Tony and Michael Ruhlman cook for Ruhlman's family. This great dish is quite simple to make, and it doesn't take much time - if you spread the work over three days, taking care of a few easy, fairly uninvolved small tasks per day.
You will also need to know how to make duck confit, a skill that will serve you well should you ever want to prepare it as an appetizer or use the meat as ravioli filling (very tasty). Let's begin with the confit and move on from there. As it will survive happily refrigerator for weeks, you can make it way in advance.
Ingredients for Duck Confit
4 duck legs
2 cups/450 g duck fat (see Suppliers)
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 garlic clove
Rub the duck legs fairly generously with sea salt, place in the shallow dish, cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight. At all times, keep your work area clean and your ingredients free of contamination - meaning don't allow any other food, like bread crumbs or scraps, to get into your duck, duck fat or confit, as they will make an otherwise nearly nonperishable preparation suddenly perishable.
Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Render (melt) the duck fat in the saucepan until clear. After seasoning with the black pepper (not too much), place the duck legs in the clean, ovenproof casserole. Nestle the thyme, rosemary and garlic in with it, and pour the duck fat over the legs to just cover. Cover the dish with foil and put in the oven. Cook for about an hour, or until the skin at the "ankle" of each leg pulls away from the "knuckle." The meat should be tender.
Allow to cool and then store as is in the refrigerator, sealed under the fat. When you need the confit, you can either warm the whole dish, in which case removing the legs will be easy, or dig them out of the cold fat and scrape off the excess. I highly recommend the former. A nice touch at this point is to twist out the thighbone from the cold confit. Just place one hand on the drumstick, pinioning the leg to the table, and with the other hand, twist out the thighbone, plucking it from the flesh without mangling the thigh meat. Think of someone you hate when you do it.
Ingredients for Cassoulet
5 cups/1100 g Tarbais beans (see Suppliers) or white beans
2 pounds/900 g fresh pork belly
1 onion, cut into 4 pieces
1 pound/450 g pork rind
1 bouquet garni (see Glossary)
salt and pepper
1/4 cup/56 g duck fat
6 pork sausages
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
4 confit duck legs
large bowl large pot
strainer or colander
large, ovenproof earthenware dish
Place the beans in the large bowl and cover with cold water so that there are at least 2 or 3 inches of water above the top of the beans. Soak overnight. That was hard, right?
Drain and rinse the beans and place in the large pot. Add the pork belly, the quartered onion, 1/4 pound/112 g of the pork rind, and the bouquet garni. Cover with water, add salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about an hour. Let cool for 20 minutes, then discard the onion and the bouquet garni. Remove the pork belly, cut it into 2-inch/5-cm squares, and set aside. (If you plan to wait another day before finishing the dish, wait to cut the pork belly until then.) Strain the beans and the rind and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid separately.
In the saute pan, heat all but 1 tablespoon/14 g of the duck fat over medium-high heat until it shimmers and becomes transparent. Carefully add the sausages and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside, draining on paper towels. In the same pan, over medium-high heat, brown the sliced onions, the garlic and the reserved squares of pork rind from the beans (not the unused pork rind; you'll need that later). Once browned, remove from the heat and transfer to the blender. Add 1 tablespoon/14 g of the remaining duck fat and puree until smooth. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 35F/180C. Place the uncooked pork rind in the bottom of a deep ovenproof earthenware dish. You're looking to line the inside, almost like a pie crust. Arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers, beginning with a layer of beans, then sausages, then more beans, then pork belly, beans, duck confit and finally more beans, adding a dab of the onion and pork rind puree between each layer. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving 1 cup/225 ml in the refrigerator for later use. Cook the cassoulet in the oven for 1 hour, then reduce the heat to 250F/130C and cook for another hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C again.
Cook the cassoulet for an hour. Break the crust on the top with the spoon and add 1/4 cup/56 ml of the reserved cooking liquid. (Don't get fancy. Just pile, dab, stack and pile. It doesn't have to be pretty.) Reduce the heat to 250F/130C and continue cooking another 15 minutes, or until screamingly hot through and through. Then serve.