Serves 6 – 8
You can make this to serve on National Cassoulet Day Monday January 9, 2017, if you start soaking the beans Saturday night. If you forget, don’t worry – on Sunday you can cover the beans in a pot with two inches of cold water and add a tablespoon of salt. Bring the pot to a rolling boil and boil for 1 minute. Then turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let it sit for 1 hour. Drain and proceed to the bean-cooking step. I like to use a slow cooker to cook the beans, but you can also do it in a large pot on the stove if you prefer. Then on Monday, brown the various meats, and combine everything in a roasting pan and bake for 30 minutes before serving.
1 pound dried cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed
1 pound boneless pork shoulder, big pieces of fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 duck leg and thigh (optional, but easier to find in grocery stores these days)
1 ham hock
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
6 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
6-8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
12 ounces Italian-style sausage, cut in 12 pieces
12 ounces smoked Kielbasa-style sausage, cut in 12 pieces
6-8 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
Soaking the beans: Put the rinsed beans in a large pot or the crock of the slow cooker. Add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches, and let sit overnight or for 8 hours.
Cooking the beans: Drain the beans and put them in the crock of the slow cooker. Stir in the pieces of pork shoulder. Nestle the ham hock, duck leg, and the onion and garlic halves in the beans and pork. Add enough broth to cover the beans by 2 inches (it’s OK if the duck leg, ham hock, and vegetables stick out of the liquid). Add some cold water if 8 cups of broth aren’t enough to cover. Sprinkle on ½ teaspoon of salt and some ground pepper.
Cover the crock and cook on low for 4 hours. The beans should be tender – if not, cook for another hour on low. Remove the onion halves, the duck leg, and the ham hock. Drain the beans, pork, and garlic, reserving the liquid. Shred the meat from the duck leg and ham hock, then add those to the beans and pork shoulder. Refrigerate the beans and meat separately from the liquid.
Cooking the meat and assembling the cassoulet: The day you plan to serve the cassoulet, take the bean mixture and the liquid out of the fridge. In a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and brown the sausages. Transfer the browned sausages to a bowl or plate. Sprinkle the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, then brown them well, starting skin-side down.
While the meats are browning, skim the fat from the surface of the liquid and discard. Pour the liquid into a large saucepan and bring it to the simmer. Put the beans and meat in a microwave-safe container (if they aren’t already) and heat them up to warm. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Pour the fat out from the skillet, then deglaze the skillet with a half cup of the stock liquid. Add the deglazing liquid back into the rest of the stock. Spread out the bean and meat mixture in a metal roasting pan or large ceramic baking dish with high sides. Push all the pieces of sausage down into the beans, then the chicken thighs skin-side up. Carefully pour the hot liquid into the pan to just about cover the beans – but you want to make sure the chicken skin stays dry. Bake for 30 minutes, checking after 20 minutes to make sure there’s still a little liquid in the pan: when you shake the roasting pan you should see things move a little. If they don’t move, add some more liquid. After 30 minutes, you should see what looks like a skin forming over the beans – this is fine (and, in fact, just what you’re looking for). You can cook it for up to 10 more minutes if it doesn’t seem hot enough.
Let the cassoulet cool for 5 minutes, then serve.