With cooler temperatures upon us, you may find yourself craving a little comfort food. Why not make this mouth-watering, soul-satisfying riff on a French classic that I like to call Not Your Grand-mère’s Cassoulet? With tender, aromatic lentils, luxurious duck confit, crispy-fried shallots, and a pool of sweet balsamic nectar, you won’t believe you pulled this restaurant-quality meal together in about an hour.
Although there are several components to this dish, each one is very simple to prepare. The balsamic reduction and crispy shallots can be cooked while the lentils are simmering on the back of the stove. If you’ve never used duck confit as an ingredient before, don’t be intimated by it. It comes pre-packaged, frozen and fully cooked. All you need to do is reheat it. Think of it as a kitchen shortcut, similar to using rotisserie chicken in a recipe.
Not Your Grand-mère’s Cassoulet
Serves 2 (easily doubles to serve 4)
- ½ cup French lentils, rinsed and drained
- ½ cup pancetta (65 g), diced
- 1 tsp Canola oil
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ cup celery, finely diced
- ¼ cup carrot, finely diced
- ¼ cup leeks (white section only), washed well then finely diced
- 1 ½ cups no-salt-added or low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 star anise
- 2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- salt to taste (depending on how much sodium was in the chicken broth; for a no salt added broth, add about ½ tsp)
In a medium-sized pot with a lid, heat the Canola oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from pan. Add carrot, celery and leeks, and sauté until tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, rosemary and lentils, and sauté just until fragrant, stirring often, about 1 minute. Return the pancetta to the pot. Add chicken broth, bay life and star anise. Bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat and cover pot with a lid. Simmer gently until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes. Check on the lentils occasionally to make sure they stay at a steady simmer. Once they are tender, remove from heat. Discard bay leaf and star anise. Add balsamic vinegar and salt to taste. Keep warm.
While the lentils are simmering, start the balsamic reduction. (You can also make the balsamic reduction up to a week ahead of time, keep it in the refrigerator, and then gently reheat it just before serving.)
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup honey
Combine honey and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Continue to boil until liquid reduces by half. Watch that it doesn’t boil over. When mixture is thick and syrupy, after about 15 – 20 minutes, remove from heat.
You can use a wooden chopstick or skewer to measure how far the liquid has reduced. Just dip the chopstick into the liquid before bringing it to a boil. The dark liquid will stain the wood, leaving a mark behind. Dip the chopstick again after about 15 minutes to re-measure the depth of the liquid. When the new stain is half as far up the wood as the first one, you know the mixture has reduced enough.
Store leftover syrup in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Spoon it over vanilla ice cream, add a handful of strawberries, and you have a simple but spectacular dessert.
Once the balsamic mixture is boiling, start on the crispy shallots.
- 2 large shallots
- Canola oil
- 1 Tbsp flour
- 1 tsp sea salt
Add Canola oil to a small sauté pan to a depth of about ¼ inch. Heat over medium-low heat. Slice shallots crosswise into thin slices. Separate into rings. Toss lightly in flour. Test the temperature of the oil by dropping one shallot ring into the pan. Oil is ready when the shallot begins to sizzle. Add remaining shallots to the pan and fry gently until golden brown, about 6 minutes. (Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to work in two or three batches so that you don’t crowd the pan.) When shallots are golden, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with sea salt. Keep warm.
At this point your lentils, balsamic reduction and crispy shallots should all be finished and keeping warm. Now on to the last step…
- 1 package Duck Legs Confit (2 legs), thawed*
- 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
- 2 shallots, finely minced
- 1 tbsp olive oil (or duck fat)
- Sea salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the duck legs from the package. Using your hands, remove the skin and discard. Pull the duck meat from the bones, then use your fingers to shred it. In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and sauté until soft. Add the shredded duck meat and parsley. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Heat until duck is hot and a light golden brown. Be careful not to let the meat dry out, adding more olive oil if needed.
Nothing left to do now but put it all together…
Using a slotted spoon, divide lentils between two serving plates. Divide the duck and mound it on top of the lentils. Pile the crispy shallots on top of the duck. Spoon the balsamic reduction around the outside of the lentils and enjoy.
Life is short. Eat good food!