There are as many different kinds of cassoulet as there are meats but the commonality is 70% haricot beans, 30% meat. This stew can be made before-hand and tastes even better the next day.


500g lingot beans
300g lamb shoulder or boneless lamb, cut into 4cm cubes
200g smoked bacon slab
6 pcs raw duck legs (no need to chop in half if using local ducks, which are smaller)
3 pcs sausages (any kind though I prefer fat chipolatas)
100g duck fat
200g roughly chopped white onions
50g chopped garlic
100g or 4 peeled and chopped tomatoes (squeeze out the seeds and pulp)
4 Tbsp tomato paste
1 bouquet garni (i.e. a handful of herbs like thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, parsley stalks, celery leaves, tied together with twine)
2 carrots
1 whole onion
2 cloves (stick the cloves into the peeled onion)
4 whole cloves garlic
Salt to taste
1.5 litres water
1 sheet of greaseproof baking paper
(Optional) 1 cup breadcrumbs

* Lingot Beans are dry white beans, a little like kidney beans. They are available in Singapore from Culina. Only butchers like Hubers/Meat the Butcher/Swiss Butchery will sell smoked bacon in a slab and not pre-sliced. Feel free to use substitutes.


(1) The trick is that because the stew cooks itself, it's important to use the best and freshest ingredients you can get, as all the flavours get leached out and into your stew. It's really what sets apart a quality and home-made dish from a commercial one.

(2) In a sturdy pot (prefably a cast iron pot) large enough to hold all the ingredients, place the beans and bacon slab and fill with enough water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil for 15 minutes. Remove the bacon and strain the beans under running water to wash away the starch. Set both aside.

(3) Dry the pot and use it to sear the duck legs with a bit of the duck fat. Sear the lamb pieces and set all the meat aside. When you sear, you are aiming only to brown the meat surface, not to cook the meat through and through. If you cooked it through, there's no point in stewing, is there!

(4) Using the remaining fat, cook the chopped onions and garlic till they soften. Add the tomato paste and continue to fry for 2 minutes. In all this searing and frying, remember that you are not to burn anything, only to lightly brown them - heat control is important.

(5) Add in the fresh tomatoes, salt, remaining duck fat, the beans, duck legs, bacon and lamb. Add in 1.5 litres of water and turn the flame down to a simmer.

(6) Add the peeled onion studded with the cloves, the 2 carrots, 4 cloves of peeled garlic and the bouquet garni.

(7) Cut the baking paper into a circle to fit the circumference of the pot, cut a hole out of the center of your circular baking paper, then float the baking paper circle on the top of your stew. The idea here is you don't want to cover the pot, because that doesn't allow for evaporation. You don't want to leave it open either, because then too much evaporation will occur. So you create a chimney, from the baking paper and lay it over the surface of the stew, to allow for moderate evaporation and to soak up some of the oil.

(8) Place the entire pot in a pre-heated over at 170C for 1 hour 15 min. Make sure your pot has no plastic handles to it!

(9) After 1 hour, poke holes in your sausages (to break the sausage skin), place them into the pot and keep cooking the stew for another 40 minutes.

(10) At the end, test that your beans have softened to the consistency of baked beans. You should have a stew with the meat blending well into the gravy, not a clear soup, which you started off with.

(11) Remove the chimney and the bouquet garni (you can leave the herbs in if you choose but I would remove the twine). An additional, optional step is to add 1 cup of breadcrumbs into the mixture and cook it in the oven for another 10 minutes.

(12) If you are making this dish early (good for you), let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to re-heat and eat. One benefit of refrigeration is that the fat will congeal on the top of the stew and you can cut all of it away before serving.

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