To build your cassoulet…
- Add the beans to a casserole dish. You may not want to add all the bean liquid. Start with adding just the beans. Nestle your proteins in the beans (read on for more details about that) and then you can add just enough bean liquid so that
- Cut the bacon into lardons (pieces about the size of your pinky finger) and cook them in a heavy bottomed pan, rendering some fat off of them and getting some color and crispness. Drain on paper towel and add to beans.
- You can leave the duck legs whole or separate the leg from the thigh of the duck confit to make 2 portions out of each leg if you like. Brown the duck skin side down in a hot cast iron or nonstick pan in a little duck fat, then add it (skin side up) to the beans. You could also pull duck meat from bones, shred it a bit and discard bones and cartilage. If you do this, remove skin from legs, trying to keep it as intact as possible and brown the skin in the same pan you cooked the bacon.
- Prick the sausage a few times with a fork and brown it in the same pan you used for the duck, then cut each link into 2 or 3 pieces and nestle it into the beans as well.
- For the breadcrumb topping you can use fresh breadcrumbs or panko. If using fresh breadcrumbs, pour out most of the fat from the pan you browned all the meat in (into a container not the garbage- in case you need more) then add the fresh breadcrumbs and cook, stirring often, until golden in spots and starting to crisp, about 5 minutes. If breadcrumbs seem very dry or are sticking to the pot, add a bit more of the reserved fat. Transfer breadcrumbs to a medium bowl and let cool slightly. Add parsley and toss to combine. If using panko or dried breadcrumbs, mix about 1/2 cup breadcrumbs with a little butter, olive oil or fat from the pan and some chopped parsley.
- Before you top the cassoulet with the breadcrumbs, make sure you have the right amount of bean broth. The liquid should come just to the top of the beans, but they shouldn’t be swimming in liquid. Add reserved bean cooking liquid if needed. Then sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the casserole, blanketing the beans with a thick layer of crumb.
- Set the casserole dish (uncovered) on a sheet tray to catch any drippings and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until hot through and the crumbs form a golden crust.
- After 20 minutes or a crust has formed, remove it from the oven and use a spoon to press the crust down gently to absorb a little liquid. If the cassoulet starts to look dry, moisten with a bit of reserved bean cooking liquid. Return it to the oven for another 20 minutes or so and bake until another crust forms. You can continue to cook it until the casserole is thick and the crust is serious. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.