Saturday, January 15, 2011

Holy Pig! Cassoulet

This month, for the daring cook's challenge, we were charged with making a cassoulet.  I'd heard the word before, but I don't think I've ever had a cassoulet before.  Typically, it's a warm, hearty French stew with a duck confit, sausages, beans, bacon, pork belly, and who knows what else.  Since beans aren't good for you, I decided to try the dish, but substitute veggies for the beans.  I had to make my own confit, which was interesting.  Basically, it's a French way of preserving meat in fat.  So I'll walk through how I made the confit, then the dish.... beware... this is an extremely time consuming process- the whole thing took 4 DAYS!!!

Paleo Cassoulet

* 3 whole duck legs (leg and thigh), size does not matter
* sea salt
* 2 cups bacon fat (original recipe called for duck fat)
* black pepper
* 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
* 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
* 1 garlic clove
* 8 carrots,diced
* 1 lb cremini mushrooms
* 3 cans green beans
* 8 ribs of celery
* 1 pound fresh pork belly
* 4 onions
* 1 pound bacon
* 1 bay leaf
* salt and pepper
 *1/4 cup butter
* 6 pork sausages (I used bratwurst)
* 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

First, I needed to make the duck confit.  Now, prior to this, the only duck that I'd had was deep fried and slathered in a spicy sauce at a yummy Thai restaurant.  We'll see how this turns out!  I found a pack of 3 duck legs, so I picked that up.  The original recipe called for 4, but whatever :)

The first step was easy, you put the duck legs in a small, ovenproof dish.  You season the legs with sea salt, cover them with some saran wrap, then refrigerate overnight.  Step one is done!

On the second night, I melted the bacon fat in the microwave.  I then threw a few cloves of garlic, some pepper, and the sprig of rosemary.  When the bacon fat was melted, I poured it over the duck legs.  I didn't have enough for it to cover the duck legs, so I melted enough butter to cover the duck legs.  Talk about a lot of fat!

Once the duck legs were covered, I covered the dish in foil and baked it in the oven at 375.  I let it bake for an hour.  Then I pulled it out, of the oven, let it cool, and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

While the duck confit was in the oven, I chopped up all the veggies.  You are supposed to use 5 cups of white beans and let them soak.  However, if you're eating Paleo (which I suggest you do) legumes are a no-no.  I decided to use a bunch of veggies instead.  I just cut them all up into tiny, bean sized pieces.  With the mushrooms, though, I only cut them in half.  I wanted them to be big enough that Curt could pick them out pretty easily (aren't I a good wife? :) hah).  After chopping them, I threw them in a bowl and wrapped them overnight.  Day 2 - done!

On day 3, I started with my big stockpot - I threw in all the veggies.  I also put in the pork belly (basically, this is unsliced bacon), I cut 1 of the onions into quarters and threw that in there, as well as a bay leaf.  I also put about 1/4 of the bacon into the pot.  Then you cover the whole thing with water, put a lid on it, and let it simmer for 30 minutes.

While the pot of stuff was simmering, I cooked the sausages.  I used bratwurst, because I don't know what type of pork sausage they had in mind.  I was going to put in some kielbasa, but, really... there was a ridiculous amount of meat in this dish already!  I boiled the sausages first, then, once they were almost all the way cooked through, I drained the water and browned them in some butter, then set them aside to cool.

After 30 minutes, I uncovered the stock pot and fished out the bacon, pork belly, and the onion.  Throw the onion away, but save the bacon.  You thinly slice the onion and you brown it, along with the bacon in a pan with some bacon fat.  When you've fished the bacon and onion out of the stock pot, you just cover it and let it simmer for another 30 minutes.

Once the bacon and onions are browned, you throw the whole mixture into a food processor or blender and whirl it all together.  You do need to add about a tablespoon of fat to make sure it's nice and liquidy.  Then, when everything is all pureed, you set it aside.  Now, it's time for the crazy part.... bacon!!!

The original recipe called for pork skin... I have no freakin idea where to get a bunch of pork skin, so I used bacon.  You line the entire pot with bacon.  I'm not really sure what the purpose of lining the pot is, but I just followed the directions.  I used just about a pound of bacon... now, I LOVE bacon, however, this was a bit ridiculous!

Next, I pulled the duck legs out of the fat bath it was sitting in and shredded the meat.  The orginal recipe said to just throw them in the pot, but I wanted everything to be easy to eat with a spoon once it was ready, so I shredded it.  I also chopped up the sausage and pork belly and got everything ready to go into the pot.  I also had to drain the veggie mixture that had been simmering on the stove.  I drained it, but saved the liquid because this is the "broth" for the soup.  I put everything in a sort of assembly line and got to work.

I layered everything together.  First, some of the veggies, then the pork belly, then the onion and bacon puree mixture.  

Then I added the sausage, then veggies, then onion/bacon puree, then I added the duck, then veggies then puree.... You get the point.


Once everything was in the pot, I added in the "broth" from the simmering pot and filled it up until it just covered the veggies and meat.

I also folded the extra bacon on top of the whole thing just so that it wouldn't hang over the side of the pot as it cooked. I stuck the lid on the whole thing and set it in the fridge overnight to sit. ( I was supposed to bake it for 2 hours, then refrigerate it, but it was late at this point and I just wanted to get to bed!)  Day 3- done!

Day 4- I preheated the oven to 350 and threw the whole thing in.  I let it bake for 2 hours!  After about an hour and a half, the whole house had this nice smell of bacon and veggies.  It was actually pretty nice.  At last, I opened the oven and took out the cassoulet to find this:

It looked like a delicious soup.  I think a traditional cassoulet is supposed to be thicker, but I didn't use beans, so I was definitely not expecting it to look like a traditional cassoulet.  The whole thing smelled amazing!  I ladled a healthy amount into bowls and Curt and I chowed down.

The verdict?  I thought it was a pretty good meal.  I'm not sure that I would ever take the time to make it again, as it was a 4 day process.  It was really good, don't get me wrong... but the time it took wasn't worth it for me.  I'm glad that I made it, but I don't know that I would make it again.  It's probably not fair of me to judge a cassoulet, though, because this isn't what one was supposed to taste like.  Overall, however, I thought it was really good, but it would be best for a dinner with company or if you have a big family.  I had a HUGE pot of this and with only me and Curt, we were eating it for a few days haha. 


  1. WOW lovely photos and great you could change the ingredients to suit your needs and yes it makes a massive amount of food. Well done on this challenge.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  2. Love your Paleo take on the cassoulet. I never knew beans weren't good for us! I eat them so often, especially with tuna..yikes!

    In any event, your cassoulet looks fantastic - you created your own recipe, stew or soup!

    Thanks so much for taking part in our challenge!!

  3. Lisa - I never thought to mix tuna and beans! I do like beans, but yeah... along with grains, dairy, and sugar, beans and legumes aren't really good for us, so I avoid them :) Thanks for creating such a great challenge!