Teach your children: Cassoulet

I’ve been waiting to use this song for eight years now. 


Getty Images

Sorry all you children out there, but I think a reality TV show that features “Junior Chefs” much less “Master Junior Chefs” is ludicrous. I have no problem with a tyke standing on a kitchen chair next to Mom, face adorably smudged with flour, stirring the cookie dough on the first beat, and sharing the spoon with the dog on the next. But “Master?” “Junior?” “Chefs?”? I couldn’t watch a precocious ten-year old discuss her “specialty” or a listen to a self-assured pre-teen talk about how he deconstructed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.


Getty Images

Now that you mention it, I have a problem with the off-hand way “Chef” is tossed around. In my world, a Chef earned his title by: surviving a long, grueling apprenticeship in a formal kitchen; or starting as a $10/hour line cook in a well-known restaurant, learning each station in the kitchen from prep slave, line cook, to sous chef, then becoming Boss; or by paying the CIA $120,000, then starting as a $10/hour line cook in a well-known restaurant, learning each station in the kitchen from prep slave, line cook, to sous chef, then becoming Boss.

In formal, hierarchical kitchens, cooks who are responsible for a station (grill, sauté, rotisserie, vegetable, or pastry) are referred to as “chef” but as everyone knows, there is only one “Chef. ” I was never a (capital C) Chef—I was a sauté chef, a grill chef, a sous chef, a kitchen manager, but never a Chef. I was a journeyman, blue-collar cook who showed up on time every day with sharp knives and clear eyes, ready to do battle. I never had the luxury or the prestige to cook my “specialty”, I was paid to cook anything on demand, with consistent quality, and maximum speed.

I think it’s a great idea to teach children how to feed themselves and others. But I would no more expect them to perform in a professional cooking environment than I would expect them to change out a breaker box, install a toilet, or use a table saw. How many children have you seen on This Old House, Rehab Addict, or Property Brothers? Children in competition using hot surfaces, boiling water, sharp knives, heavy pots? Not adorable. 

If you can make this one, Master Junior Chefs, maybe I’ll watch.

Cassoulet, Anthony Bourdain 

  • 4 duck legs sea salt
  • 2 cups/450 g duck fat
  • black pepper
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, 1 garlic clove

Equipment: shallow dish, plastic wrap, saucepan, ovenproof casserole, foil.

Day One: Rub the duck legs 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.

Day Two: Preheat the oven to 375oF/190oC. 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 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.


  • 5 cups/1100 g Tarbais beans 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
  • 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 (which you already have, non?)

Equipment: large bowl large pot strainer or colander sauté pan paper towels, blender, large, ovenproof earthenware dish measuring cup kitchen spoon

Day One: 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?

Day Two: 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 sauté 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 of the remaining duck fat and purée until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350oF/180oC. 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 purée between each layer. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to 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 250oF/130oC and cook for another hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight.
Day Three: Preheat the oven to 350oF/180oC 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 250oF/130oC and continue cooking another 15 minutes, or until screamingly hot through and through. Then serve.

This entry was posted in Chefs, Recipes. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.