After a morning of hunting ducks and coot in New Orleans, I arrived back at camp with visions of cassoulet, a stew of beans and meat; sometimes pork, sometimes goose, or mutton or whatever else they please in Southern France where the dish originates. It is hearty and traditionally cooked in a cassole, a deep earthenware pot with slanted sides, and just the sort of dish I wanted to include it in my new book “Girl Hunter.” So I took all of the big gizzards of the coot and their muscular legs, and the tiny legs of the teal, and with some salt, star anise, orange peel and a good dose of duck fat, I turned them into a confit which I then turned into the cassoulet.
Duck confit is simple to make at home, and is a perfect way to store meat when you don't have time to cook it, and you just can't fit another thing in your freezer. All that it requires is salt and duck fat. In fact, if you get into the habit of freezing duck skins, you can easily render duck fat yourself, which is quite a bit cheaper than buying it in the store. Another option, if you don’t want to use a confit, is to use finely minced or shredded meat.
But once I had a pile of confit meat the day after my New Orleans duck hunt, I combined it with some caramelized pearl onions, some homemade bacon, white beans, rosemary and other aromatic bits and finished it all with some breadcrumbs.
The result was quite lovely. It was a baked stew of sorts, in the French style, and makes use of all of the duck parts—slightly set; warm, chewy, soft and a bit custardy.
My favorite thing about this dish is that the meal is cooked and served in the same skillet. It is a perfect antidote to dirty dishes, and a hearty one-pot meal that is perfect for colder months. This recipe suggests duck leg confit, but the gizzards, hearts and other offal can be confited and used here as well. It is a great way to use up those extra scraps of meat that linger in your freezer, or the parts that many people tend to throw away.
And of course if you don’t have duck handy, goose, lamb, pork or wild hog will also work well in this recipe. One last tip: Be sure not to add much if any salt to this recipe, since the confit already has plenty of salt from the cure.
"Duck Cassoulet” Serves 6-8
*Note: This dish can be cooked in a casserole or other pan that can be transferred to stove. Using a skillet works best because the flavors don’t have to be transferred, and the whole thing can be served table side.
1 cup shallots, diced 1 ½ cups white cannellini beans, cooked (one 15 ounce can) 2 heaping cups kale, cut into bite size pieces ½ cup bacon, diced 3 cups duck confit, leg and skin pulled from bone 1 head garlic 2 cups cippolini or pearl onions 4 cups bird stock, duck stock or vegetable stock 2 cups Panko bread crumbs, or other plain bread crumbs 1 teaspoon rosemary, picked and finely chopped 6 tablespoons olive oil ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1. Place the head of garlic in tin foil and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Close the tin foil and place in the oven. Cook until the cloves are soft, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and squeeze the cloves out of the garlic skin. Mash it with a spoon on a cutting board and set aside.
2. In a skillet or ovenproof pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and brown the cippolini onions on one side, about 3 minutes. Season them with salt and pepper, flip them over and place the pan in the oven. Cook until brown and tender, about 30 minutes, tossing frequently, and remove from the oven. If using cippolinis, cut them into quarters, if using pearl onions, leave them whole, and set aside.
3. In a 10-inch skillet, render the bacon on medium-low heat until just crispy. (A smaller skillet will not be large enough to hold the entire contents of the recipe.)
4. Add the shallots and sweat.
5. Add the kale and wilt.
6. Add stock and simmer for 10 minutes.
7. Add garlic puree, beans and cippolinis and simmer for 15 minutes.
8. Add duck meat and simmer for half an hour.
9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
10. In a separate sauté pan add 4 tablespoons olive oil. Brown the bread crumbs, stirring constantly. Add rosemary and red pepper flakes. Remove the bread crumbs from the heat and continue to stir for a few minutes until the pan cools down.
11. Garnish the cassoulet with the bread crumbs and place the whole thing in the oven for 10 minutes.
12. Serve immediately in the skillet, table side.
Tip for onions: soak them in a bowl of warm water. When you’re ready to peel, use a small knife and cut a slit down the side, then peel the skin back around the onion in one layer.