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Recipe of the week: A classic cassoulet that can be finished in fewer hours

A more streamlined approach to making France's famous pork-and-bean casserole cuts the time from three days to little more than an afternoon. 

In France, making the pork-and-bean casserole known as cassoulet traditionally “is a three-day production,” said J. Kenji Lopez-Alt in Cook’s Illustrated. We wondered if a more streamlined approach could make it “an afternoon’s work.” After many experiments in our test kitchen, we very nearly succeeded.

Recipe of the week
Cassoulet With Duck Confit

For stew:
Table salt
1 lb dried cannellini beans, rinsed
2 medium celery ribs
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs thyme
1 lb fresh garlic sausage
¼ lb salt pork, rinsed of excess salt
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large onion, chopped fine (1½ cups)
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice (1 cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (4 tsp)
1 tbsp tomato paste
½ cup dry white wine
1 (14.5-oz) can diced tomatoes
1 qt low-sodium chicken broth
Ground black pepper
4 slices sandwich bread, torn to pieces
½ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

For confit:
¼ cup table salt
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
6 medium garlic cloves
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
12 parsley stems, with leaves attached
2 bay leaves
6 duck legs
4 cups duck fat

For confit: Process salt, onion, garlic, peppercorns, parsley, and bay leaves in food processor until smooth paste with some small chunks forms, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl’s side as necessary. Massage duck legs with salt mixture and place in gallon-sized zipper-lock bag. Press out air, seal, and refrigerate 12 to 18 hours.

For stew: Dissolve 2 tbsp salt in 3 quarts cold water in large bowl. Add beans; soak overnight. Drain; rinse well. Adjust oven rack to lower­ middle position; heat to 300 degrees. Rinse duck under cold water; rub off salt mixture; dry. Heat duck fat in large saucepan over medium heat until transparent. Submerge duck legs. Transfer to oven; cook until meat offers no resistance when poked with fork, 3–4 hours.

Meanwhile, use kitchen twine to tie celery, bay leaf, thyme; set aside. Place sausage and salt pork in medium saucepan; cover with cold water by 1 inch; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce to simmer; cook 5 minutes. Transfer sausages to cutting board; let cool; cut into 1-inch pieces. Remove salt pork from water; set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in 8-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown sausage pieces. Transfer to medium bowl. Brown pork shoulder 8 to 12 minutes. Add onion and carrots; cook, stirring constantly, until onion is translucent, 2 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Return sausage to Dutch oven; add white wine; scrape browned bits from pan bottom. Cook until slightly reduced, 30 seconds. Stir in diced tomatoes, celery bundle, reserved salt pork.

Stir in broth and beans; cover exposed beans with water. Bring to simmer. Cover pot; transfer to oven; cook until beans are tender, about 1½ hours. Remove confit and stew from oven; increase temperature to 350 degrees.

Transfer duck legs to large plate; cool slightly. Remove skin; discard. Remove meat from bones, leaving meat in large pieces; discard bones. Remove celery bundle and salt pork from bean stew; discard. Skim fat from surface of stew; discard. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Add duck meat; stir gently to combine. Bake, uncovered, 20 minutes.

Pulse bread and remaining 2 tbsp oil in food processor, eight 1-second pulses. Transfer to medium bowl; add parsley; toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle ½ cup bread crumb mixture evenly over casserole; bake, covered, 15 minutes. Remove lid; bake 15 minutes longer. Sprinkle remaining mixture over top of casserole; bake until topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes before serving. Serves 8 to 10.

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