Beans that melt in your mouth are the heart of the simple cassoulet.
#100daysofcooking, Recipes

Day 39: Cassoulet turns has-beens to must-have beans


Cassoulet with Chicken, Bacon and Sausage


Would you spend five days making dinner? One dinner. Served on day five.

I’ll wait while you consider.

Right then. Of course not. Neither would I.

Unless we are talking about cassoulet. Then I would consider it.

Cassoulet, for the uninitiated, is a slow-cooked casserole originating from the south of France which is, at heart, super-fancy pork, beans and chicken. Or duck, if you are a duck-raising peasant in the south of France (or are more willing than I to put extra effort into grocery shopping.)

I first discovered cassoulet in November 2015 at Crave, one of Regina’s fine restaurants, while dining with a colleague and friend from the Calgary Herald. Cassoulet was on the menu and, while neither of us ordered it that night, Paul waxed poetic about this magical, meat-and-beans dish that he’d been test-driving in his own kitchen.

I made it a few months later and probably about five times since then and still haven’t quite nailed it. But round one was good, and each subsequent version is getting better.

What is so great about it? It’s all in the beans. And the bacon.

Cassoulet is cooked slowly, usually a seven- or eight-hour process for me. It starts with bacon. It proceeds to browning chicken pieces in the bacon fat. Then sausages are browned in the bacon fat. Then the vegetables.

Finally, the beans. I have only used canned white kidney beans thus far, but that is going to change. Next round, I plan to use dried navy beans which will need to be soaked the day before. But the beans, whichever kind you use, are united with stock, tomatoes and all those good browned things and the whole mess cooks in the oven for hours. And hours. And hours.

At the end of all this, you will have a blackened crust hiding a bubbling, runny casserole containing fall-off-the-bone chicken and beans that melt in your mouth like butter.

And everything tastes a bit like bacon.

Which brings me back to my original question:  Would you spend five days making one meal? I’m not quite there yet, but this post about five-day cassoulet from the blog On Film and Food certainly has me thinking about it. Check out the post, it is a very convincing and entertaining read.

Some of you are probably wondering, where is the kitchen castoff in this? For the sake of the game I’ve singled out these two lonely Italian sausages that I found at the bottom of the freezer.

These sad little sausages went on to become a great cassoulet.
These sad little sausages went on to become a great cassoulet.

Truthfully? I was probably just looking for a good excuse to make cassoulet.

Kitchen castoff

Two frozen Italian sausages

After baking in the oven, the cassoulet will start to develop a thick, dark crust.
After baking in the oven, the cassoulet will start to develop a thick, dark crust.

This is how we did it

My version of cassoulet has been pulled together from a few sources, including Nigel Slater’s recipe on The Guardian website and this pared-down version from My Recipes. But it mostly relies on this Serious Eats recipe and the accompanying story “How to Make Traditional Cassoulet (and Why You Should Put Chicken In It!”)

Ingredients

  • 3 – 4 strips bacon
  • Chicken pieces. I use three thighs and three drumsticks
  • 2 links sausage (I used mild Italian)
  • 1 large carrot, sliced on an angle
  • 1 parsnip, sliced on an angle
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced on an angle
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp thyme. You could also add rosemary, which would work well with this dish.
  • 1 large onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
  • 4 cups chicken stock. If using store-bought stock, you will also need 2 to 3 packets of Knox unflavoured gelatin.
  • 19-ounce can white beans (navy or white kidney) or equivalent amount of dried beans, soaked overnight.
  • 14-ounce can of tomatoes

Method

Use a large Dutch oven, in which you can do all the browning on the stove-top, then finish cooking in the oven.

Over medium-high heat, cook the bacon. Remove to a plate, leaving the bacon fat in the pot.

Season chicken pieces with pepper (you do not need salt) and place skin-side down in the now-empty pan. Cook without moving until well browned. Carefully flip the pieces (you don’t want the skin to fall off) and keep browning on the second side. Transfer to the dish with the bacon.

Add the sausage to the pan (either whole or already cut into bite-sized pieces), brown, then remove to the plate with the chicken and bacon. There should be a fairly thick brown layer on the bottom of the pan, which is where a lot of the delicious now lives.

While all this is happening, you’ll want to get the gelatin ready to use. Heat up about one cup of water or stock, then stir in the gelatin until it is completely dissolved. The gelatin (which is naturally occurring in stock that you’ve made from bones) is what will eventually create the thick crust while the cassoulet is cooking in the oven.

Back to the pot. Add onions, carrots, celery, parsnip and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon and scraping up the browned bits. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until softened. Stir in garlic, and cook for another minute.

Now stir in the beans, bay leaves, thyme, tomatoes, stock and gelatin and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let cook for at least 45 minutes.

After all this is done, heat the oven to 300 degrees. Return all the meats to the pot and mix in. The chicken should be at the top, skin-side up, with the other meats and beans underneath in the broth. As much as possible, keep the beans submerged. If you need to, add more stock or water at this point.

Put in the oven and let cook for about two hours, until a thin crust forms. Break the crust with a spoon, shake pot gently to redistribute things and keep adding more stock (or water) if you need to, by pouring it gently down the side of the pot.

Keep cooking, then breaking and shaking every 30 minutes or so, until it has been in the oven for about 4 1/2 hours. Then return to the oven and let cook undisturbed for another 30 to 90 minutes until the crust is deep brown and thick.


Curious about my “Kitchen Castoffs” concept? Here’s the explainer describing my 100-day project.

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