The perfect cassoulet
800g haricot beans, soaked in cold water overnight
1 onion, peeled
1 head of garlic, unpeeled, plus 4 cloves
2 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 small, unsmoked ham hock, skin on
2 confit duck legs and their fat
500g pork belly or lamb breast, cubed
4 garlicky Toulouse sausages
1 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
2 tbps walnut oil
Drain the beans well and put them in a large, ovenproof casserole dish. Pour in water until it comes about 3cm above the top of the beans, then add the onion, whole head of garlic, herbs and ham hock. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for about two hours, until just tender, but not falling apart.
Meanwhile, fry the duck, pork belly or lamb breast, and sausages separately in plenty of duck fat until crisp and golden. When cool, cut the sausages into large chunks and strip the meat from the duck in large pieces.
Remove the onion and herbs from the beans and discard. Remove the ham hock and, when cool enough, strip the meat from it. Squeeze the garlic cloves from their skins and mash to a paste with four tablespoons of duck fat and the fresh garlic cloves. Stir in the sun-dried tomato paste. Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/gas mark one.
Drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Grease the bottom of the casserole with a little of the duck fat mix, then tip in the beans, the rest of the duck fat and the pieces of meat, keeping back half the sausage. Mix well, then top with just enough liquid to cover – you probably won’t need to add any seasoning, as both the ham and the confit will be quite salty.
Fry the breadcrumbs very briefly in one tablespoon of duck fat, then top the cassoulet with a thin layer of them. Bake for about two hours, keeping an eye on it – once a crust has formed, stir this back into the cassoulet, and top with some more of the breadcrumbs. By the end of the cooking time, you should have a thick, golden crust.
Drizzle with a little walnut oil, and leave to cool slightly before serving with a sharply dressed green salad.