Every cassoulet cook has their own personal recipe. This is inspired by one from Danie Dubois, whose family farm in Peyrenègre, in the Dordogne, is renowned for its fine country cuisine!
For the confit:
4 pounds (2 kg) Boston butt, cut into 1 pound (500g) pieces
2 cups coarse grey or kosher salt
20 sprigs fresh thyme
5 fresh bay leaves (Laurus nobilis), or dried Turkish bay leaves
30 black, green, or white peppercorns
8 cups (2 liters) duck or goose fat, or lard
For the beans:
1 pound (500g) side pork, unsalted, diced
1-1/2 pounds (750g) chicken wings
2 large onions, diced
1-1/2 pounds (750g) ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (or 1 can organic tomatoes, Muir Brand preferable)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups fresh shell beans (5 cups dried beans such as haricots Tarbais or cannellini beans (www.purcellmountainfarms.com)
2 bay leaves
10 thyme sprigs
1 pound (500g) garlic sausage (kielbasa will do), cut in 2-inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
1. Two days before you plan to cook the cassoulet, line a non-reactive baking sheet with an even layer of the coarse grey salt. Put the Boston butt on the salt, and press it gently, so some of the salt adheres to the meat. Turn the meat and press gently again. Lift the meat and arrange half the thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns on the salt in the pan. Set the meat atop this, and arrange the remaining herbs and pepper atop the meat. Cover and refrigerate for 48 hours.
2. The morning of the day you plan to cook the cassoulet, rinse and pat dry the Boston butt. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
3. Put the Boston butt in large, oven-proof saucepan or kettle. Add enough fat to cover the meat, heat it on top of the stove until you small bubbles rise to the top, then put it in the oven and cook until the pork is tender, about 4 hours.
4. While the pork is cooking, put the side pork in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. When it begins to sizzle merrily, reduce the heat and cook until the side pork turns slightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken wings and cook, stirring and turning, until they are golden, about 8 minutes. Add the onions, stir, and cook until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes.
5. Add the tomatoes, stir, and season with salt and pepper.
6. If you are using fresh shell beans, add them to the tomatoes along with enough water to cover by 2-inches. Add the bay leaves, the thyme, and the peppercorns and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When the water is boiling, reduce the heat so it is simmering, and cook for 30 minutes, until the beans and the chicken are tender. If you are using dried beans, they need to blanch in boiling water, then sit for 1 hour, before being added to the tomatoes and onions. They will need at least twice the cooking time as the fresh shell beans.
7. When the pork is cooked, remove it from the oven. Remove the pork from the fat and add it to the beans, along with the kielbasa. Season the beans, and put them in the oven for 45 minutes to one hour. Check occasionally to be sure there is enough liquid, adding boiling water if necessary.
8. About 15 minutes before removing the cassoulet from the oven, mince the parsley and the garlic together, and stir it into the cassoulet.