I never had a cassoulet in France. It’s the garlic thing again. But I have always wanted to try to make it. And New Year’s Eve 2018 was the moment. Susan (Provence WineZine) and Towny were here for a week of visiting, relaxing, eating, and – bien sûr – wine tasting. What better time to have this culinary adventure?

I was skeptical that I could pull together a cassoulet without the traditional sausages, or the right beans. But John and Nicole Bojanowski, owners of Le Clos du Gravillas in Languedoc-Roussillon, assured me over coffee one day, at the University of Arizona (where their son is a freshman), that I could do it with locally-sourced ingredients, and without garlic. I got my duck confit at Top Knot Farms, and my pork sausages (seasoned only with salt and pepper) and pork belly from the Forbes Meat Company.

John and Nicole sent me the recipe they use; it is from Tour de Table en Languedoc-Roussillon. By combining it with a few other recipes (to adapt to what is available in Tucson), I came up with the following recipe. As I was making it, the skepticism returned. Half-made, the pot looked like dirty dishwater with chunks of meat in it. How on earth would it ever turn into a cassoulet?

But it did. And, by George, it was fabulous. We paired it with a bottle of John and Nicole’s Lo Vièlh Carignan. Naturally, that was the perfect pairing for this dish - head over to the Provence WineZine to read more about it.

Bonne année à tous! We got a dusting of snow this New Year's Day... rare for us, and quite beautiful in the desert setting!

~ David


14 ounces dried cannellini beans
1 pound pork belly with the rind, in one piece
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 fresh pork sausages
homemade unsalted chicken stock **
bouquet garnis of thyme and bay leaves
4 confit of duck legs
rendered duck fat
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh bread crumbs

The day before serving, place dried beans in a bowl and cover with three inches of cool water. Cover the bowl and soak the beans overnight.

Next day, trim the rind – couenne, en français – off the pork belly in one or two pieces. If your pork belly was already trimmed, ask the butcher for an additional rind – about 2 inches by 9 inches. (In the American Southwest, this is the part that is deep fried to make chicharones.) You will need 3 1/2 ounces of pork rind; freeze any remaining for a future cassoulet. Cut trimmed pork belly into 2-inch chunks and set aside.

Drain the beans and place them in a large soup pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, skimming the foam as it surfaces. Drain.

Wipe out the soup pot, return the drained beans, and cover with chicken stock. If you don’t have enough stock to cover, use water to make up the difference. Add the bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Add the carrot, onion, and pork rind. Simmer for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon duck fat in a large skillet. Brown the sausages on all sides. Set aside. Using the same fat, brown the pork belly pieces. Set aside.

After the beans have been simmering for an hour, season with salt and pepper. Cut the browned sausages into 3-inch lengths and add to the pot along with the browned pork belly and the confit of duck legs. Add two generous tablespoons of duck fat. Add more stock as needed to keep it from getting too dry. Cook uncovered one hour longer. 

Preheat oven to 275°F. Transfer the mixture to a «cassole» or a Dutch oven, sprinkle generously with breadcrumbs, and bake uncovered for 90 minutes.

Serve hot at the table.

Serves 4-6.

** it is important to use unsalted stock when cooking the beans; salting the beans before or while they cook will make them tough. We made stock using a roast chicken carcass, onion, and carrot. You can also simply use water instead of stock.

- You definitely need well-made sausages. Don't use standard store-bought ones - they contain too much gristle. Find a butcher near you who makes them and get the simplest available.
- I used pork belly, but many recipes called for pork shoulder, too. I might use a bit of both next time.
- Some recipes had no duck at all. I liked the confit - it added to the texture and flavor.

- Per Nicole's recommendation, do not skimp on the duck fat - it sounds like it will make it heaver but it doesn't. This is one area where I wasn't skeptical!

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