published Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Courters' Kitchen: Cassoulet lends itself to variations

This classic French cassoulet includes beans, duck, tenderloin, bacon, seasonings and bread crumbs.
This classic French cassoulet includes beans, duck, tenderloin, bacon, seasonings and bread crumbs.
Photo by Alyson Wright.
COURTERS' KITCHEN

This monthly cooking series features husband and wife team Barry and Kelley Courter.

KELLEY SAYS: Two things led me to creating this dish. First, a co-worker was excitedly talking about his return to his French home and family, and secondly, we had quite a few leftovers in the fridge from multiple family gatherings over the holidays.

A third influence was the cold weather. I wanted to make something hearty, and this certainly fits that bill.

I must say that this dish tested me in all kinds of ways. I felt like I was cramming for a final exam. I checked every cookbook I own and multiple websites. I actually found a good deal of inspiration and information from a YouTube video that I stumbled across in the wee hours of the morning prior to making the dish.

You will find below a recipe, but it truly is only a starting point. Because we used so many leftovers and because the dish can be made several ways, it really depends on what you have available and what your preferences might be. I was concerned about finding the duck confit, but Whole Foods has it.

BARRY: I must admit that, when Kelley first mentioned doing this dish, she said she was having trouble finding duck feet, or that's the way I heard it. It's pronounced KON-fee, but I heard duck con feet. I told her I was certain Tom Eberle, who has all manner of animal trophies mounted on the wall at Quality Tire, probably had some in the employee refrigerator there. I'm always helpful like that.

What a powerhouse of a dish this is. It is rich, hearty and full of flavor and was great right out of the skillet and just as good or better the next day. It's like a combination stew, casserole and big pot of beans, only way more complex and satisfying. It took Kelley pretty much all day, and you could taste the time and effort.

KELLEY: It really is delicious, and I can't stress enough how adaptable it is. The key is you must use dry beans and not canned ones. They hold together better.

What else you put in the dish really depends on what you have on hand and what you prefer. It could be tailored to a more Italian dish or a Cajun one, for example. I think the next time I make it will be with Italian sausage and kale.

Cassoulet

1 package dry cannellini beans. (Follow directions for pre-soaking overnight.)

BOUQUET GIARNI

1 stick celery

2 bay leaves

4 sprigs fresh thyme

4 sprigs fresh parsley

1 small onion

Wrap items in cheesecloth.

Cook one piece bacon in large pot to render fat. Add beans and two large containers of chicken broth. Add additional water to have about four inches above beans. Add bouquet giarni and bring to a boil. Cook about 11/2 hours. Turn off heat and let sit.

SAUCE

4 slices bacon cooked and minced

4 links toulouse sausage, sliced

2 duck confit, pre-prepared

1 large carrot chopped

1 large onion chopped

2 stalks celery chopped

5 large cloves garlic chopped

2 1/2 cups beef broth

1 cup dry white wine

4 bay leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme

3/4 28-ounce can of tomatoes seeded and torn

1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper

In a skillet, cook bacon till crisp. Remove and set aside. Add duck confit and brown till crisp. Remove. Add sliced sausages and brown. Remove and set aside. Remove all but two tablespoons of grease from pan. Add carrots, onions, celery and garlic. Sauté until limp. Add beef broth and wine along with herbs. Reduce for 15 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, pepper and reserved cooked sausages. Simmer one hour.

ASSEMBLY

Take cooked bacon and sprinkle on bottom of pan. I had on hand pork tenderloin, which I sliced and combined with the duck (removed from bone). Combine and drain beans and sauce mixture. Layer on bottom of pan. Then add layer of meats and final layer of beans. Pour enough bean liquid to cover. Place in 350-degree oven and bake for two hours.

TOPPING

1 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Add topping mixture to casserole and pat down with back of spoon. Return pan to oven until browned, about 20 minutes. Remove and enjoy with French bread, a light salad and a nice red wine.

Makes about 12 servings.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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