This is a fairly simple way of turning ordinary white beans into something very special. I normally use navy (haricot) beans, which are the type used with tomatoes to produced baked beans. Here I cooked the beans with a duck leg, but most kinds of meat (and even fish) are good – I’ve previously used pork steaks, sausages, chicken breasts and hake with similar tasty results.
Navy beans originally came from the Americas. The beans became popular in Spain and perhaps slow cooked bean dishes were spread through Europe by the Jews expelled from Iberia (though initially these would have been dried broad beans). It is thought that the bean returned to the Americas in long slow cooked dishes, like cholent, which is probably the origin of cassoulet in France and baked beans in the United States. If using dry beans like me, do make sure you soak and cook them beforehand. Obviously beans from a jar or tin are ready to use.
Seared Duck and White Beans recipe:
1 duck leg per person
1 medium to large onion (chopped)
6 pieces garlic (finely chopped)
500g white beans (cooked weight)
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
piri piri seasoning (optional)
a splash sherry vinegar
1/8th pint chicken stock
1/8th pint cooking water from the beans
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
I rubbed the duck leg with piri piri seasoning, an hour or so before cooking. This allows the seasoning to permeate the meat. If using dry beans, they need to be cooked ahead of time. I use a pressure cooker, therefore the beans only needed a 60 minute soak in boiling water and 12 minutes pressure cooking. Do reserve some of the bean cooking water for later. If using tinned, use the liquid that the beans come in.
In an oven proof casserole, caramelise the onion in olive oil, over a low flame, until it goes soft and sticky. Add the chopped garlic towards the end of this process or it will burn.
Mix in the cooked beans, stock, bean cooking liquid, 2 bay leaves, thyme leaves (removed from a couple of sprigs), a splash of sherry vinegar and seasoning to taste. The consistency should be soupy.
Put the casserole, uncovered, into a preheated oven at 180º C for about 40 minutes. The starch in the beans will thicken the dish and a skin will form on top, like a rice pudding.
When the beans have started to brown on top, scorch the skin side of the duck in a hot frying pan.
Brown the duck, so that the skin becomes crispy – 2 or 3 minutes of sizzling. Do not cook the underneath!
Take the beans out of the oven and place the duck, uncooked side, on top of the beans. There wasn’t a great deal of fat left in the pan, so I drizzled what there was on top of the duck. If it had been a fatty bird, I would have kept the fat for a rainy day (or cross channel swim). Return the duck and beans to the oven for 30 minutes. The juices from the duck will leach out during the cooking and add fantastic flavour to the sticky beans.