The Musette: Cassoulet

Last week’s recipe would have fed four hungry cyclists, but I only had two to feed. So, what to do with the leftovers? I made that French classic cassoulet. Now, there are a million and one recipes for this dish  – named after its cooking vessel – but my version leans towards the one from Toulouse which uses cold roast shoulder of lamb. In essence, the dish mixes cold roast meats and sausages with tomatoey cannellini or haricot beans and is topped with breadcrumbs.

I have assumed that, like me, you’ve leftovers from last week’s recipe but if not see my handy hints section at the end for alternatives.

Ingredients (serves eight cyclists)

  • 500g (approx 1lb) of cold cooked shoulder of lamb
  • 500g (approx 1lb) of tomatoey cannellini or haricot beans
  • 500g (approx 1lb) of Toulouse sausage, or any other coarse-cut pure pork sausage
  • Tin containing four confit duck legs (or see handy hints section on how to confit duck legs)
  • 225g (8oz) home-made fresh breadcrumbs reduced to rubble, rather than fine dust (Do NOT use ones from a packet)
  • A large handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Additional ingredients

Additional ingredients


1. Remove the confit duck legs from the tin scraping off as much as possible of the duck fat – save for roast potatoes. Brown the legs on a trivet in a roasting tray in a hot pre-heated oven at 220ºC/200ºC fan/gas mark 7 (425ºF/390ºF fan) for 20 minutes. Allow to cool before stripping meat from the bones. The skin is delicious but fatty, so I strip that off too but, to be honest, it does taste better if you leave it on the meat.

2. Meanwhile boil the sausages in some hot water to eliminate any excess fat for around 10 minutes and then place them in the oven with the duck legs, also for around 20 minutes. Leave to cool and cut into bite-sized chunks.

Confit duck and Toulouse sausage nicely browned and now cooling

Confit duck and Toulouse sausage nicely browned and now cooling

3. Shred the cold lamb and add with the cold duck meat and sausage to the cold bean mixture. Stir carefully to evenly distribute the meats throughout. If, horror of horrors, you find you don’t have enough bean mixture, don’t panic, just add an extra can of beans (drained and rinsed) and another tin of diced tomatoes. Pile the mixture either into one large or a number of casserole dishes.

Ready to pop into the oven, enough for three cyclists

Ready to pop into the oven, enough for three cyclists

4. Sprinkle the breadcrumb and chopped parsley mixture on top. You can add a little of the duck fat to the breadcrumbs if you dare, then put the casserole dish(es) into the slow oven at 150ºC/130ºC fan/gas mark 2 (300ºF/270ºF fan) for an hour or so to turn golden brown on top. Serve with a crisp green salad, baguette and, maybe, a glass of red wine.

Dinner is served..........

Dinner is served …

5. I find this makes enough for eight servings. So I have two sets of three servings wrapped in cling-film in the freezer to feed any unexpected visitors.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you don’t have any cold lamb leftovers, you can substitute cold roast pork or even ham. Just remember to cut off any excess fat.

2. You can of course prepare the beans from scratch. I often do this in bulk as follows:

  • 900g (2lb) haricot or cannellini beans soaked overnight in plenty of cold water and then drained
  • 450g (1lb) salt pork (as pictured above in additional ingredients) or even pigs’ trotters!
  • 3 small onions peeled, each stuck with a clove
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 3 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • The white of one fat leek, roughly chopped
  • 1 bouquet garni of fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaf and rosemary) or 1 dried bouquet, plus a handful of fresh parsley stalks

Put the pre-soaked beans into a large saucepan with just enough water to cover, bring to the boil, cover with a lid, remove from the heat and leave for 40 minutes or so. This helps make them much more digestible. Drain the beans, cover them again with the same amount of cold water. Meanwhile bring the salt pork or trotters to the boil in plenty of water and drain immediately. Add these to the beans along with the other ingredients. Bring to the boil, skim, then cover and cook for two hours.

When cool, remove and discard the vegetables and the bouquet garni. Take out the salt pork or the trotters, allow to cool, cut into bite-sized chunks and (see above) add to the other meats. Drain the beans and take out half of them. To the remainder add 2 x 400g (2 x 14oz) tins of chopped tomatoes and 1 tbsp of tomato paste, heat gently through for 30 minutes and allow to cool.

3. The beans in a true cassoulet are not too tomatoey, so feel free to reduce the quantity of tomatoes and eliminate the paste entirely if you prefer.

4. If you don’t have tinned confit duck you could substitute roast duck legs or again you can prepare them from scratch, as follows:

  • 4 duck legs
  • 500g (1lb) of sea salt
  • Pepper
  • 225g (8oz) duck or goose fat
  • 1 clove of garlic (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • Sprig of fresh thyme (optional)
  • 250ml (1 cup) of white wine

Shake a layer of salt onto a plate, pepper the duck legs then place them on the layer of salt with the garlic and herbs. Cover with the rest of the salt, cover the plate with clingfilm (plastic wrap) and refrigerate for 36 hours. Remove the duck from the salt mixture, brush off any excess and place them in a casserole dish with the duck or goose fat, the glass of white wine and one of water. Cover with a layer of crumpled, damp greaseproof paper and a lid. Cook gently in a slow oven at 150ºC/130ºC fan/gas mark 2 (300ºF/250ºF fan) for three hours. Take out of the oven and leave to cool in the fat.

5. Feel free to play around with the proportions and mix of meats to beans to make the dish go further.

6. If the cassoulet looks as if it’s drying out, you can add a little water, add a second crust and return to the oven to brown. It won’t spoil – trust me.

(All photographs courtesy of chief in-house taster and photographer Richard Whatley.)

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