A hearty dish originating in the Languedoc
Like many dishes that originated as peasant food, this is certainly hearty stuff. Every town in Languedoc—the region from which the dish supposedly originates—has its unique twist on cassoulet: a dish that could have been designed to fuel hours of hard physical toil, and perfect to reload for our next 180km on the bike.
750g haricot beans, soaked in cold water overnight
1 onion, peeled
2 large carrots
2 sticks celery
1 whole garlic bulb, unpeeled, plus 6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 small smoked ham hock, skin on
450g pork belly, diced into 2cm cubes
2 confit duck legs, fat reserved
4 Toulouse or garlic sausages
1 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
100g white panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp at leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Drain the beans well and put them in a large saucepan. Pour in just enough water to cover, then add the aromatics—onion, carrots, celery, the whole bulb of garlic, herbs—and ham hock. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for about 2 hours, until the ham is just tender but not falling apart.
Meanwhile, fry the diced pork belly, confit duck legs and the sausages separately in plenty of duck fat until crisp and golden. Allow to cool, then remove the meats from the fat and reserve. Cut the sausages into large chunks and strip the meat from the duck legs, trying to keep the pieces as large as possible.
Carefully remove the ham hock and garlic bulb from the casserole dish with a slotted spoon and put them onto a plate. When cool enough, tear the meat from the hock.
With a pestle and mortar, bash the 6 garlic cloves with a pinch of coarse sea salt until smooth. Squeeze the cooked garlic cloves from their skins and add to the mortar with 4 tbsp reserved duck fat, and mix together to form a paste. Finally, stir in the sun-dried tomato paste. Remove the remaining aromatics from the beans and discard.
Preheat the oven to 140C. Drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Spread the bottom of a large casserole dish with a little of the tomato and duck fat mix, then tip in the beans, the remaining tomato and duck fat and all the meat. Mix well, then ladle in enough of the reserved bean cooking liquor to just cover. Fry the breadcrumbs very briefly in 1 tbsp duck fat, then scatter half over the cassoulet in an even, thin layer. Reserve the rest for later.
Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven. Stir carefully, scraping the crust from the sides and top back into the cassoulet. Top with a final even layer of the breadcrumbs and return to the oven for 1 hour, at the end of which you will have a thick, golden crust. Leave to rest for 10 mins, drizzle with extra virgin oil, and sprinkle with parsley.
Serve with a well-dressed green salad and a glass of slightly chilled red, preferably from the Languedoc.
Recipe: Hayden Groves