Cassoulet, pronounced [ka.su.lɛ], is a hearty, slow-cooked, meat studded stew from the South of France. The name cassoulet comes from the traditional cooking dish, the cassole, a deep, round earthenware pot with slanting sides.
A typical French cassoulet contains the traditional ingredients of duck confit, goose, pork or bacon, sometimes mutton or veal, but always combined with wine and beans. Some might call it the great- granddaddy of Boston baked beans. Toulouse and Carcassonne, villages in southwestern France, are thought to be the capital of cassoulet. In France cassoulet is often found in a glass jar on the shelf in the store. When we were staying in Saint-Remy de Provence, we actually bought a jarred cassoulet from our favorite boucherie and found it to be of excellent quality.
This is a lighter version and uses chicken as the base of the meats. I don’t know about you, but duck confit isn’t easily found where we live nor does it come cheap if it can be found. I’ve used traditional white beans, or haricots blancs as they’re called in France. Feel free to substitute your favorite bean as I did in this cassoulet using black-eyed peas (recipe here). Interestingly enough, the black-eyed peas brought a certain smokiness to the dish and a nice change from tradition.
A word of caution about cooking the bacon. You don’t want crispy bacon in this. Its texture would be all wrong and it would get lost in the stew. Cook your bacon, but don’t let it get crispy or too browned.
If you’re looking for a dish that can be made in advance, cassoulet is perfect. Stick it in the refrigerator after it’s cooled, then reheat it later and you’re good to go. This is also the perfect time to use those left-over chicken breasts that you’ve cooked in advance for salads and sandwiches. As you know, almost every week I cook chicken for that purpose.
The butter crusted brown topping provides a crunchy texture to the creamy rich, garlicky beans. Be sure that the bread you use is dry, otherwise the topping will become mushy. Served with a green salad dressed with a tangy vinaigrette, cassoulet makes a nice comforting dinner in front of the fire.
Cassoulet – the light version
Adapted from Eating Well with Bert Wolf - serves 4 to 6.
1 lb dried white beans, Great Northern or navy beans
3 bay leaves
A couple of large sprigs of fresh rosemary
5 or 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 large chicken breasts, with bones & skin
4 oz thick bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces, cooked but not crisp
1 tablespoon fat reserved from the bacon
8 oz little link sausages, cooked & cut into 1” pieces, or ¼ pound dried sausage, cut into ¼” slices
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
2 cups canned whole tomatoes, chopped with juices
2 cups low sodium, low fat chicken broth
1 cup or more dried fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
Soak beans overnight in a large stockpot filled with water. Drain the beans and put into a pot with fresh water to cover by four inches. Tie the three herbs together with a string and add them to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, lower heat and simmer until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. After one hour, add salt and taste for doneness. When done, drain beans, discard herbs and add freshly ground black pepper to taste and more salt if necessary. Put into an attractive oven-proof casserole you can use for serving as well as cooking.
Preheat oven to 350. Rub chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake about 35-45 minutes or until internal temperature is 160 degrees. Remove from oven, discard skin and bones and cut into one inch pieces. Add to beans along with cooked bacon and cut up sausages.
Sauté the garlic in a skillet in about 1 tablespoon reserved bacon fat. Add the tomatoes and their juices and simmer 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and cook over medium high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour over the bean mixture and blend well. Mix bread crumbs with softened butter and spread over beans to make a crust.
Place beans in a 325 degree oven and bake, covered, for 45 – 60 minutes. If beans get dry, carefully add more broth while not disturbing crumb crust. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until crumb topping is browned.
This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, Foodtastic Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Seasonal Sunday at the Tablescaper, Carol's Chatter Food on Friday, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable.