Simple Art of Cooking: A Comforting Long Island Cassoulet

Credit: ignis/Wikimedia Commons

We have our very own “French Chef” right here on the East End of Long Island. Joan Turturro, with her husband Howard LeShaw, are the proprietors of the Orient Inn, in Orient.

I met Joan at a Slow Food Snail dinner where I had the pleasure of tasting her divine duck cassoulet, and those of you who know me know that duck, in any shape or form, is one of my favorite foods. The gently cooked beans marry with layers of crisp nuggets of duck breast confit, sausage, lardons and topping of pancetta and homemade breadcrumbs. No doubt cassoulet is a major cooking challenge but for those who can’t resist, it can be prepared in stages. The concept of cassoulet is that it’s made with almost any meat and bean of your choice. Traditionally, before refrigeration was available, families put up ingredients in stages; they also kept root cellars and dried food for storage.

The dish can be prepared with a multitude of different ingredients such as poultry cooked and secured in its fat, dried beans and mushrooms, and all sorts of cured meats.

Chef Joan, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, prepares all the food at the Inn. Visitors to the Orient Inn should be sure not to miss breakfast, and Chef Joan is happy to prepare full dinners for guests with advance notice. Very few Inns can boast a live-in French chef and all that this Inn has to offer.

This comforting, cold weather bean stew with crisp nuggets of duck confit is manna of the gods! This challenging recipe can be prepared in stages

Serves 6 to 8

1 16-ounce package great northern beans
2 Crescent Farm duck breasts confit
12 sprigs fresh thyme sprigs, divided
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large head garlic, peeled and cloves left whole
1 medium onion, diced
1/3 pound slab bacon, diced
1 bay leaf
1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
1 quart cold water, more as needed
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
6 slices pancetta cut 1/4-inch thick
1 cups toasted breadcrumbs, preferably homemade
Herb dried sausage cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped flat leaf Italian parsley

1. Pick over beans, place in a bowl with cold water to cover well and soak overnight.

2. With a fork, take running stiches into the fat of the duck breasts or poke holes into the skin without going through the meat. Salt breasts on both sides and sprinkle with fresh thyme from 4 sprigs and refrigerate covered overnight.

3. Place olive oil in a small saucepan with the garlic cloves. Cook over low heat very slowly until the garlic becomes pale golden, about 8 minutes, (do not allow garlic to burn). Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Place 3 tablespoons reserved garlic olive oili a large saucepan to cook the beans. Place over medium heat and add chopped onions. Sauté onions stirring until translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the diced slab bacon and sauté with onions for 4 to 5 minutes. Tie remaining 8 sprigs thyme and bay leaf with kitchen string and add to the pan along with the previously cooked garlic. Add the drained beans, stock and equal amount of cold water or more to cover the beans by a couple of inches. Cover and cook beans about 2 hours or until barely tender. As beans rise to the surface, check doneness. A layer of fit will rise to the surface of the beans, scoop out and discard.

5. To confit the duck breasts, place in a cold non-stick skillet, skin side down over barest heat and let cook to render all its fat, about 45 minutes to an hour. Meat may still be reddish but will finish cooking at a later stage with the beans. Place duck breasts covered with duck fat in a shallow dish where fat will cover. If there’s not enough duck fat (duck fat can also be purchased) add olive oil to cover. Refrigerate, until ready to finish the cassoulet.

6. On day of serving cassoulet, sauté pancetta in 1 tablespoon reserved garlic olive oil until pieces are crispy. With a rubber spatula scrape the pancetta and pan drippings to the breadcrumbs and stir to mix thoroughly. Preheat oven to 375°F.

7. When ready to serve, remove duck breasts from the fat that accumulated and wipe off any excess fat with paper towel. (Reserve duck fat, which is highly prized for preparing potatoes and duck confit.) Cut the breasts into 1/2-inch dice and add to the beans, along with the sausage pieces and any leftover garlic oil, in an oven going casserole and fold into beans. Cover and cook beans for 1 3/4 to 2 hours, or until barely tender. Place a layer of the pancetta/breadcrumb mixture over the top of the beans, sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and serve.

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